Our planet is facing a dual climate and biodiversity crisis
Around a million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. At the same time, the climate emergency threatens to expose millions of people to extreme heat waves and could leave a billion people affected by rising sea levels within decades. The challenges of nature loss and global warming are linked—and so are the solutions to these critical issues.
The most promising way to mitigate and reverse climate change is found in natural climate solutions: in conserving, restoring, and sustainably managing ecosystems in order to increase carbon storage and avoid greenhouse-gas emissions in landscapes worldwide.
Natural climate solutions harness the power of nature to help reduce emissions, but also to help us adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change. These natural solutions can address our planetary crises and also help promote a deeper, more fulfilling way of life for humans.
There is so much potential in natural solutions for the climate, yet only 36 of 151 countries indicate that they would increase forest cover, plant trees, or expand natural areas in their national climate plans. However, it’s been proven that restoring forests can help the world’s 534 largest cities regulate water flows and manage more extreme floods, while saving an estimated $890 million a year, according to the Global Commission on Adaptation.
Forests are some of the most well-known nature-based solutions for climate change, but it goes beyond the trees. Investing in the protection and restoration of all of our natural ecosystems and allowing them to do their job of storing carbon, will increase the resiliency of the natural world.
Healthy ecosystems are in a better position to withstand climate change impacts, which means they’ll be more likely to continue providing the foundational natural building blocks we rely upon for human life, like clean air, clean water, food security and flood control.
The best part about natural climate solutions is that they provide an opportunity to bring everyone to the table. To avoid mistakes of the past, we must include the voices of communities that have been (and will be) disproportionately burdened by the impacts of climate change with the industries that are creating global warming.
Marginalized Indigenous communities are already suffering from flooding, fires and poor water quality. Communities of Colour are exposed to fossil fuel pollution, and they are also the ones leading the way to natural climate solutions. They’re providing the connection between the needs of humanity and the natural climate solutions that can turn the tide. By bringing them to the table, and following their leadership, we can employ natural climate solutions that stand a better chance of achieving the enduring results needed to benefit all people.Photo by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash
Natural solutions to climate change
- Protect the ocean: The ocean has already absorbed carbon at an incredible pace, limiting the amount in the atmosphere. It has also absorbed a massive amount of the heat generated by global warming. In order for it to keep doing its job, we need to protect the ocean and set aside enough targeted areas to give it room to rejuvenate. This includes restoring seagrass meadows, growing kelp, shellfish, and expanding marine ecosystems.
- Protect forests: We’ve lost much of our climate-critical old-growth forests, which have been cleared for agriculture or development. Canada’s boreal forest stores twice as much carbon as the world’s oil reserves, yet we're driving some of the fastest primary forest loss in the world. We’re beyond tree-planting and must protect carbon-rich forests and trees already playing a role in the climate fight. When left alone, these forests regulate water flows, reduce the risk of flooding and maintain biodiversity.
- Embrace permaculture and regenerative agriculture: Agriculture is responsible for a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions, but it can also be a crucial part of the solution. According to the National Academy of Sciences, U.S. agricultural soils have the potential to sequester 250 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gasses annually, equal to the annual emissions of 64 coal-fired power plants. Many of the regenerative practices that help soil store more carbon also make farms more resilient to climate change, help support wildlife habitat and produce healthier food.
- Add wetlands into the picture: Since 1700, the world has lost more than 85 percent of its wetland areas. They also store an incredible amount of carbon, holding between 20 to 30 percent of the carbon found in the world’s soil. We must bring back old wetlands by investing in restoration through efforts like protecting peatlands and coastal wetlands such as mangroves.
- Dedicate more land areas to nature: Overall. we have to protect areas that are already making meaningful climate contributions. They have the potential to do more if left alone and conserved. If we conserve enough ecosystems, we can reverse terrestrial biodiversity loss, limit future carbon emissions and increase natural carbon removal.