What are Nature Based Climate Solutions?
The main cause of the rise in global surface temperatures is likely to be human activity due to the increase in greenhouse gases and the ozone depletion (IPCC, 2021). Droughts, heatwaves, and flooding events are becoming more frequent and intense, influencing climate, biodiversity, and ecosystems. Natural disasters disrupt socioeconomics and public health as climate change impacts people and society. There are several ways to mitigate the consequences of climate change and maintain social structures.
What are nature based climate solutions?
NBCS is an approach that integrates nature into human lifestyles as a way to mitigate the impacts of climate change while maintaining societal structures. NBCS refers to the use of nature to address social and environmental challenges. This concept comes from the idea that healthy ecosystems are sustainable in the long run and provide a variety of services, such as storing carbon and controlling flooding. Through the protection of diverse native species and habitats, NBCS aim to restore and create natural ecosystems. In addition, these solutions encompass a wide range of actions such as the integration of forestry in urban areas, conservation of natural and semi-natural ecosystems, and forestry management in agricultural systems. NBCS recognizes multiple benefits for local communities, including economic, social, and environmental benefits. As governments and private institutions recognize the potential benefits of NbCS, they have created an endowment to promote more carbon removal and restoration of natural environments.
Amazon for example has a climate fund with $100 million to restore and conserve forests, peatlands and wetlands for carbon storage. The fund forms part of the company pledge for carbon neutrality by 2040. Apple is also trying to reach net zero using sustainable and natural mitigation strategies. Their carbon solution fund aims to protect and restore natural ecosystems through a community driven approach including 27,0000 acres of mangroves in Colombia or savannahs in Kenya. Their aim is to reach net zero emissions by 2030.
The Science Behind Nature Based Climate Solutions
Nature-based solutions to climate change require us to understand how ecosystems sequester carbon and emit greenhouse gases. CO2 is a major contributor to global warming. With carbon sequestration, ecosystems play a crucial role in mitigating these changes. Carbon sequestration occurs when atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by trees, grasses, and plants and converted to bicarbonate, which is then incorporated into marine animal shells and fossilised.
Carbon is stored in several ecosystems, as well as living organisms. The ocean and wetlands are two examples of NbCS that act as carbon sinks. Forests are notorious for their role in combating climate change due to their function as carbon sinks. Unlike oceans, they can be cultivated and made to function as carbon sinks. Through photosynthesis, they produce glucose from carbon dioxide. In 1995, Brown et al. reported that plantations and agroforestry could absorb 60–87 Gtc, which was equivalent to 12–15 percent of cumulative fossil fuel and deforestation emissions. In addition to being cheap to implement, they provide multiple benefits such as pleasing the eye, providing nutrients for other organisms to flourish, etc.
Nature Based Climate Solutions: Mitigation
Natural climate change mitigation reduces greenhouse gas emissions by conserving and expanding carbon sinks. As a result, ecosystem resilience and important services are increased. In order for species to be more resilient, the functional relationships within and between ecosystems must be stabilised and strengthened. A number of projects in Europe use nature-based approaches to mitigate and adapt to climate change (Naumann, et al., 2014). Forests, intact peatlands, and permanent grasslands are conserved to prevent long-term carbon dioxide emissions. Green spaces in urban areas can also store atmospheric carbon in addition to planting native vegetation. GGE is reduced as a result of such measures, animal and plant species are protected, as well as health and recreation are enhanced. Using nature-based approaches can benefit tourism, conservation management, agriculture, and forestry.
The United Nations reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation plus programs in Indonesia is one example of NBCs mitigation. The program compensates activities that slow down the destruction of forests and peatlands and reduce GGE. By 2020, Indonesia aims to reduce carbon emissions by 26-41%. They can reduce climate change emissions while maintaining intact forest ecosystems, habitats and species diversity, air purification, and water and soil conservation through forest conservation and sustainable forest management. As a result, intact forest ecosystems protect forest-dependent peoples from natural resource violence and provide immediate, intermediate, and long-term health benefits, including cultural continuity, clean water, nutrition, and the spiritual value of forest-derived food. Colombia has a green corridors project, tree pits and rain program as their way of reducing emissions via natural solutions. Throughout Medellin, the Green Corridors Project restored the green and blue ecological belts, encouraging the movement of animals. Urban trees and rain gardens were planted in order to improve biodiversity and the health of residents. There were 36 green corridors and 8,800 trees planted with 90,000 species of lesser plants seeded. This had reduced a significant amount of greenhouse gas and sequestered them improving air quality thus improving human health.
Issues and Controversies on Nature Based Climate Solutions
There can sometimes be negative side effects associated with natural climate solutions that outweigh their co-benefits.
There are some NBCS that require a lot of land, such as afforestation. This may lead to confrontation between locals and external groups, which may result in retaliation against NBS or poor management practises. 'Green grabbing' can also be a result of an ineffective governance regime.
It is possible to cause more damage than good by using the wrong planting strategies. In high carbon soils, for example, afforestation may lead to soil disturbances that release deep soil carbon, leading to more carbon being released into the atmosphere than the trees are able to sequester. In addition, the spread of human and plant diseases, as well as allergenic pollen into cities may pose risks to both ecosystems and human health.
Over the long term, some NBCS have proven very costly, as atonne of CO2 removed from the atmosphere by burying biochar costs up to $200.
Natural vs Unnatural
There is a blurring of the distinction between natural and unnatural climate change solutions. As it is not obvious where the line should be drawn, different solutions are chosen as natural while the other options are assumed to be unnatural (Osaka et al, 2021). In contrast to something labelled as unnatural, something deemed as natural is viewed as more desirable by the public. Therefore, natural solutions are viewed as 'better', low-cost, and include co-benefits when compared to alternative technologies. Policymakers can structure the way they think about and evaluate the solutions available by understanding and considering this phenomenon. There are a number of reasons why ‘unnatural’ solutions may prove more beneficial than some NbCS, for example, they are more tested and mature, can provide greater carbon storage permanence, and provide economic diversification and business opportunities.