James Lloyd is the Project Lead for Nature4Climate and Natural Climate Solutions stakeholder manager at The Nature Conservancy. Working at the interface of strategic communications and external affairs for nature and climate change, he worked for over a decade as an adviser, first in Westminster in the UK and then more broadly to other actors in the conservation sector.
2020 has the potential to be a super year for nature-based solutions to kick off a decade of ecological restoration and climate action. But urgent work lies ahead if we are to seize the opportunity before us.
Having attended the United Nations climate negotiations, COP25, in December 2019, it came to a close having failed to deliver meaningful progress or reassure the world that the political will exists to tackle the climate emergency. This leaves much work to be done in the year ahead to keep the goals of the Paris Agreement within reach.
However, what did stand out as a bright spot amid the stalled negotiations was the rise of nature-based solutions to our current climate crisis.
Following the wave of momentum at the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit – and the surrounding Climate Week in New York – nature-based solutions featured prominently in the COP schedule, from the plenary halls, to a high-level Presidency event led by Chile and Spain, to a wide range of side events and rallies.
Overall, a growing number of governments, businesses and civil society groups are coming to understand the important role nature-based solutions can play as scalable and cost-effective responses to the climate threat, which are actionable now. At least in this sector, a new sense of optimism has emerged as people come to understand the potential to use nature to provide up to a third of the climate action needed by 2030 to keep the world in line with the Paris Agreement.
What nature-based solutions are, and what they aren’t
Given the increased attention nature-based solutions are receiving, it is important to clarify what they are and what they are not, in order to prevent them from being misappropriated for any effort that undermines ambitious climate action.
Nature-based solutions are a broad range of actions – centered on the protection, restoration and sustainable management of the world’s ecosystems – to help increase climate mitigation and adaptation around the globe, as well as support sustainable development and protect and promote biodiversity. They are a part of the broad sweep of multi-sectoral action needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and must be in addition to urgently reducing the use of fossil fuels.
Nature-based solutions are not an excuse for governments or companies to avoid or delay rapid reductions in carbon emissions. Nor are they a justification for projects that harm local communities or violate indigenous rights.
2020 can be a super year for nature and people
Nature-based solutions are well placed to make a significant breakthrough in 2020. Not only do they offer one of the most powerful ways for countries to enhance their national climate commitments next year, they are also backed by increasing levels of political support.
Chile, which holds the COP Presidency until COP26, has launched a “Climate Ambition Alliance” of 73 countries all of which have signaled their intention to submit an enhanced Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) next year, including a focus on implementing concrete actions to strengthen the protection of forests and oceans. And, while they do not officially take over the Presidency until COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, the UK team has already begun designing a strategy for success in 2020, including nature-based solutions.
The European Commission recently unveiled a plan to eliminate the European Union’s contribution to climate change by 2050, which included commitments to improving the quality and health of European forests, as well as ensuring its trade policy minimises the risks to forests around the world.
And, finally, in the lead up to the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in China next year, there is a growing diplomatic effort calling for 30 percent of the planet to be managed for nature by 2030 with a range of supporting actions to mainstream diversity across government.
Urgent action needed in early months of 2020
There are a number of things that need to happen in the early months of 2020 to unlock the full potential of nature-based solutions.
If they have not already done so, countries should enhance and mainstream the role of nature-based solutions in Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), as well as other climate policy related instruments such as national adaptation plans, long-term low emission development strategies.
Furthermore, despite countries’ failure to reach a deal on the rules surrounding carbon markets and other forms of international cooperation, some countries have signaled their intention to begin forging bilateral agreements in lieu of formal guidance from the Paris regime. A group of countries, led by Costa Rica and Switzerland, have put forward an important set of principles to serve as interim guidelines.
It is essential, as the incoming President of COP26, that the United Kingdom lead a renewed effort next year to finalise the rules in such a way that they reduce emissions, increase ambition and spur public and private sector investment. Whether it’s through market or non-market-based approaches, it is critical that developing countries are re-assured that their own commitments and investments in protecting, restoring and sustainably managing natural ecosystems will be recognised, supported and rewarded by international partners.
Lastly, we need to see much more action to align investment and increase finance for nature-based solutions, sufficient to enable the achievement of the full climate change mitigation (10 Gt of GHG per year) and adaption potential. Just as large investors are pulling investments out of fossil fuels, they must do the same for activities that drive deforestation in the Amazon and elsewhere.
To find out more about our work on the Environment, Climate and Conservation, click here.