Could climate change be solved by the more efficient and effective use of nature?
After all, nature has been regulating the world, the environment and our atmosphere since life formed billions of years ago.
Despite the recent advancement in man-made solutions, the World Bank predicts that nature-based solutions are one of the key priority areas to promote adaptation and resilience to climate change.
Can Earth’s climate problems be via nature-based solutions?
This blog will cover:
- What nature-based solutions are
- Why they’re important in helping the climate
- 5 examples of nature-based solutions to climate change
- Some of the challenges of natural based solutions
What are nature-based climate solutions?
Nature-based climate solutions harness the power of our natural ecosystems. The goal of these solutions is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
They make use of our natural resources, whilst protecting and restoring the environments in which they’re found. Arguably, the best thing about nature-based solutions is that they blend effortlessly into everyday life. Or at least they should do.
We see, and are part of, nature-based solutions all the time without even realising it. The most common being the development of our natural resource of forestry and woodlands. For example, how much woodland covers the UK has been slowly increasing now for a couple of decades because of forestry.
There are plenty of other natural resolutions too. These include peatlands, mangroves, regenerative agriculture, coral reefs and many other landscapes and ecosystems dependent on the location.
In comparison, common man-made climate solutions include the promotion of alternative and renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind energy. There are also other solutions to phase out the use of fossils fuels, such as the adoption of electric and hybrid vehicles as an example, and even electric bikes and e-scooters as alternatives to car journeys.
Can the answer really be with nature?
Why are nature-based climate solutions important?
Earth is facing a double ended threat – that of climate change and a biodiversity loss crisis.
It’s predicted that around 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, the highest this figure has been in human history. With this, the climate emergency we are facing threatens to expose millions of people, and animals, to devastating climate effects such as heat waves, flooding, extreme weather events and increasing sea-level rises, to name just a few.
We have begun to harness solutions within our urban and industrial settings, but the power of nature-based solutions has yet not been fully unleashed.
How can natural climate solutions help the planet?
Nature-based solutions broadly work in one of two ways:
- Increasing the capacity for carbon storage (e.g. planting trees to drawdown CO2)
- By avoiding additional greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. limiting deforestation)
In turn, these two methods can have many positive effects for the planet, including:
1. Reducing the effects of climate change
Decreasing sources of carbon emissions and promoting sinks of carbon will in turn reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
2. Promoting adaption of the planet to a changing climate
Nature-based solutions provide the link between the environment and the socioeconomic landscape to allow change.
3. Reduction of socio-economic effects of climate change on local populations
Protection of environments (e.g. management of forests) can reduce secondary risks (e.g. flood risk), therefore reducing any negative social and economic risks of the area.
4. Increase in local opportunities
Nature-based solutions can promote the delivery of ecosystem services that can sustain livelihoods and wellbeing (e.g. increasing tourism). This can increase the financial aspirations of an area.
5 Examples of Nature-Based Solutions To Climate Change
There are many types of nature-based solutions, each with their own merits and ways of helping our climate.
Here are 5 of the best natural solutions to climate change:
Case Example: Future Forest Company – Brodoclea and The Isle of Mull
Carbon can be captured within forestry – both native woodland, ancient stands and commercial forestry. Trees are able to store carbon in its biomass, its dead leaves and wood, as well as underground in the soil within the root structure.
Naturally regenerating woodland can lock carbon into the soil quicker and can achieve secondary biodiversity benefits. Commercial forestry however can enhance its carbon absorption if the wood is used for timber – it can be used in construction to replace more carbon-intensive materials resulting in additional reductions in indirect emissions.
Sustainable forestry management examples such as growing bamboo and cork trees can benefit the environment as they can be harvested without the need to kill the grass or chop down the tree. This means they can sequester much more carbon over the long term.
2) Peatland Management
Case Example: UK Peatland Programme
Peatlands contain the highest stock of soil carbon in their deposits, which means it’s a huge carbon store for the Earth. This is why the peat-free movement, in products such as compost, is really important. If you’re interested, take a look at this peat-free coconut-based compost.
Effective management is required to ensure that these stores are preserved, built upon and harnessed effectively.
This includes the following:
- Developing advice on peatland and wetland habitat management
- Advising planning authorities in relation to the industrial extraction of peat, e.g. for fuel, malting and garden products to prevent excessive emissions (of course, peat is much better left in the ground altogether!)
3) Agricultural Crop Rotation
Case Example: Yunnan, China
Crop rotation is the practice of planting various crops one after another on the same plot of land to improve soil health and combat pest and weed pressure. As an example, a farmer may plant a field of corn one year.
After this harvest, the farmer may plant beans, since corn consumes a lot of nitrogen and beans return nitrogen to the soil.
By changing the crop, the proliferation of pests which is currently being enhanced by climate change, can be prevented. As well as this, the soil composition improves, hence storing more carbon, mitigating another effect of climate change.
There are similar benefits when regeneration agriculture practices are incorporated into farming too.
4) Mangrove Restoration
Case Example: Gasi Bay, Kenya
Mangroves, the wooded area between the coast and the land, characterised by the dense roots of the tree, are a huge carbon sink and habitat for marine life. Mangroves store four times more CO2 than terrestrial forests, therefore restoration of these habitats is essential to combat climate change.
Specifically in Gasi Bay, logging of mangroves has been halted and 5,000 seedlings have been planted, allowing a fully fledged mangrove forest in the future.
5) Coral Reef Restoration
Case Example: Cousin Island, Seychelles
It’s estimated that coral reefs absorb 70 to 90 million tonnes of carbon per year, meaning that restoring damaged corals is a fail safe way to reduce the impact of climate change.
From 2010, Cousin Island began a restoration project which has raised 40,000 corals in underwater nurseries, with 24,000 of these being successfully transplanted onto reefs.
The gardening technique of retrieving healthy coral, growing it in protected nurseries and then transplanting it onto degraded reefs was used to achieve this.
Challenges of nature-based climate solutions
The power of nature-based climate solutions is both large, and currently under-used.
Despite this, these solutions on their own cannot solve the climate crisis we are facing. We need to combine them with alternative solutions such as greenhouse gas emissions cuts, fossil fuel phasing out, renewable energy investment and other human-engineered incentives.
Scientific research suggests that nature-based solutions, if utilised correctly, can contribute about 20% of the mitigation needed between now and 2050 to keep global warming below 2°C.
The remaining 80% will need to come from emission reductions in sectors such as energy, building, industrial and transportation. One huge reason for this is the carbon capacity of natural resources – an area of forest, soil, or coral reef can only hold so much carbon and once the land reaches its maximum capacity, it cannot sequester any additional carbon dioxide.
However, we may be a long way away from this point at the minute, but it is a challenge that nature-based solutions face in combating climate change.
Wrap up on nature-based climate solutions
Nature-based climate solutions harness the power of our natural ecosystem to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Examples include woodland management, peatland management, agricultural management via crop rotation, mangrove management and coral reef restoration.
They blend into our natural world, whilst also mitigating climate change, and promoting secondary benefits to our environment. Our greatest solution to climate change may just be found within nature.
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