• 13 July 2022

Nature-based solutions: Helping nature whilst tackling the climate emergency

Diane Corfe, our Technical Director and National Ecology Service Lead, discusses the link between the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis and outlines why they urgently need to be addressed together.

With COP 15 delayed again for the fourth time and being run in two parts, the momentum behind addressing the inextricable links between the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis has stalled again.

These joint crises need to be addressed together and urgently since they are implicitly linked. By restoring biodiversity – our natural capital – and the ecosystem services that flow from this, nature recovery is fundamental to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing the impacts of the climate emergency. These links have been well documented, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report 2022 identified several urgent actions which will help create a climate-resilient economy through a transformation of energy sources and land use. This report provides the scientific evidence base that proves nature is the solution, with 43 cost-effective natural approaches to limiting global warming to less than the safety benchmark of 1.5oC.

It is clear that human activity has had a devastating impact on the earth’s biosphere. As indicated in the 2011 Dasgupta Review[1], estimates of our total impact on nature suggest that we would require 1.6 earths to maintain the world’s current living standards. Meanwhile, the report estimates that the total global cost of subsidies that damage nature is around US$4 to 6 trillion per year.

The recent Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report classified 25% of the species assessed as ‘threatened’[2]. The State of Nature Report published in the UK set out a 13% decline in average abundance of species and a 5% decline in average species’ distribution for terrestrial and freshwater species since 1970[3]. The key pressures are understood to arise from agricultural management, climate change, pollution, hydrological changes, presence of invasive non-native plant species and woodland management.

The Taskforce on Nature related Financial Disclosure (TNFD) mirrors this and aligns with the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD), established in 2021 to make the connection between nature and financial and business decisions. Unlike the climate, biodiversity has a location-specific factor which is integral to understanding the dependencies and interdependencies of species and habitats, so stakeholder engagement is critical to its success.

Nature-based solutions have historically been somewhat controversial in terms of their demonstrable effectiveness, but the evidence is now clear that these measures are making a tangible difference and cost less than current subsidies for agriculture and forestry. Such measures are also closely aligned to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and don’t require a lot of land: often small changes to exiting operations will result in significant benefits.

Nature-based solutions are not just about planting and protecting trees; they’re fundamentally about creating the right ecosystem in the right places, and then connecting these to other well-positioned ecosystems to allow bigger, better, more connected landscape-scale resilience. Wetland habitats are a fine example of how natural features benefit humanity, but they are disappearing three times faster than forests. These incredible places sequester one third of global soil carbon, are home to some of our rarest species of flora and fauna and also act as vital flood control mechanisms.

It is important not to focus purely on carbon sequestration as being the primary goal, since this can result in monoculture (same age, same species) plantations or inappropriate tree planting on higher value habitats such heathlands or species-rich grasslands, effectively substituting one habitat for another. Growing public awareness about nature and all the positives it brings to human wellbeing is often misconstrued; habitats that are aesthetically pleasing are not necessarily the most biodiverse. Often those habitats which are the trickiest to access are the most important for us to preserve and conserve. It’s also important to remember that many of our ‘wild’ places are managed by human intervention, demonstrating that we can play a vital role in their health and diversity. In the UK, peatlands store approximately three billion tonnes of carbon, but they emit approximately 23 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent due to drainage and degradation. Losses can be addressed by restoration of degraded peatlands, which is just one example of how proper management can be hugely beneficial, and why conserving soils is so vital to nature and climate recovery.

The Environment Act 2021 was given Royal assent last November. While we await the outcome of the consultation on the Biodiversity Net Gain Regulations which is expected this summer, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has identified that there has been little success in progressing towards the goals of the 25-year Environment Plan. They are questioning whether the current plan to mandate 10% gain will be enough as it is only “likely to achieve no net loss rather than actual gain.”

 

“So, what can we do as individuals? It’s all centred around becoming informed and thinking about the everyday decisions we make concerning what and how much we consume, and the impacts those decisions have.”

Biodiversity net gain does not exist as the only measure to address biodiversity loss, as this legal requirement is ultimately linked to development that may result in impacts that cannot be measured or counted. The BNG regulations consultation paper identified nine other new policy areas linked to BNG, including local nature recovery strategies and planning reforms. Collectively, these will work towards a positive outcome for nature by avoiding developing those habitats that cannot be replaced or restored in one’s lifetime, if at all.

So, what can we do as individuals? It’s all centred around becoming informed and thinking about the everyday decisions we make concerning what and how much we consume, and the impacts those decisions have. You can do this by adopting a ‘whole life cycle’ approach to everything you buy. This means changing your focus to repairing or re-using what you already have, borrowing items you’ll only use once, or buying pre-loved products and items whenever possible rather than heading to the shops! If you do have to buy new, try to choose responsibly sourced products: there are plenty of excellent manufacturing schemes in operation such as the Better Cotton Initiative for clothing or FSC certification for timber products.

Ultimately, biodiversity is continuing to decline at an alarming rate, and we need to act now. Become informed, make a personal pledge, and encourage your organisations and professional institutions to take positive action on your behalf. Together we CAN make a difference.

By Diane Corfe, Waterman’s Technical Director and National Ecology Service Lead.

[1] The Economic of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Report 2021 (London: HM Treasury)

[2] IPBES (2019): Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

[3] The State of Nature Partnership, The State of Nature 2019. [https://nbn.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Stateof-Nature-2019-UK-full-report.pdf], [accessed 5th February 2021].

 

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