Reforestation is a Nature-based Climate Solution
Climate change sounds like a concept dreamed up by a malevolent deity in order to maximize anxiety in the population. The effects are diverse and unpredictable in time and space, individual contributions pale in comparison to the scope of the problem, and failing to stop the crisis in time means the destruction of everything that makes life worth living. It’s no wonder understanding modern climate science leads to mental health issues ranging from anxiety and depression to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Breaking down the problem can be helpful in overcoming this general sense of helplessness, so let’s get started. Since the root of the problem is greenhouse gas emissions, let’s look at where they come from.
As you can see, over half of greenhouse gas emissions come from electricity production, transportation, and agriculture, each of which require the direct combustion of fossil fuels. So really, our dependence on coal and oil is the issue. Therefore, we must start generating energy from renewable sources. There, we solved it.
Now, how do we implement our plan? The only issue with this simple fix is the problem of scalability and time: we simply do not have sufficient resources mobilized to make this transition before we encounter a runaway greenhouse effect. This is where Nature-based Solutions come in.
Nature-based solutions (NbS) are climate change mitigation strategies that rely on generating or restoring ecosystems that improve human lives through carbon sequestration and other services. The United Nations suggest that NbS can accommodate as much as 37% of the carbon offsets outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement. They are favored mostly because of their immediate scalability; they are generally inexpensive and low-tech, so they are ready to be deployed right now.
Nature-based solutions also have myriad benefits to human well-being. Here are just a few of the non-carbon ecosystem services provided by nature-based solutions:
- Urban Forests prevent flooding by absorbing runoff. They also prevent urban heat island syndrome by absorbing heat energy from the sun and emitting cooling water through evapotranspiration. Trees filter pollutants from the air and reduce respiratory healthcare costs.
- Grasslands anchor soils and build rich humus. They too absorb water, which is stored deep in their roots, helping entire ecosystems weather drought.
- Coral reefs and mangrove forests absorb tidal energy, thereby preventing coastal erosion and better absorbing natural disasters like hurricanes and tsunamis. They also sustain diverse ecosystems of fish that benefit local fisheries and attract foreign direct investment through tourism.
- Urban parks provide leisure areas for citizens, improving mental health and reducing healthcare expenses.
- Wild Rivers, unobstructed by dams, provide more wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities, pollution mitigation, and fishing.
When implementing climate mitigation strategies through NbS, there are a few things to keep in mind. According to Stewart Maginnis, Global Director of the Nature-based Solutions Group at the IUCN, long term success of nature-based solutions is dependent on 3 considerations: 1.) making sure they are rolled out at scale. 2.) ensuring international policies align 3.) not implementing NBS as an alternative or standalone solution, but rather as a compliment to existing approaches. This last piece is the most important. In fact, it’s so important that the title of “Nature-based Solution” seems slightly misleading. Instead, we might take to calling them “Nature-based Stalling Mechanisms to Hold Off a Climate Apocalypse While Lawmakers and Corporations Create a Plan to Stop Burning Fossil Fuels Like They’re Going out of Style, or NbSMtHOaCAWLaCCaPtSBFFLTGooS.”
So, what does implementing NbS at scale look like? The United Nations is calling the coming decade (2021–2030) the Decade of Restoration. They have selected reforestation as the method most likely to give the global economy enough time to pivot away from the carbon-based economy. Researchers recently did a feasibility study for 1T.org, in which they looked at the carbon sequestration potential of reforesting a billion trees. Professor Tom Crowther, the lead research scientist working on the project, said,
This new quantitative evaluation shows [forest] restoration isn’t just one of our climate change solutions, it is overwhelmingly the top one…What blows my mind is the scale. I thought restoration would be in the top 10, but it is overwhelmingly more powerful than all of the other climate change solutions proposed.
Ok, let’s run a quick vibe check. How are we feeling now? When we started this blog we were all feeling sad and uncertain about the possibility of taking on such an immense problem such as climate change. Since then, we have learned that nature-based solutions are the most promising method for bridging the transition from fossil fuels into renewable energy. We learned that tree-planting and other methods can be implemented right now, without having to wait for technology to develop or money to fall from the sky. So next time you’re feeling down about the 70% decline in global wildlife numbers in the last 50 years, the 10 hottest years taking place since 2005, or the possibility of a blue ocean event leading to unstoppable feedback loops of warming within the decade, go outside and plant a tree.