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The role of nature-based solutions in fighting climate change


Whilst engineered solutions will likely have some role in combatting climate change, nature-based solutions are primed and ready to have a major part to play.

Over the past 10 years, there has been a growing interest in these solutions, which can include conservation, restoration, and improved land management.

Nature-based solutions store carbon in areas such as forests, wetlands, peatlands, and grasslands, and provide additional benefits from preserving and restoring the natural world, such as conserving wildlife habitats, protecting biodiversity, improving water quality, and reducing flood risk.

All of these benefits can enhance the wellbeing and financial security of communities around the world.

The IPCC Climate Change and Land Report states that all scenarios to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees will “rely heavily” on changing the use of land, as well as decarbonising the economy.

It also estimates that at least 23% of greenhouse gases come from land use and land-use change. Therefore, any credible plans to tackle climate change must include an end to deforestation, climate-positive agriculture and the protection of natural ecosystems such as coastal wetlands.

Some experts believe that using nature-based solutions, as part of global climate change efforts, could contribute at least 20% of the mitigation needed between now and 2050 to keep global warming below 2 degrees.

A report published earlier this year by the World Economic Forum estimates that nature-based solutions could help save around 7 gigatons of carbon dioxide, which would be a third of necessary amount to limit global warming by 1.5 or 2 degrees by 2030.

It also highlights the cost-effectiveness of such schemes. In most cases, it argues costs are between $10 and $40 per ton of CO2.

As most people know, plant life and vegetation naturally absorbs carbon.

Recent research published in Nature Climate Change found that the world’s forests sequestered about twice as much carbon dioxide as they emitted between 2001 and 2019.

In other words, forests provide a “carbon sink” that absorbs a net 7.6 billion metric tonnes of CO2 per year, 1.5 times more carbon than the United States emits annually.

But there is more to nature-based solutions than just protecting the world’s forests. For example, the world’s peatlands store twice as much carbon as the global forests. Seagrass can absorb carbon 35 times faster than rainforests, and saltmarsh is one of the most biologically productive habitats on the planet.

But the adoption of nature-based solutions has not been without its controversy. The World Economic Forum report notes such schemes are being “held back” from fulfilling their potential by “various conceptual and technical hurdles”, starting with a lack of consensus on how to treat corporate carbon claims.

Looking forward, the monitoring, reporting and verification of such projects will be key to ensure these schemes thrive, as well as deliver much-needed carbon reductions. But the evidence is clear, nature-based solutions offer value for money and a host of economic and social benefits that cannot be ignored.