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How natural climate solutions can play a significant role in achieving our SDGs

Natural climate solutions offer immediate and cost-effective ways to tackle the climate crisis — while also supporting healthy, thriving communities and ecosystems.

Natural climate solutions offer immediate and cost-effective ways to tackle the climate crisis — while also supporting healthy, thriving communities and ecosystems. Image: Smita Sharma

Jennifer Morris
Chief Executive Officer, Nature Conservancy
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SDG 13: Climate Action

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  • This science-first approach shows how and why we must invest in nature today to secure a better tomorrow.
  • If natural climate solutions are mobilized over the next 10 to 15 years, they could provide up to one-third of the needed mitigation to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
  • The crisis we face requires action, substantial investment and a reimagining of our relationship with the natural world.

It’s 5 a.m. and I am on a train, heading to Punjab, in northwest India. Home to the birthplace of India’s Green Revolution, it is a patchwork of millions of small farms. Following agricultural science, these farmers can improve crop yields and air quality. What’s more, each small farm offers up the chance to address climate change on a global scale.

Here, the Nature Conservancy pushes the envelope of creative collaboration. From primary schools to universities and farmers to multinational corporations, we’re working together to innovate age-old techniques to everyone’s benefit.

In the north-western states of Punjab and Haryana, 12 million metric tons of rice stubble is burned by more than 2 million farmers every year to make way for wheat crops, creating dark clouds of toxic smoke that can be seen from space. But through a bold new project called Promoting Regenerative and No-burn Agriculture - or PRANA for short - we aim to support these same farmers in transitioning to regenerative farming practices, eliminating the need for burning crop residue. This results in increased yields, improved soil health, diminished water scarcity challenges and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Through this programme, we aim to help hundreds of thousands of farmers eliminate burning and sequester the same amount of CO2 emissions as taking over a million petrol-powered cars off the road for a year.


What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Across the globe, in Brazil, we are employing this same science-first collaboration mindset in different circumstances. In a study conducted in the Amazon and Cerrado, we evaluated different sustainable agriculture strategies, carbon benefits and carbon-pricing mechanisms to identify the most promising options for accelerating investment in natural climate solutions. As one of our carbon specialists, Fernanda Rocha, explains, this data proves that the agricultural sector in the Cerrado offers one of the greatest opportunities for reducing greenhouse gases and avoiding deforestation in the region, the most cost-effective means of reducing emissions on a large scale. This is true because of the large potential per hectare and because of the existence of tools and techniques to make it happen.

How do these two situations reveal nature’s blueprint for survival? They both demonstrate a science-first approach to how and why we must invest in nature now to secure a better tomorrow. Combined with transitioning away from fossil fuels, natural climate solutions offer immediate and cost-effective ways to tackle the climate crisis — while also supporting healthy, thriving communities and ecosystems.

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Mobilizing natural climate solutions

If natural climate solutions are mobilized by 2023, they could provide up to one-third of the needed mitigation for global climate targets to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. But, if action is delayed, that number could drop to 22% after 2050.

Climate science shows us that the value in every ton of greenhouse gas we take out of the atmosphere—whether it is sequestered for one year, five years, fifty years or a hundred years — is appreciable. We need to take bold steps to reduce and stop emissions so that in 100 years, we are not relying solely on carbon capture of any sort to address this existential crisis.

Supporting nature through actions, such as mangrove conservation, adopting agroforestry methods and restoring peatlands, provide immense opportunities for carbon sequestration, along with a host of co-benefits for people and the planet. But, while philanthropies and civil society can catalyze some change, they need partners to do it at scale.

Given the significant role that corporations play in the demand for and production of key commodities, it is time for rapid innovation. Last year, at COP27, fourteen of the world’s largest agribusinesses committed to rapidly eliminating deforestation and land conversion in the most important tropical commodities – cattle, palm oil and soy. This is crucial because 30% of our global emissions come from food production.

As we meet as leaders across the UN General Assembly, New York Climate Week and the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Meetings we should celebrate the progress and amplify the wins, but we must also call for key actors to make bold changes.

Working from the ground up

As with the Punjabi farmers shifting from burning paddies, ultimately change must start from the ground up. To be scalable and sustainable, this ground change must be accompanied by ambitious public and private partnerships at the national and subnational levels. We need bold corporate investment, support and a willingness to upend business as usual to implement standards-based reporting frameworks (such as the TNFD, which launches at Climate Week). Beyond the realm of environmental, social and governance (ESG) commitments, lies the imperative to execute tangible actions that yield substantial dividends for people and the planet.

Just as nature is interconnected, our strategies must be too. I saw it first hand in India, where through involving local communities, Indigenous Peoples and governments, we can collaboratively design land management plans that protect biodiversity, preserve traditional knowledge, foster sustainable development and mitigate climate change.

The crisis we face requires action, substantial investment and a reimagining of our relationship with the natural world. According to the Swiss Re Institute, the world stands to lose close to 10% of total economic value by mid-century if climate change stays on the currently-anticipated trajectory and the Paris Agreement and 2050 net-zero emissions targets are not met. More acutely, it could wipe off up to 18% of the GDP of the worldwide economy by 2050 if global temperatures rise by 3.2°C

It is our responsibility to affect change now, by investing in nature now. This investment must go hand in hand with leadership at the community level. What does this look like? Working with scientists such as those at Punjab Agricultural University who use community trust to introduce systemic disruption – think shifting from generations of burning to new machine technology. It looks like supporting and rewarding farmers in Brazil to shift to models that expand production without deforestation or conversion and restoring native vegetation.

We need to scale bold, transformative actions like these across industries and reimagine how we invest globally. And we must act like our lives, homes, farms, families and futures depend on these changes – because they do.

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