From rainforests to mangroves, grasslands to peatlands, nature-based solutions have the potential to prevent greenhouse gas emissions from natural sources, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, reduce the impacts of increasingly extreme weather, as well as protect human health and boost human well-being.
The destruction of Earth’s remaining natural systems must be halted to achieve global climate stability and maintain human life, culture, health, livelihoods and well-being. These outcomes can only be achieved through intact ecosystems and the protection of all species, whose existence is essential to the interconnectedness required for ecosystems to function effectively.
Avoiding emissions and ensuring ongoing and enhanced removal of carbon from the atmosphere by protecting nature, including halting deforestation and the destruction of other natural carbon stores, must be central to climate action. This is the base from which further habitat restoration and recovery can be built. Alongside this, policy and institutional reforms are needed that ensure climate and nature are integrated at decision-making levels.
The forests, grasslands and coastal and marine ecosystems that FFI and partners are working to safeguard are not just biodiversity havens. They also play a vital role in the global carbon cycle by removing it from the atmosphere and storing it for decades, centuries, or even millennia.
Recent analysis has revealed that least one billion tonnes of carbon are being locked up in the vegetation and soil of sites protected by FFI and our partners around the world. That’s equivalent to the carbon content of eight billion barrels of crude oil – or 23 years’ worth of UK crude oil production.
Scaling up the protection and restoration of natural carbon sinks and stores will help determine our ability to reach global climate goals, and must be additional to – never a substitute for – rapid decarbonisation across industry and society. Nature-based solutions, to protect carbon sinks and reduce net emissions, are critical to mitigating and adapting to climate change.
We call for action across three key areas
We must halt the logging and clearance of forests, in particular old-growth sites, and the removal of peatlands, as well as the protection and restoration of mangroves, grasslands and wetlands – all highly effective engines of carbon storage.
This should include a focus on scaling established approaches that prevent loss, and contribute to enhancing natural carbon stores, such as reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) programmes. Governments should also take more, stronger and rapid action to protect and restore freshwater sites which can be key fishing grounds, carbon stores, biodiversity hotspots, drinking water and crop irrigation sources. These actions – alongside the critical need to halt habitat loss and the over-exploitation of wildlife – are critical to preventing future pandemics and ensuring human health and wellbeing.
Old-growth forests – those that have attained great age without disturbance and have developed unique ecosystems – store enormous amounts of carbon and support a diversity of plant and animal species. Studies show that they are not just carbon stores, but also continue to sequester increasing amounts of carbon, accumulating it in their trees and soils over centuries. If disturbed, old-growth forests can release this stored carbon back into the atmosphere, exacerbating climate change.
In partnership with the government and local forest-edge communities, FFI has been safeguarding Kerinci Seblat National Park, Indonesia’s largest protected area, for over a decade. The mature forest harbours the largest remaining population of Sumatran tigers, provides sustainable livelihoods for people, and stores over 80 megatonnes of carbon in its trees and soils. This habitat plays a crucial role in preventing climate chaos, protecting endangered wildlife and promoting human health.
We need to prioritise and protect marine sites with significant legacy carbon stores – such as old-growth mangrove forest, seagrass beds and previously undisturbed ocean sediment – as well as maintaining and restoring natural coastal defences, such as coral reefs and coastal wetlands, all of which are critical to sustainable, low-impact coastal fisheries and food security.
This must be accompanied by a restorative and nature-positive approach to aquaculture. In addition, we call for a moratorium on deep-sea mining to avoid the potential impacts of a highly destructive industry that is likely to adversely affect global ocean health and productivity, and undermine its crucial role in climate regulation.
Mangrove forests have been subject to more degradation and destruction than any forest type on Earth over the last 50 years. Since 1980, more than 20% of the world’s mangrove forests have been cleared. Mangroves perform an incredible range of roles: nursery areas for juvenile fish; a barrier against storm surges; protection of coral reefs from river nutrient run-off; and climate regulation – they absorb and store carbon at 10 times the rate of terrestrial forests. Mangroves currently store 4.2 billion tonnes of carbon, equivalent to the annual emissions of the US and China put together.
FFI is working to protect and restore mangrove forests around the world, including in Myanmar, Honduras, Cambodia and Kenya.
Ambitious nature-based targets must be incorporated into countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (the pledges countries make to reach net-zero climate emissions) to be delivered at COP26 to properly integrate nature into climate decision-making. These nature-based targets should be additional to fossil fuel net-zero pathways set by businesses.
Ask the UN to commit to $500bn a year for nature, with that amount increasing every year.
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Our one home
Humanity faces an uncertain future, but these Five Breakthroughs for Nature represent our best chances of protecting and restoring the ecosystems on which we all depend, reversing the loss of the biodiversity that is fundamental to life on Earth, and avoiding catastrophic climate change.