Research released on Thursday in the journal Nature Sustainability shows the many natural wonders across the planet must be preserved to combat climate change effectively. From Russia’s peatlands to the Amazon rainforest, those regions store substantial amounts of “irrecoverable carbon.” Some of the carbon stored in those areas may have taken hundreds or thousands of years to be stored. Once the carbon captured is lost, it is released into the atmosphere and cannot be recovered.
Human activity has threatened regions like the Congo basin and the mangrove swamps and eucalyptus forests in Australia, driving up emissions and putting us all at risk of failing to meet the necessary goal of hitting net-zero by 2050. As researchers note in their abstract, “there are some natural places that we cannot afford to lose due to their irreplaceable carbon reserves.”
“Currently, 23% of irrecoverable carbon is within protected areas, and 33.6% is managed by Indigenous peoples and local communities,” the abstract continues. “Half of Earth’s irrecoverable carbon is concentrated on just 3.3% of its land, highlighting opportunities for targeted efforts to increase global climate security.”
The low number of protected sites and especially land not controlled by Indigenous people is simply unacceptable—and the study explicitly notes that. Scientists point to “promoting Indigenous rights, expanding and adequately financing protected areas and managing high-carbon ecosystems” as solutions that not only prioritize climate resilience but offer some climate justice as well.
This study’s publication comes amid increasing calls for protections of Indigenous ownership in the Brazilian Amazon. Official data shows that deforestation hit a 15-year high, rising by 22% in just one year. Much of the land targeted by President Jair Bolsonaro falls under Indigenous ownership, yet Bolsonaro has done his damnedest to undermine the Indigenous community.
Studies like this hammer home not just how climate change impacts everyone but how much of an intersectional issue climate change and climate justice truly is. It’s something that deserves our attention and our resources if we are genuinely committed to a better, more equitable planet.