All hands on deck for the climate

News 27.03.19


By Lucy Almond, Director, Nature4Climate

All hands on deck. That old ship captain’s call is what we need if we’re to get anywhere near stabilizing our climate. Levels of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere have not been this high in a couple million years; and back then global temperatures were more than 5°C (10°F) warmer – which would now place more than 500 of our cities under water.  We urgently need to get all this extra carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere. How do we do this? Technology might be one answer. Yes, modern technology that millions of dollars and decades of research have advanced is needed to decarbonize our energy systems. But renewable energy and fossil fuel emission reductions alone won’t fix this situation before irreparable damage occurs. We need the help of the oldest ‘technology’ on the planet – nature. The ability of living things is unmatched at pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and locking it away for centuries. In fact, terrestrial ecosystems store four times more carbon than the atmosphere.

Do we invest in energy-based solutions for climate mitigation or do we invest in nature-based solutions? It is not an either-or question. In a recent letter to the editor in Global Change Biology, the authors argue that aggressive action in both is needed. Substantial carbon dioxide reductions are needed by the middle of the century. Moving the political and energy structures of society is like turning a big ship; we need more time. Many nature-based solutions are ready to go now. Examining what the authors call cost-effective natural climate solutions, they could provide a third of needed solution to climate change between now and 2030; all of this with minimal competition to existing land uses, particularly those involving food and fiber production.

Nature is not an alternative to decarbonizing our energy systems, rather it is an essential part of our overall climate mitigation solution. As stated in the letter, “More options allow greater overall ambition by reducing total cost to society for any abatement goal”. We’re going to need all options on deck if we’re to stand a chance of minimizing the worst effects of climate change.