Carbon Sinks: what are they?

Understanding Carbon Sinks’ power and their limits is crucial to taking the right actions to leverage these valuable natural resources in climate mitigation.

Photo by Joanne Francis on Unsplash

Tipping the Scales

Words like carbon sinks, sequestering carbon, carbon farming may seem like a vocabulary for climate change mitigation experts, but you learned the concepts in grade school. Every living thing on the planet is part of the carbon cycle, that’s why we’re considered “carbon-based lifeforms.”

Remember studying photosynthesis, learning how trees and plants release oxygen into the atmosphere? That’s the carbon cycle! Through the process of photosynthesis, carbon is locked away, taken out of the atmosphere. Oxygen is released into the air, and the circle continues on.

The Carbon Cycle by UCAR -Center for Science Education

Releasing and stocking carbon is a natural process. But, over the past century, human activities have deregulated the natural carbon cycle by releasing significantly more carbon into the atmosphere than can be naturally absorbed. Today, human activities release almost 400,000% more CO2 into the atmosphere each year than pre-Industrial Revolution¹.

We know why: burning fossil fuels, intensive livestock farming, and changes in land use, like razing forests to create croplands, all contribute to these immense emissions. And according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released in February 2022, the scale at which humanity is releasing carbon into the atmosphere is rapidly overwhelming nature’s ability to keep up. Earth’s Overshoot Day, the day each year where humanity’s demands on natural resources surpasses nature’s ability to regenerate them, fell on July 29th in 2021. Put differently, that means that from July 29th until the end of 2021, humanity lived on a credit that we cannot repay.

Where does the carbon go?

Normally, carbon released into the atmosphere is absorbed by natural carbon sinks. Plants, oceans, soil, and forests are the primary natural carbon sinks. Different types of sinks can store different amounts of carbon. They also absorb carbon at different rates: the deep layers of the oceans are excellent carbon sinks but rely on the shifting currents to push carbon down to these depths, which can take decades to centuries². Young forests, where trees grow fast due to competition for light, stock carbon much faster than oceans.

Restoring Our Carbon Sinks

But the world’s carbon sinks are in danger. Too much carbon in the oceans at once is partially responsible for the bleaching of coral reefs, the product of a process called acidification in the oceans. And every second in the world’s forests, the area the size of a football field is destroyed³.

Regenerating Nature = More Carbon Sinks = Less CO2 in the Atmosphere

Carbon sinks are not the only solution to the climate crisis. And they shouldn’t be; we know we cannot continue to release carbon into the atmosphere at the current rate and expect natural carbon sinks to absorb all the excess. But that does not diminish the value of carbon sinks as a real solution that offers a big payoff.

The IPCC has citied that preserving and restoring natural ecosystems like coastlines and forests could absorb 4 gigatons to carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

Through DeFi, CarbonABLE is rising to the challenge of financing vetted projects in preserving and restoring the world’s carbon sinks. Cutting emissions — and drastically — isn’t enough for successful climate change mitigation. Through regeneration, we will help reverse the impact of human activities on the natural world.

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