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Natural climate solutions-the paper offers a comprehensive roadmap for reducing carbon emissions through nature

Tapping Nature’s Full Potential

Published on October 16 in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, the paper offers a comprehensive roadmap for reducing carbon emissions through nature. The study is the culmination of a partnership between the Conservancy and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation that brought together more than two-dozen leading natural scientists and economists from fifteen research, educational and private institutions around the world.

The land-use sector is currently responsible for a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. But this new study shows that this could change—and with concerted global action on land use over the next decade, nature can be a significant part of the climate solution.

Better stewardship of land is needed to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement goal of holding warming to below 2 °C; however, confusion persists about the specific set of land stewardship options available and their mitigation potential. To address this, we identify and quantify “natural climate solutions” (NCS): 20 conservation, restoration, and improved land management actions that increase carbon storage and/or avoid greenhouse gas emissions across global forests, wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural lands.

The analysis found that the total biophysical potential for natural climate solutions while still taking account of food production needs is as much as 23.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year—approximately 30 percent more than previous, less comprehensive estimates.

In addition, the study’s economic analyses show that half of these natural climate solutions (11.3 billion tons CO2e) offer cost-effective mitigation opportunities, because they cost less than the future impacts of climate change, expected to cost society more than $100 per ton of CO2 in the atmosphere. These cost-effective NCS mitigation options offer up to 37 percent of mitigation needed between now and 2030 to keep global temperature rise below 2°C —the widely recognized target of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Pathways to Natural Climate Solutions

To synthesize the research, Griscom and his team developed a framework to distill the world’s “natural climate solutions”—the proven ways of storing and reducing carbon emissions in forests, grasslands (including agricultural and rangelands) and wetlands—into a taxonomy of 20 specific pathways that account for the full climate potential of nature.

The natural climate solutions pathways and their greenhouse gas mitigation potential

In addition to covering three biomes, the pathways also look at different practices across a variety of economic scenarios that mitigate climate change, including the implementation of low-cost opportunities only ($10 per tonne CO2e or less).

Another striking aspect of these pathways is the additional benefits they provide. Most nature climate solutions—if effectively implemented—also offer water filtration, flood buffering, improved soil health, protection of biodiversity habitat, and enhanced climate resilience.

“The approach is synergistic,” says Justin Adams, managing director for Global Lands at the Nature Conservancy. “We can hit multiple targets of the if we get this right.”

There is, however, a catch: The world must act soon. Check the Infographic - 20 Pathways of Natural Climate Solutions