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04-02-2024

Nature-based climate solutions are now more critical than ever

Nature-based solutions are pivotal in the fight against climate change, with U.S. ecologists, scientists, and policy experts rallying together for their enhancement at the federal level.

Harnessing their extensive knowledge in climate and ecosystem sciences, the experts have put forward key recommendations. The proposals aim to build a robust scientific basis for nature-based climate solutions (NbCS), focusing on their effective nationwide rollout.

NbCS strategies include protecting carbon-rich forests and wetlands, enhancing land management, and restoring ecosystems. These strategies are essential for enhancing the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Consequently, the importance of these solutions is paramount. Their successful implementation could be crucial for meeting global greenhouse gas reduction goals and averting further climate destabilization.

However, the implementation of NbCS has sparked controversy. It often advances faster than the scientific community’s grasp of their long-term benefits. Therefore, there is a pressing need for a more robust, evidence-based approach to nature-based climate solutions, ensuring their deployment is both effective and scientifically sound.

Mapping the future: recommendations for robust NbCS

  1. Open Data, Open Opportunities: Experts emphasize the need for federal agencies and partners to make data and products freely accessible. This transparency is key to advancing science and refining methods to assess NbCS effectiveness. Openness fosters collaboration, ensuring projects are based on top-notch science.
  2. A Network of Networks: For precise carbon benefit assessments of NbCS, experts recommend creating a tiered ecosystem monitoring network. This network, tracking carbon across ecosystems with diverse data and tools, seeks a thorough NbCS impact understanding through advanced techniques and datasets.
  3. The Mapping Initiative: Detailed mapping is essential to track management practices and link carbon outcomes to specific management changes or disturbances. This is vital for extending localized monitoring to wider, policy-relevant areas. Better data access and resolution will improve NbCS effectiveness evaluations.

Implementing science-driven NbCS

The need to strengthen the scientific basis for NbCS is more critical than ever, given the recent surge in federal and private investments in NbCS projects. To ensure these investments yield meaningful climate mitigation outcomes, they must be underpinned by a solid scientific basis.

Dr. William Anderegg of the University of Utah emphasizes the critical need for better science to guide NbCS efforts: “We’re at an inflection point —we need better science to get this right. These proposed measures aim to address current gaps in knowledge and data, providing a pathway to more credible and effective NbCS programs.”

The call to action underlines the importance of developing a coordinated approach to monitoring land-sector greenhouse gas exchanges. By emphasizing open data sharing and creating a network-of-networks, the United States can lead in developing robust NbCS programs. Additionally, improving large-area mapping will ensure these programs offer substantial benefits for biodiversity, communities, and the climate.

A united front: science and strategy in climate action

Dr. Kim Novick of Indiana University notes new federal initiatives could enhance NbCS programs if based on transparency and science.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Sanderman of the Woodwell Climate Research Center highlights the critical role of nature-based solutions in shaping our climate future. He stresses the importance of understanding their capabilities and the necessity of measuring their success.

The collective expertise of the scientific community, combined with strategic coordination and investment, is poised to pave the way for a future where nature-based solutions are integral in our fight against climate change.

These recommendations provide a roadmap for the science-based implementation of NbCS across the U.S. Moreover, they reaffirm the vital role of scientific inquiry in shaping our environmental policies and practices.

More about nature-based climate solutions 

Nature-based climate solutions involve leveraging the power and processes of nature to mitigate climate change and its impacts. These solutions are grounded in the understanding that healthy ecosystems like forests, wetlands, and grasslands can play a crucial role in sequestering carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, thus reducing the overall concentration of greenhouse gases. 

Beyond carbon sequestration, nature-based solutions offer a multitude of co-benefits including biodiversity conservation, water filtration, soil stabilization, and enhancement of local livelihoods through sustainable practices.

Forests and wetlands

For example, reforestation and afforestation efforts involve planting trees in areas where forests have been depleted and in locations where forests did not previously exist. Trees absorb CO2 as they grow, making these efforts a straightforward way to capture significant amounts of carbon over time. 

Similarly, restoring wetlands can also sequester carbon, while providing critical habitat for wildlife and natural water filtration systems.

Agriculture 

Conservation agriculture practices, another facet of nature-based solutions, focus on improving the resilience and carbon storage capacity of agricultural lands. Techniques such as crop rotation, reduced tillage, and cover cropping not only enhance soil health and productivity but also increase the amount of carbon that soils can hold.

Urban greening

Urban greening initiatives, including the creation of parks, green roofs, and urban forests, contribute to lowering urban temperatures, improving air quality, and enhancing urban biodiversity, all while sequestering CO2.

Careful management

Nature-based climate solutions are increasingly recognized for their potential to provide a significant portion of the carbon dioxide removal needed to meet global climate targets. 

However, their implementation must be carefully managed to ensure that they do not lead to unintended negative consequences, such as the displacement of local communities or the loss of biodiversity. 

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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