Why you should be watching California in September

The Trump administration’s decision last year to begin pulling the United States out of the Paris Agreement was a giant step backward for the fight against climate change.

Fortunately, one state is pressing on.

In September, all eyes will be on California for the Global Climate Action Summit, which will convene states, cities, companies, investors and others to make the commitments necessary to avert the worst effects of climate change.

To say that this conference is unprecedented is an understatement.

On the international climate stage, the countries are the actors, and as yet there is no formalized framework for so-called non-state actors to contribute to global climate goals. What this conference aims to show is that together, these non-state actors can have just as big an impact as a country, framework or not. A raft of new climate commitments is expected from states, cites and companies — commitments that could help speed a transition to a sustainable economy and a stable climate.

Typically, forests and nature are on the sidelines of any climate conference, which tend to focus on energy and curbing the use of fossil fuels. “Decarbonizing” our economy is important, but if we don’t recognize the crucial role of nature — right here in our forests and on our land, we won’t solve climate change.

It’s crucial that as our attention homes in on climate change at the summit that we not forget about the integral connection between our climate and nature itself.

In the effort to halt climate change, nature is perhaps our most crucial yet most overlooked asset. Protecting and restoring tropical forests alone would account for at least 30 percent of global action needed to avoid the worst climate scenarios.

Trouble is, we haven’t stopped cutting down trees. Deforestation in the Amazon Basin, for example, surged last year, according to recently released data. For now, the costs of protecting and restoring forests cannot compete with the short-term economic gains associated with deforestation. And that’s why non-state actors have a critical role in changing that trend — cities, communities, investors, banks and companies have the power to redirect their resources and plans in a way that values and rewards the protection of nature.

This is especially important when you consider that natural climate solutions are among the most immediate and cost-effective emissions reduction investments available, far below the costs of many technological solutions to trap and store emissions.

In sum, protecting nature is a no-brainer. Yet in terms of attention and funding, it has largely remained an afterthought.

My organization is among many working to change that.

In the Amazon, Conservation International is undertaking the largest tropical reforestation effort in the world. The project will restore 73 million trees by 2023 and help Brazil achieve its Paris Agreement target of reforesting 12 million hectares of land by 2030. Meanwhile in Peru, our work to halt deforestation in the Alto Mayo Protected Forest has generated more than 6.2 million tons of emissions reductions — the equivalent of taking nearly 150,000 cars off the road each year.

Across the world, Conservation International worked together with community, government and nonprofit partners, including the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, to create a forest protection project in Kenya’s Chyulu Hills. Home to 140,000 indigenous people, this project will prevent an estimated 18 million tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted over the next 30 years.

Meanwhile, meeting our climate goals means partnering with corporations to “green” supply chains and transition to a low-carbon economy. Conservation International works with corporations across industries to identify opportunities to make an impact — from reducing deforestation from supply chains to investing in nature. For example, we’ve partnered with Walmart to build forest restoration into their effort to reduce a gigaton of emissions from their supply chain by 2030.

Ultimately, this summit is the start, not the end. What starts in California will only be amplified in the years to come. We’re a mere 15 months away from 2020, the year when global emissions must peak. We have no time to lose.

Shyla Raghav is Conservation International’s climate change lead.

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