It is high time to reboot our relationship with nature

Leaders must take decisive action to support nature-based solutions to the climate challenge, in light of the latest UN science report

Worker holds mangrove leaves for measuring carbon stock in Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan, Indonesia (Pic: Kate Evans/CIFOR)

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The steady stream of scientific reports on climate change can be likened to an alarm clock on the snooze setting. It disturbs our sleep but we put off responding for as long as we can.

Why? Because we know the climate emergency requires a real and dramatic response. We also know that it will not be easily achieved. It requires both system shifts and exceptional co-operation. So it’s tempting to avoid the issue and let someone else tackle it.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change today released a report on the links between land use and climate change. Some of its findings make for alarming reading by further highlighting the challenges that lie ahead if we fail to take decisive action.

However, when it comes to the shifts and cooperation needed for climate change, all of us must stay positive, resourceful and hopeful. By viewing the report through the lens of hope rather than despair, we can see how better connecting people and nature can and must form an integral part of our response to many of the challenges facing our world.

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Nature-based solutions that reduce carbon emissions are cost effective and globally scalable. They are an indispensable complement to the rapid decarbonization that must take place in all corners of our economies. Without them, we will not be able to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. And they can be rolled out in ways that combat land degradation, put healthy and nutritious food on peoples’ tables, deliver economic benefits, create jobs in rural communities and build resilience to climate change, all at the same time.

There have been huge steps forward in the field of climate-smart agriculture, which seeks to enhance productivity, build resilience and reduce emissions. We are seeing great strides with efforts to enhance the natural capabilities of soil to store carbon and support agricultural productivity. Sustainable forestry is a way to generate income from forests while maintaining their carbon storage services, rather than converting them into plantations. Improving land tenure for indigenous and local communities is proving to be one of the most effective ways to reduce deforestation and improve forest management. And we are constantly seeing new alternatives to industrial agriculture from small-holder producers who are pioneering organic and regenerative practices.

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All told, the full deployment of nature-based solutions will deliver more than a third of the emission reductions needed by 2030. Yet, at the moment only a small percentage of the finance being directed towards climate change is invested in our relationship with nature. The private capital invested in activity that harms our relationship with nature outweighs the positive investment by a ratio of 40 to 1. If those who make decisions say that they value the planet, let us see it reflected in their financial decisions.

Nature-based solutions make good sense for the planet and good sense for people. Strategies for protecting and restoring forests, wetlands and grasslands – together with strategies for better managing how we use land for forestry and agriculture – have been estimated to have the potential to lift a billion people out of poverty, create 80 million jobs, and add an additional $2.3 trillion in productive growth to the global economy. At the same time, they will contribute to the resilience of millions of households that are already threatened by the effects of climate change. All great sources for optimism.

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Right now, all around the world, countries and communities, companies and investors are starting to make this shift. But there is still a great ways to go.

It means buying smarter, whether it is in more fuel-efficient transport or less single use plastic. It means eating diets that are good for our health. It means food production systems that are sustainable and reward the producers fairly. It means businesses that protect – and do not destroy – forests, wetlands, coastlines and the ocean. It means predictable funding for nature-based solutions from private and public sources and cancelling funds for unsustainable practices. Most of all, it means people, and their governments, reassessing nature’s offer – for themselves, their households, their communities and their nations.

We look to world leaders, as they prepare for the UN secretary general’s Climate Action Summit in September, to help all nations and people reboot their relationships with nature. This means bringing the nature-based solutions that are needed for climate change into the heart of planning and decision-making – all strategies, government plans, financial decisions, business operations, scientific institutions, school classrooms and households. Now is the time to seize the great opportunity before us to turn denial into hope and let nature come to the rescue.

Susan Gardner and Dr David Nabarro are co-facilitators of the nature-based solutions work stream for the UN secretary general’s Climate Action Summit September 2019.  

Susan Gardner serves as director, ecosystems division at UN Environment; David Nabarro as professor of global health, Imperial College London and founder of 4SD Switzerland.

Read more on: Agriculture | Biodiversity | Climate Politics | Forests | Land | UN Climate Action Summit 2019