- The latest IPCC report emphasizes the role of nature in addressing climate change.
- To confront rising temperatures, we must invest in nature-first solutions.
- We can still meet climate targets if we completely transform our economic models and outlook on how we interact with Earth's resources.
Carbon emissions are rising. Countries are off track in delivering their climate pledges. Current commitments aren't enough to keep temperatures below critical thresholds. These are some of the findings from the latest report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
It sounds grim. That's not the only news, though: With this report, we now have a global scientific consensus on the enormous impact nature could have in confronting the climate crisis.
IPCC Report 2022
Here are five takeaways from the IPCC about the critical role nature plays in stabilizing the climate:
1) Nature is the unseen solution
The most significant takeaway from today's IPCC report is how nature can act as a climate solution. The report details 43 cost-effective approaches to limiting global warming to less than 1.5°C (the safetybenchmark for a safe climate set by the Paris Agreement).
First and third on this list are solar and wind energy, respectively. The other top five most effective strategies for mitigating carbon emissions are all natural climate solutions: ecosystem protection, restoration, and the improved management of farmlands.
Our prior research shows that natural climate solutions could provide about a third of the climate mitigation necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. This translates to over 10 billion metric tons of reduced carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases per year. Today's IPCC report finds that natural climate solutions could, in fact, deliver between 11 to 14 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases per year.
2) Highly cost-effective yet underfunded
The IPCC finds that nature's contributions to solving climate change are also cost-effective. Delivering natural climate solutions to limit warming to less than 2°C would cost up to $400 billion a year by 2050. That's less than current subsidies for carbon-heavy industries like agriculture and forestry.
The IPCC report 2022 finds that investments in natural climate solutions are up to 29-times less than what's needed to stabilise the climate. That is the largest funding gap of any sector, including electric cars and alternative energy sources. In developing countries, especially along the equator, funding gaps are the largest. Here, opportunities for natural climate solutions are also most significant, given forests' rapid growth rates and high risks of deforestation.
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3) IPCC report wants the world to make proactive decisions
The IPCC report finds that the right kind of climate action can create a much better future than we imagine. Though climate change is driven by the world's wealthiest nations, its consequences are felt disproportionately by developing countries, who are far less responsible for it. Through proactive decision-taking, millions of people, especially vulnerable communities, can be protected against climate threats.
Nature-based solutions not only protect at-risk communities from the brunt of climate change, they're powerfully aligned with sustainable development goals. These include eliminating hunger and providing access to clean water. When we take action to mitigate climate change by protecting nature, we're also supporting nature-reliant communities. By doing this, we're making the world a healthier and more just place.
Similarly, actions that tackle climate change by conserving ecosystems can also tackle climate change. For example, Conservation International has found that many of Earth's largest and most critical carbon sinks, such as the Amazon rainforest and Congo Basin, overlap with high-biodiversity hotspots. Protecting lands essential for climate stability also conserves habitats for thousands of mammals, birds and reptiles.
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4) It's "both/and" not "either/or"
As per the 2022 IPCC report, confronting the climate crisis requires a complete transformation of our energy sources, economic models and land stewardship. Decades ago, we may have been able to reduce fossil fuel emissions or implement natural climate solutions to stabilise our climate. Now, we only have one rational choice: We must rapidly decarbonise our economies and unlock natural climate solutions. The good news is that this great challenge also presents an opportunity to develop a better world.
5) We can do this
We know from earlier IPCC reports that we're falling behind in our climate commitments. Today's report has a bigger message: Nature provides major tools to put us back on track. The future we fear is not inevitable. Oceans, forests and other ecosystems already absorb and store about half of global carbon emissions. The despair we feel from climate projections must turn into action. Solving climate change is an opportunity to tackle problems we have struggled with for generations.
Along with decarbonizing our economies and pursuing carbon-capture technologies, governments must prioritise nature in their policy decisions. The private sector should urgently implement net-zero commitments with strong nature-based considerations.
The 2020s are critical. Change won't be easy, but we have no other choice. Either we allow our planet to be destroyed, or we fight – clear-eyed – for a better world. We can create a climate-resilient world with sustainable food production, clean air and abundant water resources. This IPCC report makes it very clear: Nature is on our side, we can't do this without her.