Everything we need to fight climate change is here already

 Cows being led to be milked in Tanzania. Natural climate solutions are relevant in every nation in the world, not just those with tropical forests. Photo © Nick Hall

Cows being led to be milked in Tanzania. Natural climate solutions are relevant in every nation in the world, not just those with tropical forests. Photo © Nick Hall

By BEL JACOBS


Everything we need to fight the effects of climate change is already here, according to new research by US-based environmental organization The Nature Conservancy.

“Natural Climate Solutions”, published in October, argues that, by planting more trees, protecting peatlands and improving the way we take care of farmland, nature can play a bigger role than ever expected in battling climate change.

If natural climate solutions are mobilized over the next 10 to 15 years, they could provide 37 per cent of the emissions reductions needed by 2030 to hit the Paris climate target: to keep the rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial times.

That’s without counting the additional benefits to biodiversity, better soil health and, basically, human survival.

“It’s incredible that to solve this relatively new problem - that seems bigger and uglier than anything we’ve ever tackled - we can also help solve other environmental challenges,” says Director of Forest Carbon Science, Bronson Griscom. 


Biodiversity loss in the wetlands and rainforests, nutrient-rich soil issues for farmers, issues surrounding indigenous people’s forest rights, and so on. Cue the ‘Lion King’ song - it’s all connected.

 Cardinal fish in mangroves of Komodo National Park in Indonesia. The study found that Coastal Wetland Restoration could store the equivalent of 200 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year. Photo © Peter Mous/TNC

Cardinal fish in mangroves of Komodo National Park in Indonesia. The study found that Coastal Wetland Restoration could store the equivalent of 200 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year. Photo © Peter Mous/TNC

The Nature Conservancy pulled together  scientists across 15 research institutions to complete the report. In the past, research focused on forests; Natural Climate Solutions takes into account other ecosystems, such as farmlands and peatlands, seagrass and tidal marshes.

“I thought we’d review a few papers and take an average to answer the question,” Griscom says. “We were shocked to find that important gaps remained in answering the question: how much can lands contribute to solving climate change?”.

There’s more. Natural Climate Solutions suggests that ‘regreening the planet’ could be equivalent to halting all burning of oil worldwide. 

Natural climate solutions use nature to reduce emissions and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Forests, farms and coasts extract CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in soils, trees and grassland; reforestation and conservation agriculture aid the process.

“The approach is synergistic,” says Justin Adams, managing director for Global Lands. “We can hit multiple targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals if we get this right.”

“There’s lots of interest and investment in new technology solutions to capture and store carbon [but] this is new, experimental technology,” he says. “Trees and plants have already perfected this process over hundreds of millions of years. We’re unlikely to see a better carbon capture and storage technology than that which nature provides …”

“The [current] rapid deployment of clean energy technologies is inspiring, and we absolutely must press forward with the deployment of renewables, electric cars, energy efficiency and other methods for fossil fuel reduction,” Adams adds. 

“But we also need to see a similar level of investment in natural solutions, which are available now, are cost effective and greatly benefit communities.”


It’s a beguiling vision that makes complete sense: plant more trees, save the planet.

 A stream in the Wooded Hemlock Bog at The Nature Conservancy’s Cranesville Swamp Preserve in northern West Virginia. Natural forest management strategies can reduce carbon emission by 882 million tonnes each by 2030. Photo © Kent Mason

A stream in the Wooded Hemlock Bog at The Nature Conservancy’s Cranesville Swamp Preserve in northern West Virginia. Natural forest management strategies can reduce carbon emission by 882 million tonnes each by 2030. Photo © Kent Mason

But, while natural climate solutions are part of many countries’ pledges, there remains a gap between promised action and progress. “If we are serious about climate change, then we are going to have to get serious about investing in nature,” said Mark Tercek, The Nature Conservancy’s CEO. 

This is climate’s make or break moment. Current projections show that even committed global climate actions are not enough to avoid the catastrophic effects of a warming planet. If the world does not keep global temperatures from rising above 2°C, the World Bank warns of “extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.” Effects are already hitting hardest in the world’s poorest regions.

Nature is here to help - if we take up the offer. As Griscom puts it, “nature is the sleeping giant.”