Natural Climate Solutions

Climate change is a global problem, however, its impacts are felt most intensely at the local level.  Despite the range of challenges, intervention opportunities exist at multiple scales. Land conservation offers a critical solution. Natural climate solutions (NCS) are proven ways of storing and reducing carbon emissions in the world’s forests, grasslands, and wetlands.

Natural climate solutions can help reduce carbon emissions and store more carbon in the landscape. These solutions are often complex and interconnected, and they can deliver significant adaptation and mitigation benefits. These pages explore “Natural Climate Solutions” in the context of local, regional, and national initiatives led by land trusts in the United States. While ultimately climate change will require global solutions, numerous pathways will support shared climate adaptation and mitigation objectives.

Two recent studies affirm the potential of natural ecosystems to scale back atmospheric CO2. New research published in Nature cites the “unexpectedly large impact” that forest management and grazing has on the planet and atmospheric carbon. Another analysis is the culmination of a partnership between the accredited Nature Conservancy and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation that brought together 32 leading natural scientists and economists from 15 research, educational and private institutions around the world. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the study examined the global carbon storage and reduction potential of 20 conservation, restoration and improved land management practices, collectively called “natural climate solutions.”

Their combined power was surprisingly high, providing 37% of the cost-effective CO2 mitigation needed by 2030 for a greater than 66% chance of keeping warming below 2°C, the target agreed to at the 2015 Paris climate talks. The mitigation potential of natural climate solutions in 2030 represents 11.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases, equivalent to stopping burning oil globally.

By advancing natural climate solutions, land trusts can provide a wealth of ecological and economic benefits that extend beyond cost-effective climate mitigation. Lands managed with the climate in mind also filter and protect water supplies, increase soil fertility and forest productivity, foster biodiversity and strengthen ecosystems’ capacity to withstand drought and extreme weather — reducing flooding, runoff, and erosion.

These reports highlight the fact that our lands provide an untapped opportunity – proven ways of both storing carbon and reducing carbon emissions in the world’s forests, grasslands, and wetlands. These are “natural climate solutions”. Natural climate solutions can help address climate change in three ways:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), related to land use and changes in land use;
  • Capturing and storing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; and
  • Improving resilience of ecosystems, thereby helping communities adapt to the increase in flooding and dry spells associated with climate change.

To address climate change and support diverse, healthy ecosystems, investing in natural climate solutions is critical.

While opportunities to invest in nature-based solutions exist in renewable energy deployment as well as efficiency innovations and reduce fossil fuel reliance are essential to decreasing emissions and transforming energy systems and infrastructure, these changes can take time. Biological interventions offer cost effective and more immediate opportunities to support carbon emission reduction goals. Multiple approaches and immediate action are needed to limit warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius. The good news is that natural climate solutions are already widely available and can deliver large-scale emissions reductions cost-effectively in the near term.

Management opportunities exist worldwide, and local actions are already implementing solutions across land types and regions. the resources presented in the Land Trust Alliance’s Conservation in a Changing Climate aim to reframe Nature4Climate’s discussion on the significant climate impact reduction potential of NCS with a focus on for land trusts specifically in North America. This supports the Alliance and its 1,000 member land trusts to mitigate climate change by doing what we’ve always done so well: conserving more land and stewarding it effectively.

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Learn more about deploying natural climate solutions through land management and carbon markets.