Agricultural expansion drives nearly 80% of tropical deforestation, and the land sector (including agriculture and forestry) accounts for 24% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.
If humanity does not address the climate crisis, nothing else will matter.
But even if we stopped using all fossil fuels tomorrow, climate catastrophe looms due to the destruction and degradation of many of the world’s carbon-rich natural ecosystems. If we don’t protect — and restore — the world’s tropical forests, peatlands and mangroves, we will fail to halt climate breakdown.
Nature is one of our most cost-effective assets in the fight against climate change. Yet only 2% of global financing aimed at addressing climate change goes toward nature's climate solutions.
Protecting and restoring tropical forests and mangroves can provide 30% or more of the mitigation action needed to limit average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit).
Conservation International addresses climate change on two fronts:
Adaptation: Helping communities adapt to the effects of climate change that are already happening and that are expected to accelerate, such as sea-level rise
Mitigation: Working to prevent further climate change by reducing emissions, enhancing carbon storage, etc.
The world is on course for a 3.7-4.8°C temperature increase by 2100, which would cause catastrophic and irreparable damage – wiping away coastlines and turning our forests into savannahs. Even commitments made under the 2015 Paris Agreement fall far short of the cuts required to limit warming to a relatively safer 1.5°C. Meanwhile, 800 million people globally are already suffering the impacts of climate change, which will endure for the next century or more due to the cumulative impact of emissions already in the atmosphere.
Conservation International envisions a fundamental shift in how nature is leveraged as a solution to climate change. We seek to end all loss of high-carbon ecosystems such as primary forests, peatlands and mangroves, while enabling degraded ecosystems to recover, removing an incredible amount of carbon from the atmosphere through restoration. At the same time, we seek to maximize nature’s role in helping vulnerable populations adapt to present and future climate impacts.
How We Work
Climate change is here, and we must adapt now — and we can’t do it without nature. Conservation International’s ecosystem-based approach to climate adaptation focuses on conserving, restoring and sustainably managing natural ecosystems. Conservation International forecasts the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and communities around the world to assess vulnerabilities and build resilience, including restoring wetlands to enhance water storage and rehabilitating coastal mangrove forests to protect communities from storm surges.
Agricultural expansion is the primary cause of deforestation. To address this challenge, Conservation International works to reduce underlying drivers of deforestation while enabling sustainable economic development and good governance. Conservation International partners with local producers, companies and governments to implement a holistic “landscape approach” that balances climate needs with competing land uses and economic activities through data-driven integrated land-use planning and policies.
Read more: Sustainable Landscapes Partnership
Read more: Indonesian coffee farmers grapple with climate of uncertainty
Science tool: TRASE
Getting buy-in from the people who live in the forests and depend on them is integral to conservation efforts. To that end, REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) compensates countries and landholders for protecting and restoring forests, thereby reducing carbon emissions. Conservation International designs, advises, develops and brokers REDD+ projects around the world. For example, in Peru’s Alto Mayo Protected Forest — which despite its protected status is highly threatened by deforestation — Conservation International establishes agreements with local farmers to stop deforesting their lands and begin implementing more sustainable farming activities, resulting in reduced carbon emissions.
Securing high-carbon ecosystems
When high-carbon ecosystems such as primary forests, mangroves and peatlands are destroyed, they release immense amounts of carbon that are irrecoverable on a human-relevant timescale. Yet incentives to protect these places are often limited. Conservation International and partners have mapped these high-carbon ecosystems to help decision-makers determine what areas to protect in a changing climate. Together with governments and communities, Conservation International is also working to establish policies and secure sustainable financing to protect these ecosystems, while increasing benefits to the lands’ stewards, in particular indigenous peoples and local communities.
Restoration of degraded lands represents half of nature’s potential to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, and is the only technology available to remove carbon from the atmosphere at scale. To accelerate restoration of landscapes around the world, Conservation International works with governments, rural communities, civil society and the private sector to prioritize cost-effective restoration methods and helps build restoration livelihoods so local people can earn a living while also helping the planet.
Coastlines are the front lines of climate change: By storing large amounts of carbon and protecting vulnerable coastal communities from rising seas, coastal ecosystems such as mangrove forests help both to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. But if destroyed or degraded, these ecosystems release this “blue carbon” into the atmosphere, further contributing to climate change. To secure blue carbon, Conservation International has a leadership role in a number of coalitions aimed at protecting and restoring coastal ecosystems, including the Blue Carbon Initiative and the Global Mangrove Alliance.
Read more: Blue Carbon: Mitigating climate change along our coasts
Read more: What is ‘blue carbon’?
Read more: Protecting ‘blue carbon’ in Cispatá, Colombia
Conservation International advises governments on policies to ensure that ecosystems and their services are valued; that vulnerable populations are given the tools they need to adapt to climate change; and that the frameworks needed to support these policies are implemented. For example, within the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change process, Conservation International provides technical advice and supports governments and delegations. In 2015, Conservation International advised more than 20 governments during the negotiations that led to the Paris Agreement. As the rulebook for implementing the Paris Agreement is established, Conservation International is working to ensure these rules will enable maximum implementation of nature’s solutions.
One of the most important means to scaling up climate action is through investments, but currently only 2% of global climate investment goes to natural climate solutions. Conservation International engages in a broad range of activities to increase funding for nature-based solutions, such as establishing REDD+ as part of key carbon markets and non-market mechanisms and serving as an implementing agency of the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility.
Read more: Investing in nature
Dive deeper: Ecosystem finance: Innovative solutions for lasting conservation (PDF)
Turning science into action
How should nature-based solutions for fighting climate change be implemented? What is the role of the private sector? What should REDD+ look like? These and other issues were covered in a series of briefs that translate Conservation International’s research into implementation on the ground.
Latest conservation news
Restoring tropical forest cover might offer an even bigger climate opportunity than previously thought, a new study finds.
A year after unprecedented fires ravaged the Amazon, the latest data indicate the world’s largest rainforest faces an even higher risk of fires in 2020.
As countries begin to ease COVID-19 restrictions, green stimulus policies could help economies recover while tackling climate change, a new study suggests.
Right now, around the world, the work of protecting nature and the climate is happening in the field — and achieving small triumphs that don’t make the news. Here are three recent conservation success stories you should know about.
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