Conservation news

Nature-based climate action no longer ‘the forgotten solution’

  • At the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) held in San Francisco last year, nature-based solutions to the climate crisis — like keeping forests standing and restoring degraded ecosystems to enhance their carbon storage potential — were referred to as “the forgotten solution.”
  • Though conservation of forests and other landscapes could be playing a crucial role in mitigating global climate change, renowned conservationist and UN messenger for peace Dr. Jane Goodall, in a speech delivered last September at the GCAS, said she had personally attended a number of conferences where forests went unmentioned. “Saving the forest is one third of the solution,” Goodall said. “We must not let it be the forgotten solution.”
  • That message appears to have been heeded by a number of governments, companies, and civil society groups who committed to major nature-based climate initiatives at the UN Climate Summit held last Monday and the NYC Climate Week that concludes this weekend.

At the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) held in San Francisco last year, nature-based solutions to the climate crisis — like keeping forests standing and restoring degraded ecosystems to enhance their carbon storage potential — were referred to as “the forgotten solution.”

Technological fixes and high-profile commitments from countries and the private sector draw most of the attention, but researchers have shown that a range of what they call “natural climate solutions” could provide more than a third of the “cost-effective climate mitigation needed between now and 2030” to keep global warming well below 2°Celsius, the goal enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement. These natural solutions include a range of “conservation, restoration, and improved land management actions that increase carbon storage and/or avoid greenhouse gas emissions across global forests, wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural lands.”

One analysis found that just by restoring logged or degraded forests and improving forest management we could remove the equivalent of the emissions from 1.5 billion cars from the atmosphere every year.

Rainforest of Cocobolo Nature Reserve, Panama. Photo Credit: Robin Moore, Global Wildlife Conservation.

Though conservation of forests and other landscapes could be playing a crucial role in mitigating global climate change, renowned conservationist and UN messenger for peace Dr. Jane Goodall, in a speech delivered last September at the GCAS, said she had personally attended a number of conferences where forests went unmentioned.

“Saving the forest is one third of the solution,” Goodall said. “We must not let it be the forgotten solution.”

That message appears to have been heeded by a number of governments, companies, and civil society groups who committed to major nature-based climate initiatives at the UN Climate Summit held last Monday and the NYC Climate Week that concludes this weekend.

For instance, the Central Africa Forest Initiative announced a 10-year agreement between Gabon and Norway that will see the African country receive $150 million in exchange for keeping forests intact and reducing its emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. As part of the partnership, Norway has agreed to pay twice the going rate of carbon, setting a price floor of $10 for each certified ton of emissions reductions achieved by Gabon.

Ola Elvestuen, Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment, called the agreement “a major breakthrough for REDD+ in Africa,” referring to the UN’s program for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. “It properly takes into account Gabon’s special status as a country with high forest cover and low deforestation. Gabon is 88% covered with forests, and I hope our partnership can help them reach their goal to maintain 98% of that for the future,” Elvestuen said.

Members of the Batak tribe fishing in Palawan, the Philippines. Photo Credit: Robin Moore, Global Wildlife Conservation.

Gabon’s Minister of Forest, Seas, Environment and Climate Change, Lee White, said that the partnership could be a model for other countries to follow: “Norway’s agreement to double the price of a ton of rainforest carbon dioxide is highly significant and gives us hope that the international community will move towards a realistic price that will provide a real incentive for rain forest countries to follow our example.”

Another initiative, an alliance jointly announced by French President Emmanuel Macron, Colombian President Ivan Duque, and Chilean President Sebastian Piñera at the UN Climate Summit on September 23, aims to protect the Amazon and other tropical forests. The alliance has already been backed by $100 million from the French government and $20 million from the NGO Conservation International. Germany, Norway, and Peru have also signaled their support.

At an event in the Central Park Zoo on September 25, five environmental organizations — Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC), Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and World Resources Institute (WRI) — launched The Forests for Life Partnership, which aims to forestall the degradation of 1 billion hectares of the most intact forests worldwide. The focus of the initiative will be on the intact forests of the Amazon, the Congo Basin, New Guinea, and the northern Boreal zone, as well as smaller intact forests in places like Mesoamerica, Madagascar, and South and Southeast Asia.

The founding groups have committed $50 million over the next five years to the Forests For Life Partnership, and plan to secure an additional $200 million in funding from individuals, foundations, corporations, and governments. One of the first major regional efforts supported by the partnership will be the 5 Great Forests of Mesoamerica Initiative, also launched during Climate Week.

“The loss of the world’s great forests would prevent any comprehensive response to climate change, and would result in a catastrophic extinction event,” Wes Sechrest, GWC’s CEO and chief scientist, said in a statement. “This is really an opportunity for the countries with these critically important forests to demonstrate global leadership in preventing the climate crisis and stemming biodiversity loss by protecting their own natural heritage.”

Helmeted Iguana, Corytophanes cristatus, in the rainforest of Cocobolo Nature Reserve, Panama. Photo Credit: Robin Moore, Global Wildlife Conservation.

Institutional investors are getting in on the nature-based climate action as well. In response to the fires in the Brazilian and Bolivian Amazon, the week before the Climate Summit some 230 global investors who collectively manage $16.2 trillion in assets issued a statement putting hundreds of unnamed companies on notice that they must meet the commitments they’ve made to root deforestation out of their commodities supply chains or face economic consequences. At the UN Climate Summit, a group of international investors went a step further by launching the Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance. Members of the Alliance, who together manage more than $2.4 trillion in investments, committed to making their investment portfolios carbon-neutral by 2050.

If these statements and alliances were warning shots from investors, at least some producers of agricultural commodities appear to have received the message. Together with 19 “agriculture-centric companies” like Danone, Nestlé, and Unilever, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development launched a new initiative “to develop innovative solutions aimed at protecting and enhancing biodiversity” in commodities supply chains.

“The global food and agricultural ecosystem is critically dependent on biodiversity: from soil regeneration through to water filtration, pest control and pollination, among many of the other building blocks of life on earth,” Emmanuel Faber, Chairman and CEO of Danone, said while announcing the One Planet Business for Biodiversity initiative on stage at the Climate Summit. “According to many recent scientific studies, we have ten years to reset our course and bend the curve on climate change and wild and cultivated biodiversity loss.”

These are just a few of the coalitions and partnerships announced in the past week that put preserving and restoring nature at the center of climate action. Many countries are making nature-based commitments within their own borders, as well.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at the Climate Summit that her country is “determined to show that New Zealand can and will be the most sustainable food producer in the world.” Over the next five years, Ardern said, her government “will collaborate to build systems that every farmer will be able to use to measure, manage and reduce their own farm’s emissions.”

A river wends it way toward the Caribbean sea, Guatemala. Photo Credit: Robin Moore, Global Wildlife Conservation.

New Zealand has also pledged to plant a billion trees by 2028, with 150 million of those already in the ground. Ethiopia has pledged to plant 4 billion trees a year. Nigeria says it will employ youth to plant 25 million trees. Pakistan committed to planting 10 billion new trees over the next five years. Sierra Leone committed to planting 100 million trees by 2023. Kenya aims to plant 2 billion trees by 2022, and restore 5.1 million hectares (12.6 million acres) of forest. Guatemala intends to restore 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of forest by 2022. Colombia plans to restore 300,000 hectares (741,000 acre) of forest by 2022 and place 900,000 hectares (2.2 million acres) of land under agroforestry or sustainable forest management.

In discussing why he was convening the Climate Summit, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, “We need to cut greenhouse emissions by 45% by 2030. We need carbon neutrality by 2050. … That is why I am telling leaders don’t come to the Summit with beautiful speeches. Come with concrete plans — clear steps to enhance nationally determined contributions by 2020 — and strategies for carbon neutrality by 2050.”

Whether or not countries have truly risen to Guterres’ call for more ambitious climate action remains to be seen. When they signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, countries agreed to ratchet up their ambition every 5 years, meaning they must submit new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), nation-specific climate action plans, at next year’s UN Climate Change Conference.

“The measurable outcomes of the Summit will be in next year’s NDCs,” Caleb McCLennen, Vice President for Global Conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told Mongabay.

But one thing that is clear is that nature-based climate solutions are finally going mainstream.

“In California, nature-based solutions were branded the forgotten solution,” McClennen said. “Now they’re being implemented by commitments. It feels like it shifted from exposing the issue to, this year, political leaders and projects on the ground really making it happen.”

Wallace’s Flying Frog, Rhacaphorus nigropalmatus, in the Borneo Highlands of Sarawak. Photo Credit: Robin Moore, Global Wildlife Conservation.

CITATION

• Griscom, B. W., Adams, J., Ellis, P. W., Houghton, R. A., Lomax, G., Miteva, D. A., … & Woodbury, P. (2017). Natural climate solutions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(44), 11645-11650. doi:10.1073/pnas.1710465114

Follow Mike Gaworecki on Twitter: @mikeg2001

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 300 outlets worldwide to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

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