In Paris in 2015, leaders from 192 nations committed to limit the increase of global average temperatures since pre-industrial levels to well below 2°C, while pursuing efforts to stay within 1.5°C. Today 131 countries, responsible for 73% of global emissions, have now adopted or are considering net-zero emission targets – and these targets have put the Paris Agreement’s goals within reach.
But achieving those goals will require each country to take a unique path. And many will require financial support to deploy new technologies, protect natural storehouses of carbon, and help communities adapt to the changes that are already underway.
Climate finance stands as one of the critical pillars for global efforts to combat the climate crisis. Financing a rapid transition to a net-zero emission, climate-resilient economy will require significantly more investment, investment in a different set of assets, and investment that addresses the humanitarian imperative of social inclusion and poverty alleviation.
While the recent G7 summit did not result in significant new financial pledges, global leaders did reiterate their commitment to achieving the $100 billion per year of climate finance that has long been promised. The leaders specifically called for “more finance contributing to adaptation and resilience, disaster risk and insurance, as well as support for nature and nature-based solutions”.
Developed nations typically emit a majority of their greenhouse gases through their transportation, electricity or manufacturing sectors. But developing nations’ biggest climate impact often comes from land use and deforestation.
Ecosystem-based approaches can therefore provide some 30% of the global climate mitigation needed to meet the Paris Agreement targets.
Invest in Nature
Investments in nature and ecosystems can also deliver tangible benefits beyond their value as a climate tool. These approaches often help to secure livelihoods for local people, for example. A recent report by McKinsey highlights the return-on-investment of protecting nature versus other approaches.
As one example, it notes that coral reefs reduce wave energy and thus protect nearly 200 million people in India, Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere from extreme storm damage. The alternative – constructing artificial storm barriers – would cost roughly 15 times more than simply protecting or restoring the reefs
Here are the key ingredients to make these initiatives successful and durable.
1. It’s important to make space for everyone at the table. National and local governments, local communities and indigenous peoples, the private sector and civil society all have a role to play in both design and implementation.
2. It is also critical to recognize the gender dimensions of ecosystem-based approaches and women’s contribution to the preservation and restoration of ecosystems. Ensuring that climate initiatives are country-owned and country-driven, that they are gender responsive, and have the consent, full support and participation of each of these stakeholders, stands as the critical first test for every climate initiative, but especially for those designed to protect landscapes and seascapes.
3. And following on from this principle, any benefits – financial or otherwise – derived from the initiative should be shared equitably with the people who call the affected area home. They are, after all, the most critical allies for long-term sustainable management.
4. Nature and ecosystem-based approaches should be designed using the best science, measurements, and metrics to ensure the achievement of real benefits for climate, nature, and people. Early steps should include identifying local and regional causes of nature loss, developing a deeper understanding of expected local climate impacts, and assessing the trade-offs of different resource management practices to maximize positive outcomes.
5. Pressures on ecosystems from human activities and climate change should be carefully and regularly assessed, including those from any policies that may inadvertently be incentivizing unsustainable use. Based on this assessment, goals should be established, needed interventions identified and costed, and clear timelines established for action by all partners. Finally, a plan should be developed to measure progress and assess the need for adaptive action.
6. There needs to be a strategy to guarantee the long-term success of investments. This requires a clear vision for ensuring stable and sustained funding and local management.
In Bhutan, for example, organizations worked with the government, community stakeholders, civil society, and several private foundations and individual donors to secure the funding needed for long-term protection of a 5 million-acre network of forests, rivers, and other natural resources representing half of the country’s territory.
Bhutan is one of the very few carbon-negative countries on Earth, and its rivers contribute to a network of Himalayan river systems that deliver water to hundreds of millions of people. Keeping the country’s ecosystems intact will help it stay that way.
It’s clear that nature – and those securing its ecosystem services – have big roles to play in addressing the climate crisis. In many places, protecting, managing, and restoring landscapes and seascapes holds the key to delivering tangible benefits for nature and local people, while also securing the emission-reduction and resiliency benefits we need to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
By adhering to the key ingredients outlined above, nature and ecosystem-based investments can deliver lasting benefits that put people first, build community resilience to climate change, and drive real progress toward sustainable development.