Working with Nature to mitigate climate change

Nature is one mighty powerful resource. 

What if we could just harness that power, nature could be a powerful ally to mitigate climate change. Well, we can. By working with nature, not against it. Sounds pretty common sense right? That’s where Natural Climate Solutions come in. 

Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) 

Natural Climate Solutions (or Nature Based Solutions) basically mean helping nature do what she’s been doing for billions of years; sequester and store Carbon and GHGs. 

Natural Climate Solutions involve conserving, restoring and improving land use and ecosystems.

NCS or NBS: “Actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, which address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.” – IUCN

Research shows that these solutions could deliver 37% of the emissions reductions needed to limit global warming to 2°C, across 4 types of ecosystems: wetlands, grasslands, forests and agricultural lands. Pretty amazing right?!

Grasslands

Did you know that grasslands soak up and store carbon in their roots and the soil? In total, they store up to 20% of soil carbon. But we often don’t see the value, and clear the land for housing and agriculture. 

And that lovely green grass we have at home? From a biological perspective, that’s degraded grassland – as it’s only one species. So why not throw around some seedbombs on that lawn, make it more wild? Your lawn will be storing more carbon, and you can enjoy some lovely flowers and herbs! 

Wetlands

Freshwater wetlands cover less than 5% of the world’s land area, but store vast quantities of carbon per hectare in the form of peat soils.

Peat soil: the surface organic layer of a soil that consists of partially decomposed organic matter, derived mostly from plant material, which has accumulated under conditions of waterlogging, oxygen deficiency, high acidity and nutrient deficiency.

Interestingly enough, the protection of marshes and peat bogs are a more effective long-term carbon store than forests. It is estimated that 760,000 hectares of peatlands are lost globally each year, mostly to be cleared and drained for palm oil production. 

When the soil is drained, it releases carbon, which adds to climate change. But with draining, the soil also decreases in volume. And once the volume is down to sea level, the area is at risk of flooding, with huge consequences for all species, including humans, that live there as well.

 

Image: Soil cleared for Palm Oil production in East Malaysia

Forests & Trees

Trees and forests continue to amaze us. They store carbon, provide us oxygen, are part of the meteorological system and so much more. 

And if you’ve read the Hidden Life of Trees, you know that we know nothing! Did you know that trees communicate and have their own ‘internet’ in the form of mycelium? All together, trees are at the center of many an ecosystem. 

There are about 3 trillion trees in the world, according to a 2015 study from Yale University. Sounds like a lot, but before humans took over, there used to be twice as many… 

Deforestation

What happened? How did we lose all those trees? Well, we cut them down for wood, and to make space for housing, cities, and farmland to grow food. 

Deforestation: The permanent removal of trees to make room for something besides forest.

Our population is expanding, and in combination with our consumption patterns, this puts pressure on clearing more land. 

Deforestation is often pointed out as one of the major causes of the increasing greenhouse effects. This increase happens because of two reasons. The burning or decomposing of wood releases long trapped CO2 back into the atmosphere; and secondly, trees that are cut down are no longer capable of trapping CO2 from the atmosphere. 

Today, most deforestation is happening in the tropics. It’s estimated that in 2017, the tropics lost an area the size of Bangladesh.

“Tackling deforestation is key to addressing climate change. 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions are directly caused by deforestation and up to 33% of climate mitigation efforts depend on preserving forests”. – CDP Global Forests Report 2017  

Reforestation & Afforestation

One of the more popular and well-known Nature Based Solutions is planting trees. Not surprising, because it’s such a tangible and likable option! 

Technically, planting trees comes in two forms: reforestation and afforestation. 

Reforestation: Planting new trees in areas where they have been removed, cut down, or destroyed by fire, disease, etc.

Afforestation: Planting trees on lands which, historically, have not contained forests.” – IPCC

A Brazilian couple planted 2.7 million trees in two decades. Wow! 

Planting trees is one of the most effective strategies to mitigate climate change. A 2019 study suggested that planting 1 trillion trees would dramatically reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and significantly help stop global climate change. Of course that comes with challenges; but let’s at least get started. 

As we shared before, we have a monthly subscription to Ecologi and are slowly on our way to our very own Green Sprint forest. And it’s fun to see it growing! 

And another easy hack is to use Ecosia as your search engine; they use their ad revenue to plant trees! 

Agroforestry 

Remember back in the old days (well, ok, we don’t actually remember) people used to gather nuts and berries? We don’t do that anymore, but a lot of our food does come from trees. Simply put, agroforestry is combining agriculture and trees. 

Agroforestry: The interaction of agriculture and trees, including the agricultural use of trees.

Benefits of Agroforestry 

With modern monocropping agricultural practices, we’ve taken apart the ecosystem in the name of efficiency, but mixing them brings back a lot of additional benefits. 

In one part it’s to directly farm them for food, but also think of the other interactions trees have with the landscape: they can provide shade for other crops and animals, and prevent soil erosion and water evaporation. 

And this leads us into the final category; agricultural lands. Because although a lot of attention goes to forests and trees; improving soil health through regenerative agriculture and land management practices is another key solution. So much so, it will have it’s own Jargon Buster! 

Until then – Happy Sprinting! 

Minou & Pamela

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