Scientists say nature should be ‘no-brainer’ for climate action

Mangroves of Abrolhos Brazil. (© Conservation International/photo by Guilherme Dutra)

Beyond solar panels, electric cars and efficient homes, meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement will require a largely ignored climate solution: nature.

So says a raft of new research published recently in the world’s most prestigious academic journals.

In a new commentary published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, Conservation International (CI) senior scientist Will Turner sums up the latest findings: “As a climate solution, nature should be a no-brainer.”

And yet the carbon-storing potential of forests, wetlands and oceans have largely been left out of the climate conversation.

Climate change conjures images of smokestacks, Turner writes, and thus its solutions most commonly resemble renewable energy rather than ecosystems. But that’s only half of the picture. “There is good reason that climate change has been described as a well-known energy problem combined with a lesser-known land problem.”

Research published in recent months has better quantified the climate contribution of land uses such as deforestation, wetland conversion and intensive agriculture.

A study published in October in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences compiled the first comprehensive estimate of nature’s potential role in mitigation climate change, putting the figure at 37 percent. And in research published in December in the journal Nature, a team of scientists found that land use has historically been a larger emitter of carbon to the atmosphere than was previously known.

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According to a third study published in September in the journal Environmental Research Letters, even immediately halting all fossil fuel use would not be enough to avoid dangerous climate change if deforestation continues unchanged.

In sum, the research points to an elevated role for ecosystem restoration in addressing climate change, says Turner. Last year, Conservation International launched the largest reforestation project in the world in Brazil, aiming to bring down the cost of this climate-saving technique. The organization also helped to launch the Global Mangrove Alliance to halt the destruction of this carbon-rich ecosystem and restore 20 percent of global mangrove cover by 2030.

According to Turner, these must be the first steps toward putting nature-based climate solutions on par with traditional interventions. “The best strategies to avoid dangerous climate change will decarbonize energy production, seek potential CO2 removal technologies and transform management of ecosystems, all pursued urgently, globally and in parallel.”

In other words, our climate needs nature.

Read the full commentary here.

Jamey Anderson is a senior writer at Conservation International.

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