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Fighting climate change: doomed for failure unless we focus on nature-based solutions

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

4 min read

Former FCDO and Defra Minister, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, explains why we need to put much more emphasis on nature-based solutions to combat climate change, ensuring we protect and restore on a massive scale

Logically, there is nothing more important than reconciling ourselves to the natural world. We depend for everything, literally everything, on nature.

But as has been well documented, we are rapidly destabilising the natural world. We are polluting our rivers, grubbing out mangroves, poisoning our coral reefs, and cutting down our forests at an alarming rate. In the time it will take you to read this short article, we will have lost the equivalent of 200 football pitches worth of tropical forest.

These forests are home to 80 per cent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, they regulate our  water and climate systems, and they underpin the livelihoods of over one billion people. And as we convert these vast, complex and critically important ecosystems, we not only lose irreplaceable biodiversity at a horrifying rate (up to one million species are currently facing possible extinction within decades), we are also losing the free but critically important services they provide; services we cannot live without.

One of those services is regulating the Earth’s climate. And so climate change is, in a sense, just the symptom. It is a fever caused by our abusive relationship with the natural world. It is worth saying this because too often as we talk about climate change, we forget the central importance of nature. And that makes no sense.

There is no pathway to net-zero, no solution to climate change that doesn’t involve massive efforts to protect and restore the natural world. So while of course we must accelerate the low-carbon transition, it will be for nothing if we fail to protect and restore the natural systems like forests and mangroves that make life possible.

And we know we can. The world is full of examples of communities, regions, even countries turning the tide. But it’s not nearly enough and we need urgent global action now.

As presidents of COP26 in Glasgow, the United Kingdom made a big effort to bring nature in from the margins of climate politics to its heart. Through the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration, we persuaded 145 world leaders representing 90 per cent of the world’s forests to commit to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. We secured more than $20bn to help those countries do it, in addition to significant commitments by the private sector to align with those goals.

“In the time it will take you to read this short article, we will have lost the equivalent of 200 football pitches worth of tropical forest”

Later in 2022 in Montreal, the world signed up to an ambitious agreement to save biodiversity. Part of the agreed plan was to protect 30 per cent of the world’s land and sea by 2030. And because much of the world’s remaining biodiversity is located in developing countries, wealthy countries were persuaded to commit at least $20bn per year by 2025 to help developing countries.

We’re now less than one year away from that target deadline and new research from the ODI, commissioned by the Campaign for Nature, finds that unfortunately we are a long way off. According to the latest figures available from the OECD only two countries were paying their fair share of this funding that we agreed to, and the UK is not one of them. On the contrary we are some way from keeping our word and doing our part.

It’s not all about the UK, or even just governments. It will take more than public money to fill the gap and turn quarters of financial institutions still lack deforestation policies; and environmentally harmful subsidies are estimated at $1.7tn. This must change.

When we see a global security emergency, we always manage to find the funds. What is happening now to our planet isn’t just a problem; it is an existential issue for us all and we need our actions to reflect that.

This article was originally published in The Path To Net Zero supplement circulated alongside The House magazine. To find out more visit The Path To Net Zero hub.

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