The sun rises behind the Zugpsitze mountain in the Alps.
Behind the Mountain The sun rises behind the Zugpsitze mountain in the Alps. © Nicolai Brügger/TNC Photo Contest

Perspectives

Solving Climate Change with Nature

Deeper investment in natural systems can help create jobs and important innovations while tackling another urgent global threat: climate change.

The global opportunity of nature

COVID-19 has created huge challenges for societies around the world. We have experienced the loss of millions of lives to a global pandemic, the disruption of key parts of our social fabric, and record losses in jobs and economic activity. And further uncertainty lies ahead. Tackling the pandemic remains, rightly, the number one priority.

However, governments across Europe are also thinking hard about how they can help our societies and economies recover.

In this, nature is one of our greatest allies. The Nature Conservancy believes deeper investment in natural systems can help create jobs and important innovations while tackling another urgent global threat: climate change.

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Harnessing nature's power to rebuild better

Despite overwhelming evidence and consensus that climate breakdown is already in progress, action from governments and corporations still lags far behind what’s necessary to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement and keep the planet below the 1.5℃ target that many believe is needed.

Just as investments must be focused on accelerating the transition to clean energy and improving energy efficiency, it’s equally urgent to harness the power of nature to fight climate change. The world’s forests, grasslands and wetlands have the capacity to both store carbon and reduce carbon emissions—if they remain healthy. In fact, these ‘natural climate solutions’ could deliver up to a third of the emissions reductions needed by 2030. What’s more, these lands support vital ecosystem services, biodiversity, access to freshwater, improved livelihoods, healthy diets and food security.

In other words, we cannot rebuild better – or effectively fight climate change – without deepening our investment in nature.

Zugspitze, Germany's tallest mountain, gets lit up by the early morning sun on a cold winter day.
Seeing Double Zugspitze, Germany's tallest mountain, gets lit up by the early morning sun on a cold winter day. © Colin Ronald/TNC Photo Contest

Europe embraces nature in its Green Deal

With a detailed pandemic recovery plan announced in May, Europe has been one of the first major economies to put nature at the heart of its recovery. It is doing so through its Green Deal – a comprehensive plan to put Europe on track to a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions economy by 2050, including through restoring the health of its natural environment, while also protecting the regions’ wildlife.

One of the many suites of actions planned under the Green New Deal is the New EU Forest Strategy which looks to significantly scale the protection and restoration of Europe’s forests as a key way to absorb more greenhouse gas emissions.

The Forest Strategy also acknowledges the positive impact the EU can have on forests outside its borders through promoting imported products and value chains that do not involve deforestation and forest degradation.

We cannot rebuild better – or effectively fight climate change – without deepening our investment in nature.

Europe’s business sector mobilises to support the Green Deal

Achieving the Green Deal cannot be done by policymakers and institutions alone; it requires strong collaboration between representatives from governments, industry and the business sector. CEOs of many of Europe’s leading companies, including Deutsche Bank, Axa, Snam, and Royal DSM are part of a CEO Action Group for the European Green Deal which aims to mobilise the business sector to contribute to the effort.

Also, among the European companies that have stepped up to align with the Green Deal’s net-zero goal by 2050 are a number of the major international energy companies based in the region. 

As noted by Forbes in May, 2020:

“European oil majors have increased their ambitions to tackle climate change markedly in the last six months, with Total, Shell, BP, Repsol and Eni all having made commitments to significantly reduce the carbon intensity of the energy they supply”.

Natural climate solutions can play a key role in meeting these new commitments, particularly in the short-term. This needs to be in addition to, not at the expense of, rapid decarbonisation of the companies’ core businesses. In other words, nature presents an opportunity for them to go further, faster on climate change.

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One example of this is Shell. The Nature Conservancy has been working with Shell on natural climate solutions since 2016, and in 2019 Shell announced a plan to invest $300m in natural climate solutions around the world. They have since also committed to be a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050 or sooner.

Working with industry leaders is important, but we also need stronger, and clearer, rules for how such companies invest. The Nature Conservancy is working with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the World Economic Forum and other entities to develop these global rules.

Whether with governments or corporate partners, TNC brings its science and experience delivering natural climate solutions to the table, ensuring climate solutions are grounded in evidence, so that we can be confident that scaling corporate support for nature is a genuine win for people and planet.  

As Europe moves from commitments to implementation, the region has a lot to do. However, as the world’s largest global trading bloc and economy, Europe’s actions have significant ripples around the world. The Nature Conservancy is excited to help put nature at the heart of the plan to deliver a net-zero EU.