Posted on 03 June 2020
Countries can do much more to prioritise nature in their climate plans. New recommendations from WWF aim to guide them, explains Shaun Martin.
Nature and natural systems must be at the heart of our response to climate change. Protecting and enhancing ecosystems can help to reduce atmospheric carbon emissions. Healthy ecosystems can help us adapt to a warming climate and better withstand its impacts.
So nature-based solutions for climate should be at the heart of countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). As governments revise these climate plans – reflecting advances in climate science, and as part of the Paris Agreement process – they should deploy these essential tools to help their countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Many countries have already incorporated nature-based solutions into their previously submitted NDCs. To strengthen these commitments and to help other countries who have not yet considered nature-based solutions, WWF developed 8 simple recommendations
to guide countries on how to best increase climate ambition through nature-based solutions in their NDCs. By following these recommendations – set out below – governments can help reduce their national emissions, increase carbon storage, and help people adapt to climate change, while ensuring that their plans are robust, resilient and likely to be successful.
First, we should define what we mean by nature-based solutions for climate. For the purpose of integrating them into NDCs, we consider nature-based solutions for climate to be ecosystem conservation, management and restoration interventions that meet three criteria. They should: be intentionally designed to deliver measurable climate change adaptation and/or mitigation outcomes; simultaneously deliver co-benefits for human development and biodiversity; and manage anticipated climate risks to nature that can undermine their long-term effectiveness.
What does this mean in practice? Nature-based solutions for climate might include laws that protect standing forests, coral reefs and seagrass beds, while updating management plans for the changing climate; the restoration of degraded forests, wetlands or mangroves with climate-resilient, native species, or encouragement for no-till farming. They have enormous potential for storing carbon and removing it from the atmosphere. They also have significant implications for helping the world manage increasing climate risks. The Global Commission on Adaptation reports
that restoring upland forests can help the world’s 534 largest cities regulate water flows and manage more extreme floods while saving an estimated $890 million each year.
These solutions are being employed around the world to address the climate crisis. Indeed, our eight recommendations are accompanied in the report by examples from NDCs submitted in the first round of the Paris process.
The recommendations are that countries:
- Include the use of nature for both climate change mitigation and adaptation and prioritise actions that provide benefits for both;
- Set ambitious, measurable and time-bound numeric targets (e.g. hectares of ecosystems utilised, CO2 sequestered and/or the number of people benefiting from increased resilience). These enable governments and stakeholders to monitor progress against targets, and they can be used to access climate finance;
- Should favour natural ecosystems over artificial or modified ecosystems, thus maximising benefits to biodiversity, and include climate benefits derived from protected areas;
- Explore all ecosystem types that can provide climate benefits – wetlands, forests, mangroves, coral reefs, grasslands, working lands and urban landscapes;
- Acknowledge and manage climate risks that threaten the long-term viability of nature-based solutions. This helps to ensure their resilience and long-term viability;
- Integrate commitments to other international conventions, such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Convention on Biological diversity, and relevant national policies that result in climate adaptation and mitigation benefits;
- Ensure adherence to social and environmental safeguards, and include community participation and consultation in the development and management of nature-based climate solutions; and
- Include the need for technical and financial support to achieve results.
Robust, resilient and well-managed nature-based solutions for climate can often yield substantial co-benefits – such as in biodiversity protection, the provision of ecosystem services such as water management, and the creation of economic opportunities for local people. But they are fundamental to most countries’ climate change efforts. Governments have an opportunity to assess their potential in helping to meet ambitious climate change goals; these recommendations will help ensure that nature is properly integrated into their NDCs.
Shaun Martin is Acting Goal Lead, Climate and Energy and Senior Director, Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience, WWF-US.