Christiana Figueres, Nick Stern, and Paul Polman lead renewed push for beefed up approach to nature-based emissions reductions
A group of leading academics, campaigners, and executives have this week issued a renewed call for governments to accelerate efforts to scale up the deployment of Nature-Based Solutions capable of simultaneously reducing carbon emissions and restoring natural habitats.
In an open letter, the group issued a "global call" for governments and organisations to "engage in the fight against the global threats of biodiversity loss and climate change".
Signatories to the letter include former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, leading climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern, former Unilever CEO Paul Polman, and CDP boss Paul Simpson, as well as a host of leading green campaigners and academics.
The group argues that the coronavirus crisis has for many people "heightened our collective awareness of nature's many benefits - from the tranquillity of the outdoors to clean air and water, natural resources, disease suppression, and the capacity to help slow climate change and protect us from its impacts".
As such, it concludes that a number of converging trends mean the "world is ready to take Nature-Based Solutions to scale".
"The launch of 'trillion tree' initiatives to protect and restore ecosystems, along with the upcoming UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration add momentum to existing efforts such as the Bonn Challenge, New York Declaration on Forests and others to scale Nature-Based Solutions," the letter observes. "This unprecedented financial and political backing by governments, corporate leaders, NGOs, civil society and others could be the game-changer that drives a resurgent bottom-up movement of local actions with global significance."
It also highlights how groups working to promote Nature-Based Solutions are delivering a number of policy guidelines that can serve to reduce the risk of nature based projects, such as tree planting programmes, failing to deliver promised emissions reductions or leading to negative unintended consequences.
As such, the group highlights a recent letter to the President of COP26, Alok Sharma, from 20 organisations which set out evidence-based guidelines for Nature-Based Solutions. Moreover, in June this year the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is set to launch new Global Standards as a socially and ecologically responsible benchmark for state and non-state actors, following two-years of consultation across 100 countries.
This week's letter also set out four high-level principles that should govern all Nature-Based Solutions, including commitments to continue to deliver emissions reductions, to conserve and protect existing ecosystems, to be socially responsible and respect those local communities impacted by projects, and to ensure all projects are ecologically responsible.
The proposals for new guidelines and principles to govern Nature-Based Solutions comes at a time them disagreements over proposed rules for global carbon offset markets remain one of the biggest sticking points in the long-running UN climate negotiations. This year's COP26 Climate Summit has been postponed, but observers are still concerned that divisions over carbon market reforms remain one of the biggest challenges for diplomats as they seek to finalise the rulebook for the Paris Agreement.
Meanwhile, demand from carbon offsets delivered from Nature-Based Solutions is widely expected to soar over the next decade, driven in large part by recent net zero pledges from carbon intensive oil and gas companies and the imminent introduction of a UN-backed carbon offset scheme for the global aviation industry.
However, the surge in interest in Nature-Based Solutions has sparked a mixed response from green groups with some welcoming the potential to enhance nature and reduce emissions and others warning that weak oversight of carbon offset schemes and efforts to "put a price on nature" could result in considerable negative impacts while also distracting from the need to cut emissions elsewhere in the economy.
The group of experts backing the new letter acknowledge such concerns, but argue effective Nature-Based Solutions can be delivered.
"We live at a time when Earth's ecosystems are more vulnerable and depleted than they have ever been," they state. "But this is also an exciting time because we now understand both the scale of the problem and the potential scale of the solution. We also have unprecedented capacity, momentum and scientific information to successfully implement Nature-Based Solutions.
"We all have the opportunity to engage in the fight against the global threats of biodiversity loss and climate change. We can be less damaging - by drastically cutting emissions and protecting our remaining natural areas - AND we can be more beneficial by supporting socially and ecologically responsible Nature-Based Solutions that support planetary and human health. With the right approach, we can make sure that we do not let this opportunity pass us by."
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