Rampant wildfires. Mass flooding. Extreme temperatures. People displaced and homes destroyed. We are witnessing the effects of a climate crisis hard to ignore. We are also losing nature and biodiversity at a rate unprecedented in human history. Countless species are at risk, including us. The clean air we breathe, the water we drink, and the fertile soils we depend on are increasingly in scarce supply. But that’s not all. As the climate crisis worsens - and with it, more destruction - so will the rate of nature loss. And vise-versa: nature loss will only increase the damage done by the climate crisis (we’ll get to that later).
The climate crisis and nature loss are the two greatest threats humanity has ever faced - an unforgiving one-two punch combo that will affect (and is already affecting) each and every one of us. It may be hard to think of a sustainable solution to overcome all this - but in fact, there is. It’s simpler than you might think, and it’s been staring us in the face all along.
It’s time to untangle: nature-based solutions.
Nature isn’t just our greatest provider, it’s actually our biggest ally against the climate crisis - so by protecting, sustainably managing, and restoring natural habitats and ecosystems, we can better sustain our way of life and at the same time tackle climate change. It’s a win-win. After all, nature loss and climate change are interrelated issues - so it would only make sense that these interrelated issues have interrelated solutions!
First, healthy natural habitats shield us from the damaging effects of floods and other extreme weather events that occur more frequently - and with greater intensity - due to climate change (we’ll explain more later).
Second, they have the incredible power to absorb and safely “store” carbon and other greenhouse gasses that cause global warming. By working with nature, researchers estimate that we can reduce emissions by up to 1/3rd of what’s needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Forests are probably the most well-known nature-based solution for climate change, but there are many more - including peatlands, mangroves, savannahs, coral reefs. Let’s break down some of them:
Forests are home to 80% of the world’s biodiversity on land, and over 1 billion people live in and around them. Beyond providing resources such as food, medicine, and timber, forests give us clean air, help filter water, and protect against erosion and landslides.
Forests also play a critical and double-edged role in the climate crisis. Their destruction and degradation releases large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere - contributing to approximately half of all greenhouse gas emissions that come from land-use change. However, when forests are healthy, they act as “carbon sinks,” removing carbon from the atmosphere and safely storing them in trees and soil.
Did you know that forests are the largest storehouse of carbon after the ocean? They absorb approximately one-third of the CO2 released from burning fossil fuels every year. However, we have yet to unlock the full potential of forests - scientists estimate that we can still restore forests across nearly two billion hectares of degraded land globally – a combined area the size of South America.
Just like forests, savannas and grassland supporting extremely rich - and threatened - biodiversity, including the very last large herds of wild animals and thousands of native species of plants and even trees.
While they are known for their incredible biodiversity, savannahs and grasslands tend to be overlooked when it comes to fighting climate change. The total carbon stored by grasslands and savannahs is estimated to be 470 gigatons - or around one fifth of the total carbon contained in land vegetation and soil worldwide.
In fact, savannahs and grasslands actually have a unique advantage! While forests mostly store carbon in trees' wood and leaves, savannahs and grasslands primarily store carbon underground.
And why does this matter? When there’s a forest fire, the burning trees release their carbon back into the atmosphere. On the other hand, when a fire hits a savannah or grassland, their stored carbon is largely protected, remaining in the roots and soil. All this makes savannahs and grasslands essential habitats to protect and restore, especially in a future where droughts and fires become more frequent due to climate change.
Photo above: © naturepl.com / Inaki Relanzon / WWF
Mangroves are dense coastal forests that are breeding grounds for marine biodiversity - 80% of global fish populations depend on them. When it comes to combating the climate crisis, they have the ability to store carbon up to 400% faster than tropical rainforests. Yet, we’ve already lost half of the world’s mangroves due to human pressures. By restoring and regenerating mangroves, an estimated 380m tonnes of CO2 could be locked away by 2040.
Mangroves are also especially important for cities near the coast, as they act as a natural shield against the kinds of extreme weather events - like storms, hurricanes, and floods - that occur more frequently due to the climate crisis.
When Hurricane Irma hit in 2017, mangroves prevented 1.5 billion US dollars in damages in Florida, protecting over half a million residents.
Though cement walls can be built to project against extreme weather mangroves are still estimated to be up to 50 times more cost-effective.
Photo above: © Paul Mckenzie / WWF-HK
Despite covering less than 0.1% of the ocean floor, coral reefs support a quarter of all marine life. We rely on them too - approximately one billion people worldwide depend on coral reefs for food, income, and protection against extreme weather.
Just like mangroves, coral reefs are especially important for communities in low-lying areas, offering protection against the increasingly intense and frequent effects of the climate crisis - from flooding and storm surges to erosion - helping reduce the height and energy of crashing waves. A study even found that coral reefs offer better protection than man-made breakwaters and seawalls. Researchers estimate that coral reefs prevent $94 million in flood damages every year.
Though coral reefs are an essential defense against the effects of climate change, they are also some of the most severely impacted by rising global temperatures. We’ve already lost half of the world’s coral reefs, and if we continue at our current rate, may lose as much as 90% by 2050.
Peatlands are a type of wetland found in almost every country on Earth, where the year-round waterlogged conditions cause dead plants and other organic matter to decompose much more slowly. Over time, these build up to form “peat” that can be several meters thick.
Peatlands serve an incredibly important role in the fight against the climate crisis, as they function as natural “carbon sinks,” absorbing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere.
In fact, healthy, intact peatlands that are several meters deep are capable of storing about 30% percent of global carbon on only 3% of global land area.
Beyond taking care of natural habitats around your home and city, one of the most powerful things you can do is to spread the word about the importance of nature!
Without nature, there can be no nature-based solutions. #TheRaceIsOn for world leaders, governments, and businesses to act NOW and step up their efforts to protect and restore nature for the benefit of people and planet.
Remind them - and the world - that nature matters by sharing this page and using the hashtag #TheRaceIsOn.
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