Nature isn't just a victim of climate change - it's a powerful tool to fight it

Cop28 is an unmissable opportunity to leverage ecosystems in global climate action

Healthy soil holds more carbon than all living organisms and the atmosphere combined. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Over the past four years, we’ve seen global warming intensify, with record-breaking temperatures on land and sea. These changes intensify natural disasters and climate impacts, especially on already vulnerable communities, ecosystems and livelihoods.

Against this bleak background, Cop28 must be a beacon of hope. We are putting a strong emphasis on nature-based solutions involving forests, land and oceans. These natural assets not only help mitigate climate change but also bolster communities’ ability to adapt to a warming world.

Nature provides us with the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe and many of the materials we need for our production and consumption. It is fundamental to meeting climate targets under the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. There is no pathway to a thriving economy, a healthy environment, or an inclusive, prosperous society without shifting capital away from activities that destroy natural ecosystems into nature-based solutions.

Nature-based solutions offer a powerful dual approach to the climate crisis, serving both as mitigators and adaptors. Specifically, they encompass strategies related to forests, soils and oceans.

These strategies include halting deforestation and promoting sustainable agriculture, all of which not only cut down greenhouse gas emissions but also increase carbon capture. Coastal ecosystems, like mangroves and seagrasses, are invaluable for storing blue carbon, making a substantial contribution to carbon capture. Simultaneously, these ecosystems help communities build resilience against the impacts of climate change, offering a comprehensive solution to a complex problem.

Nature-based solutions offer a powerful dual approach to the climate crisis, serving both as mitigators and adaptors

Deforestation contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, generating roughly 25 per cent of global emissions, according to the UN Environment Programme. However, sustainable forest management could meet more than a third of the climate goals set for 2030 in the Paris Agreement.

Nature-based solutions focus on landscape restoration and agroforestry to rehabilitate lands and support local communities. Financial institutions are also key players. Initiatives like the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero urge these organisations to eliminate deforestation from their portfolios by 2025. Meanwhile, the Finance Sector Deforestation Action initiative, managing over $9.5 trillion, targets nature-positive portfolios. Combining these strategies makes forests central to a comprehensive, effective climate action plan.

Healthy soil is Earth's most significant terrestrial carbon storehouse, holding more carbon than all living organisms and the atmosphere combined. A mere 1 per cent rise in topsoil carbon could offset a year's worth of global carbon dioxide emissions. However, land degradation from overgrazing and extreme weather releases this stored carbon, contributing substantially to climate change.

Since the 19th century, two thirds of terrestrial carbon have been lost due to land misuse. Sustainable and climate-smart agriculture offers a remedy. Practices like conservation tillage, crop rotation, and no-till farming enhance soil health and carbon storage while mitigating erosion. Such soils are better equipped for climate adaptation — they can absorb more water, reducing flood risks, and sustain crops during droughts. A healthy soil ecosystem also helps control pests and diseases. Combining these methods in a nature-based solution strategy can significantly curb carbon emissions and foster climate resilience.

Coastal ecosystems like mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass meadows are pivotal carbon sinks, storing blue carbon over centuries. These ecosystems handle 80 per cent of the global carbon cycle while making up less than 2 per cent of ocean area. However, human activities are threatening their carbon storage capacity and triggering carbon dioxide emissions. These ecosystems also offer natural protection against storms and rising sea levels.

Initiatives like the Mangrove Breakthrough aim to protect and restore 15 million hectares of mangroves by 2030. Despite their importance, mangroves receive only about 1 per cent of climate finance. To bridge this gap, financial strategies and new funding methods are in the works. The initiative works with global alliances and countries like the UAE, which plans to plant 100 million mangroves by 2030. These case studies can guide global policies for climate mitigation and biodiversity conservation.

As we convene for Cop28, it is crucial to recognise the invaluable role nature plays in both mitigating and adapting to climate change. From forests and soils to coastal wetlands, natural systems not only absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide but also enable communities to adapt to and enhance their resilience to climatic extremes. The time for action is now; Cop28 provides an unmissable opportunity to make nature a central pillar in global climate action. Ignoring this avenue is a risk we cannot afford to take.

As the UN High-Level Climate Champion for Cop28, I am calling on non-party stakeholders from businesses and financial institutions to cities, regions and civil society to put nature at the heart of climate action and urge you to integrate nature into your climate transition plans. Commit to nature-based solutions – people and our planet’s future depend on it.

Published: November 20, 2023, 4:00 AM
Updated: November 22, 2023, 5:58 AM