Reforestation efforts could threaten global food security, Oxfam warns

Achieving net-zero emissions for the global economy through reforestation alone would require an area equivalent to all the world's farmland, putting food security at risk, Oxfam has warned.


In a new report, the charity argues that too many governments and corporations are hiding behind “unreliable, unproven and unrealistic” carbon-removal schemes to hit net zero.

Its analysis suggests that relying on tree-planting only to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 would require at least 1.6 billion hectares of new forests – an area that is also five times the size of India.

This could see global food prices surge by 80% as the land needed for crops decreases, worsening catastrophic conditions of hunger, and increasing the risk of famine.

With one-fifth of the world’s 2,000 largest publicly-listed corporations now having net-zero goals that are dependent upon land-based carbon sinks, Danny Sriskandarajah, chief executive of Oxfam GB, said that more companies need to focus on cutting emissions at the source.

“A prime example of the doublethink we are seeing is the oil and gas sector trying to justify its ongoing extraction of fossil fuels by promising unrealistic carbon-removal schemes that require ludicrous amounts of land,” he continued.

“Some governments and companies are taking bold action to cut carbon emissions, but there are currently too few to give us a realistic chance of averting climate catastrophe and the widespread hunger and devastation that come with it.”

The climate crisis is already devastating agriculture and driving worsening hunger and migration, with people living in poverty – particularly women farmers and Indigenous people – among the hardest hit.

Oxfam recently reported that global food prices have risen by 40% in the past year, which has contributed to 20 million more people falling into catastrophic conditions of hunger, and a six-fold increase in famine-like conditions.

Its latest report reveals that the net-zero targets of four of the world’s largest oil and gas corporations – BP, Eni, Shell and Total Energies – could require them foresting an area of land more than twice the size of the UK to achieve net zero by 2050.

Even a country as small as Switzerland could need land nearly equivalent to the entire island of Puerto Rico to plant enough trees to meet its net-zero- target.

With less than 100 days left until the COP26 climate summit, Oxfam said that governments and corporations need a much stronger focus on swiftly and deeply cutting carbon emissions in the near term.

“Land is a finite and a precious resource that millions of small-scale farmers and Indigenous people depend upon to feed their families,” Sriskandarajah said.

“Nature and land-based carbon removal schemes are an important part of the mix to lower emissions but more caution is needed to ensure good stewardship that doesn’t threaten food security.”


Image credit: Shutterstock


Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM

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