Natural Climate Solutions, The Nature Conservancy
Climate change is a global problem, and it requires solutions on a global scale. One of those is hiding in plain sight. Our lands provide an untapped opportunity – proven ways of both storing carbon and reducing carbon emissions in the world’s forests, grasslands and wetlands: natural climate solutions.
Natural climate solutions can help address climate change in three ways:
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), related to land use and changes in land use Capturing and storing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere Improving resilience of ecosystems, thereby helping communities adapt to the increase in flooding and dry spells associated with climate change
To address climate change, we have to invest in natural climate solutions. Yet a quarter of the world’s governments still do not prioritize them. There is a continuing imbalance in investment in nature-based solutions, which trails financing for renewable energy and energy efficiency by a factor of 10 to 1. This is despite natural climate solutions being cost-effective and having benefits beyond reducing climate change.
Capturing and storing CO2 in our natural systems is essential to addressing climate change. Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and investing in renewable energy will be critical to decreasing emissions in the long term, but transforming energy systems and infrastructure is a slow process. We need to act now if we hope to limit warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius, and natural climate solutions are already widely available.
Natural climate solutions can deliver large-scale emissions reductions cost-effectively. The UN Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change reports that, by 2030, up to a third of its annual land-based emissions reductions targets could be achieved at a cost of $20 or less per carbon tonne. While the transition to low carbon energy will take decades, natural climate solutions could, and we argue should, provide a biological bridge to a low-carbon future in the near-term.
We know that harnessing the power of natural climate solutions to improve decisions related to land use can provide at least 30% of what is needed to keep climate change under 2 degrees C. TNC scientists and economists are working on new assessments that provide more detail about what land can do for people and nature.
Natural forest management
Many of the world’s natural forests provide wood products critical to people’s lives and livelihoods. Halting all logging in forests would achieve maximum carbon sequestration, but an end to logging is neither realistic nor necessary.
Improving forest management practices allows natural forests to store more carbon while maintaining wood production for the long term. Logging should certainly be halted in some sensitive places, but the lost production can be made up by new wood production in reforested lands and plantations.
Extending harvest cycles, for example, allows trees to grow more before they’re felled, increasing the average carbon stock across a working forest. Reduced-impact logging practices like cable winching can avoid damage to unharvested trees. And competing vegetation, such as vines, can be thinned to allow trees to grow faster and bigger. Implementing such techniques can allow working forests to sequester more carbon.
Improved natural forest management practices could be applied in some form to some 1.9 billion hectares of wood-production forest worldwide, an area twice the size of the United States.