Damaged ecosystems release carbon instead of storing it. According to the IPCC, about 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from activities such as land clearing, crop production, and fertilization. But healthy ecosystems could provide 37% of the mitigation required to limit global temperature rise.
Natural climate solutions offer additional benefits, such as water filtration, flood buffering, improved soil health, protection of habitat, and enhanced climate resilience. If expanded, restored, and protected, these natural solutions would help keep our emissions below the 1.5oC warming scientists believe is necessary to preserve a habitable planet.
Solving Our Climate Crisis ...
With the Help of Nature
While much of the world’s attention is focused on reducing our use of fossil fuels, scientists are telling us that nature-based approaches are essential to solving our climate crisis. They agree:
- We must limit global temperature increases to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by 2030.
- The reduction of current greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector alone is unlikely to be able to limit warming to that level. This is because our mitigation efforts started too late to be able to meet this critical threshold by 2030.
It is true that focusing on energy reduction is essential to prevent runaway climate change. But it also is true that we can adopt conservation and land management strategies that expand, protect, and restore natural systems so they are able to capture and sequester carbon. This is essential to help meet the widely accepted goal of limiting temperatures below 1.5°C.
What Are Natural Climate Solutions?
Natural climate solutions are conservation, restoration, and improved land management actions that increase carbon storage or avoid greenhouse gas emissions in forests, wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural lands. When combined with innovations in clean energy and other efforts to decarbonize the world’s economies, natural climate solutions offer some of our best options to mitigate climate change. There are many opportunities to scale up some of the most promising nature-based solutions. Afforestation, reforestation, and forest management and protection can sequester and store the most carbon. Other opportunities include agricultural and grasslands management, and wetlands restoration and protection.
Research published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates such nature-based solutions will cost less than the future impacts of climate change are expected to cost society - which is more than $100 per ton of CO2 in the atmosphere, and that they can offer up to 37% of the mitigation needed between now and 2030 for a greater than 66% chance of holding warming rise below 2°C.
NOTE: Banner photo is of the upper falls of Burden Falls in the Shawnee National Forest. Photo by Curtis Albert, 2009. via Flickr.