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Sustainable Business 2019

Natural climate solutions can deliver up to 37% of the 2030 emission reductions


Martin Noponen

Climate Director, Rainforest Alliance

Natural climate solutions (NCS) are actions in the agriculture, forestry and other land-use sectors that help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that should be adopted now.

Change is in the air. Over the past couple of months, it has felt like the momentum for climate action has accelerated, found another gear. Nudged on by the many climate emergency protests and youth actions across the globe, mainstream media have built on the opportunity to increase awareness among the average consumer, highlighting steps we as individuals can and must embrace.

What the science shows

Identifying and designing suitable emissions reduction pathways has traditionally featured a heavy focus on reducing fossil fuel usage and keeping those fuels in the ground. Recent science and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report, however, acknowledge the critical importance of nature as part of the solution. Natural solutions can combat not only the climate emergency but, more broadly, they can support biodiversity and societal challenges.

These so-called nature-based or natural climate solutions[1] (NCS) have the potential – alongside fossil fuel reduction and their phase-out and technological innovations – to limit warming to 1.5°C through enhancing carbon sinks in natural ecosystems. The research shows that natural climate solutions alone can deliver up to 37% of the emission reductions needed by 2030[2].

Combined with other solutions, including the advancement of renewable energy and other technologies, natural climate solutions are therefore essential to keeping the climate within safe boundaries.

By recognising the multi-faceted challenges faced by societies and taking a coordinated approach, actions that span the goals of climate, development and nature at once will enable the possibility to achieve success in all of them. Part of this result for all of us needs to be the integration of natural climate solutions.

Natural climate solutions are proven solutions

Natural climate solutions afford a broad range of opportunities for policy adoption. They can be included as a measure to fulfil country commitments to the Paris Agreement; to bring benefits beyond climate mitigation, such as opportunities to increase biodiversity and ecosystem functioning; to produce crops more sustainably; and to lead to a deeper discussion on land tenure issues and human rights. 

When sector platforms, governments and companies include NCS as a tool within their policies and supply chain commitments on both sustainable agriculture and climate mitigation, a more enabling environment for producers to implement NCS can be facilitated.

For businesses, climate change, biodiversity loss and natural-capital degradation can pose unquantified and increasing risks within their supply chains. Sector initiatives such as the Cocoa and Forest Initiative (CFI) and the Accountability Framework Initiative (AFI) are two examples that highlight the opportunity of including and scaling NCS strategies, in particular through zero deforestation commitments in agricultural supply chains.

These aim to support and monitor the effective implementation of supply chain commitments in developing a common set of norms and guidelines (AFI) that are translated into action plans for companies working to address deforestation, ecosystem conversion, and socio-economic challenges. Such efforts mark the clear drive held by companies and governments to collectively advance broader targets. The ambition is to support sector transformation through a solutions pathway that increasingly focuses on NCS to protect and restore ecosystems, enable sustainable agriculture production and farmers’ livelihoods, and support community engagement and social inclusion.

Combined actions will thus play a crucial role for the necessary investments in sustainable agricultural intensification in order to grow more food on less land and help to promote incentive-based systems.

Business as usual is an endangered species; the time to act is now!

However, although NCS are immediately available and proven ways of creating critical environmental, social and economic benefits and can be scaled to transform key sectors of the global economy, one needs to remember that these can only form part of a much broader approach to addressing the climate emergency. NCS need to feature as part of the overall tool set, rather than as a substitute for fossil fuel reduction and phase-out. As one of my colleagues said the other day – business as usual is an endangered species! So, let’s work together with nature, rather than against it.

[1] Natural climate solutions (NCS) are actions in the agriculture, forestry and other land-use sectors that help to reduce GHG emissions, capture and store emissions and improve the resilience of ecosystems such as through reforestation, agroforestry, forest protection, forest management and improved cropland management.

[2] Natural Climate Solutions, Bronson W. Griscom et al. (2017), PNAS 114 (44) 11645-11650

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