Fri, Dec 06, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Nature-based solutions are key to meeting emissions reductions

By Sally Jewell

As world leaders gather at the 25th UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid, which started on Monday and continues to Friday next week, they are discussing concrete steps for meeting and increasing national emission-reduction targets. Equally important, COP25 offers an opportunity to elevate one of the most powerful tools we have to address climate change: nature.

Nature-based solutions (also known as natural climate solutions) leverage the world’s forests, grasslands, wetlands and soil to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Healthy ecosystems absorb and store carbon on their own. If they are protected, restored and managed sustainably, they can provide one-third of the emission reductions needed to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal for 2030.

In other words, nature is offering us an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss. Reducing fossil-fuel emissions is crucial, but it will not be enough to keep global warming below 2°C, let alone 1.5°C, relative to preindustrial levels.

To secure a livable future on this planet, we also must commit to funding nature-based solutions. All countries need to start incorporating nature-based solutions into their national climate pledges, and begin investing accordingly.

Two years ago, scientists from The Nature Conservancy and its partners published new research showcasing nature-based solutions’ potential to fight climate change. Yet natural climate solutions have continued to attract relatively little attention — and even less funding.

Fortunately, this may be starting to change. In September, nature-based solutions featured prominently at UN Climate Week in New York City. Although that event did not live up to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for “clear steps to enhance nationally determined contributions by 2020,” it did offer a platform to a new generation of climate and nature advocates.

From the Youth4Nature coalition to the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, young people were on hand to demand that today’s leaders account for the challenges they will inherit.

Climate Week also produced an announcement from a coalition led by China and New Zealand, focused on encouraging nature-based solutions in both national climate plans and the corporate sector.

The private sector also has made new commitments, with a group of 230 international investors, representing US$16.2 trillion in assets under management, calling on companies to take immediate action to address deforestation in their supply chains.

Political leaders now must maintain this momentum, by taking a closer look at what nature can do to help mitigate and build resilience to climate change. For example, one promising solution is sustainable agroforestry, in which food crops are grown alongside native trees. Expanding this practice could bolster food security and boost incomes in rural communities and simultaneously restore soil health, sequester carbon and nurture critical wildlife.

Another nature-based solution is being pioneered in Australia, where massive bushfires are putting people and wildlife at risk — and releasing enormous amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The Nature Conservancy is cooperating with Indigenous communities to improve grassland health, sequester carbon and reduce the risk of wildfires.

Drawing on traditional knowledge dating back thousands of years, Indigenous rangers set smaller, controlled burns to prevent the buildup of dry grass that contributes to larger, hotter wildfires. This program contributes to healthier grasslands while generating income for Indigenous communities through the sale of carbon credits.

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