September 17, 2021

Net zero targets could trigger 'mass hunger and displacement across the world', charity warns

August 03, 2021

Net zero targets are a often a "greenwashing exercise" that may trigger "mass hunger and displacement across the world", Oxfam has warned.

The charity said commitments to reach net zero emissions - in attempts to curb climate change - rely on "virtually unproven new technologies, or on a level of land use that is completely impossible and would lead to mass hunger and displacement of people across the world".

Its new report, Tightening the Net, finds that relying on land alone to remove the world's carbon emissions to achieve net zero by 2050 would require at least 1.6bn hectares of new forests, equivalent to five times the size of India or more than all the farmland on the planet.

The analysis cites an IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) estimate that large-scale afforestation could increase food prices by about 80% by 2050, warning this would push millions more people in vulnerable communities into hunger.

Danny Sriskandarajah, chief executive of Oxfam GB, said too many companies and governments were "hiding behind the smokescreen of 'net zero' to continue dirty business-as-usual activities".

He called out parts of the fossil fuel industry in particular. "A prime example of the doublethink we are seeing is the oil and gas sector promising unrealistic carbon removal schemes that will require ludicrous amounts of land to justify its ongoing extraction of fossil fuels," he said.

Oxfam says the net zero targets of just four of the big oil and gas producers - Shell, BP, Total Energies and ENI - could require an area of land twice the size of the UK. It estimates Shell would need about 11.4m hectares to hit targets of sequestering 120Mt of CO2 per year by 2030.

Shell said it is "not familiar with where this figure comes from" and that nature-based solutions were "about much more than planting new hectares of tropical forest", but also encompassing protecting or redeveloping ecosystems.

Net zero emissions are achieved when human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are balanced by active emissions removals, potentially via methods such as tree planting or carbon capture and storage, over a specified period. But removing emissions is very hard to calculate and the technology is relatively new.

According to Friends of the Earth, such technologies have not been proven to work at scale, leaving the only proven way to remove carbon by growing trees and storing carbon by growing billions of trees that store it.

Oxfam's report says the word "net" obscures the fact that countries or industries could continue to pollute at usual or even greater levels, likening the promises to a smoker paying someone else not to smoke - and then telling everyone they have given up smoking.

It estimates that the new Cambo oilfield proposed for the North Sea would yield so much oil that the whole of England would effectively need to be reforested to offset its impact on the climate.

Mr Sriskandarajah said: "The UK government needs to be a credible broker for a deal that can stop the planet overheating when it hosts the COP26 climate talks in November - so it is imperative that it stops licensing new oil and gas in the North Sea, including a possible new oilfield near the Shetland Islands."

A Government spokesperson told Sky News that while it was "working hard to drive down demand for fossil fuels" there would continue to be "ongoing demand for oil and gas over the coming years, as recognised by the independent Climate Change Committee".

They said the government would publish its Net Zero Strategy later this year, and highlighted the fact that the UK had already slashed emissions by 44% over the past three decades.

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