Reducing our bet on fossil fuels requires a long time. A rapid transformation of the existing energy systems and infrastructure is a slow process too. However, we are not utilising the natural climate solutions already available to us. We should be willing to use them if we want to limit warming to less than 1.5 degree Celsius.
Our lands provide an untapped opportunity – both in storing carbon and reducing carbon emissions. Our forests, grasslands, and wetlands are the key to natural climate solutions, and can help address climate change in three ways: reducing greenhouse gas emissions, capturing and storing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and improving the resilience of ecosystems.
But we found continuing imbalance in investment in nature-based solutions, despite these being cost-effective. Still, a quarter of the world’s governments hasn’t prioritised natural climate solutions to address climate change. 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 tons. While the transition to low carbon energy will take decades, natural climate solutions could provide a biological bridge to a low-carbon future in the near-term.
Justin Adams, in a new study produced by the Nature Conservancy, has addressed the most promising ways to mitigate climate change. These are what we call “natural climate solutions”: the conservation, restoration, and improved management of land, in order to increase carbon storage in landscapes worldwide.
Along with 15 other leading institutions, this study has prioritized the protection of “frontier forests” that serve as natural carbon sinks. The preservation of frontier habitats also helps regulate water flows, reduces the risk of flooding, and maintains biodiversity. Secondly, it also emphasised reforestation, as an estimated 4.9 billion acres of land has been deforested or degraded globally. According to their study, it is estimated that the world could capture three gigatons of CO2 annually. Thirdly, it has highlighted agricultural reform, as the food sector is a major contributor to climate change through direct and indirect emissions, and by its often-negative effects on soil health and deforestation.
Reforestation is the single largest nature-based climate mitigation opportunity we have. In addition, reforestation provides cleaner water, cleaner air, flood control, and more fertile soils, not to mention wood products and tree crops.
The coastal wetlands are also key. They are also known as ‘blue carbon’ ecosystems. Many coastal wetlands have converted to agriculture, aquaculture or urban development in different corners of the world. Meanwhile in southeast Asia, mangrove forests are converted for aquaculture, palm oil production, and rice farms. Our coastal wetlands can be converted into new forms while keeping their natural biodiversity. We are already blessed with the largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans.
We know that in Bangladesh, an estimated 35 million people of 19 coastal districts are vulnerable to climate change and that this may result in over 25 million climate refugees due to global warming by 2050. In this backdrop, this country has adopted few natural climate solutions like reforestation projects to protect coastal wetlands.
Already in 2009, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had introduced ‘Community-based Adaptation to Climate Change through Coastal Afforestation (CBACC)’ in the coastal areas of Bangladesh. This programme is an example of drawing together climate change adaptation and economic development through 9,000 hectares of mangrove afforestation.
Later, in 2016, UNDP initiated the ‘Integrating Community-based Adaptation into Afforestation and Reforestation (ICBA-AR)’ programme to reduce the vulnerability of communities to the adverse impacts of climate change. With the help of the Bangladesh Forest Department, this project aims to reforest 650 hectares of degraded mangroves with 12 different species to enhance the resilience of mangrove through diversification.
To make the natural climate solutions successful, these programmes have adopted of Fish-Fruit-Forest (FFF) model to climate risk in the coastal area, which is now providing agricultural, fisheries, livestock and innovative livelihood support to poor communities.
It also engaged local communities in coastal forest management and sharing forest benefits among others. Around 10,500 poor local households are projected to have benefitted from the project. In 2017 the project reached 2,310 households of which round 44% beneficiaries are female.
Zulker Naeen is a communication graduate from University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB), a freelance journalist at Climate Tracker, and can be reached here.