Why nature is climate's crucial ally

Posted on December, 04 2023

Joelma Diarroi from Associação Povo Indígena Jiahui, Brazil, lives in the Amazon where drones monitor the rainforest.

Nature is a crucial ally in tackling climate change, absorbing carbon, regulating natural processes and helping us to adapt. 

Amidst the escalating climate crisis, nature stands as our indispensable ally, offering a lifeline in the face of a rapidly changing world.

Our natural spaces - forests, oceans, peatlands and soils -  act as huge stores for carbon and help regulate our atmosphere.

Nature also helps protect us against the devastating impacts of climate change.

But the burning of fossil fuels by humans is supercharging the greenhouse effect caused by excess greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, putting people and nature at risk and destabilizing the climate system.
We are destroying nature: not only our planet and our food sources, but the places best equipped to support a stable atmosphere and a balanced climate.

Our actions are causing unprecedented climate system disruption, accelerating the biodiversity crisis and disrupting people’s lives and livelihoods.

We will not halt the climate emergency if we allow the crisis in nature to continue unabated. By the same token, the climate crisis will become the dominant cause of biodiversity loss in the coming decades if we don’t act now.

As temperatures rise, species will be forced to adapt, or die out. More extreme weather will wreak havoc on nature and us.

Protecting and restoring nature is not just a matter of environmental preservation; it is a critical strategy for mitigating climate change and ensuring a sustainable future for all.

Nature and climate

It is essential that deep cuts are made to our fossil fuel emissions as soon as possible. But alongside this, if we are to limit global warming to 1.5°C to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, we must take action to reverse biodiversity loss.

Without nature, we will lose a crucial ally in our quest to stabilise the climate system. Ways to reduce global emissions will be discussed at the UN climate talks - COP28 - in the UAE.

That’s why WWF is raising nature up the agenda. The 2022 report - Our Climate’s Secret Ally - highlights the interlinked emergencies of human-induced climate change and biodiversity loss.

Two further reports are due to be released by WWF focusing on nature-based solutions and synergies between global agreements on nature and climate.

We can no longer look at solutions to the nature and climate crises in isolation of each other.

Biodiversity provides services that are essential for human health and livelihoods, such as clean air, drinkable water, productive oceans and fertile soils for growing food.

Nature’s role in climate is also vitally important and if we can secure a nature-positive world by 2030, one where there is more nature than there is today, we can also better tackle the climate crisis.

Natural carbon sinks like the Amazon are key to supporting a stable climate for future generations.

Rainforests act like the lungs of the world.

The Amazon rainforest stores 150-200 billion tons of carbon which helps to stabilize the local and global climate.

Tackling deforestation in the Amazon will help maintain this crucial climate ally and also protect the places home to millions of species and hundreds of Indigenous Peoples.  

Recently, deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon has fallen to its lowest level since 2018. This is welcome news but the rest of the world must step up to tackle emissions and reach targets.

From trees to water

We know nature has helped to slow global warming, absorbing 54% of human-related carbon dioxide emissions over the past 10 years. 23% of this is taken up by the ocean.

As well as absorbing carbon, the ocean is responsible for producing 50% of the oxygen we need.

Oceans cover 70% of the world’s surface. They are home to millions of species - many of which we don’t even know about yet - and more than three billion people rely on the ocean for their livelihoods.

The waters and reefs along Africa’s east coastline provide vital food and jobs to millions of people. But they are threatened by climate change, pollution and overfishing.

Yet despite the many benefits provided by the ocean, it is under threat.

Forced to absorb an increasing amount of the carbon we are putting into the atmosphere, our oceans are becoming acidic, less able to support life and less effective as a tool to tackle the climate crisis.

Nature-based solutions and ocean-based solutions can help claw back the resources nature provides.
Nature-based solutions

Planting mangroves in coastal areas stops erosion from sea-level rise, creates new homes for fish and ocean life, and protects humans from extreme weather events.

Many coastal communities are threatened by these climate-related risks. Nature loss only exacerbates the problem.

Restoring nature for a nature-positive world will help people and nature thrive together.

Our natural ecosystems play an important role in protecting us from changing climate. That’s why we must continue to push for an equitable, nature-positive and net-zero emissions world.

At COP28, WWF is campaigning for nature to be included in all governments’ national action plans to tackle the climate crisis and better support nature-based solutions as ways to take action together for nature, climate and people.

Find out more:
WWF at COP28

The benefits of a nature positive world
Nature-based solutions