To prevent irreversible harm to Earth’s life-support systems, humanity must emit less climate-warming greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, while also removing excess carbon from the atmosphere. This will require an urgent and large-scale transition to clean and renewable sources of energy. But even if the world stopped using fossil fuels completely, we would fail to avert a worst-case scenario if we did not also reverse the destruction of ecosystems such as forests that absorb and store carbon.

In other words: No matter what, if we don’t protect and restore nature, we will fail to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown.

 

The facts

 

Natural climate solutions are at the heart of Conservation International’s work. These are actions that conserve, restore or improve the use or management of ecosystems while maintaining their capacity to absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere. Nature could get us at least 30 percent of the way to solving the climate crisis, while also providing a host of additional benefits — filtering fresh water, providing breathable air — that other approaches to climate change don’t offer.

Even better: Nature can do this today — for free.

 

 

 

Planetary goals

Where humanity needs to be by 2030

Leading scientists have identified the global need to avoid 5 gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per year by preventing the destruction of high-carbon ecosystems, and to remove 5 additional gigatons of CO2 per year through the restoration and sustainable management of the landscapes that serve as Earth’s natural “carbon sinks” by 2030.

 

 

 

What we are doing about it

 

 

Our strategy focuses on ensuring that natural ecosystems are worth more alive than dead. Deforestation rates have climbed in recent years — with short-term economic interests outweighing the long-term value of forests. Conservation International’s work aims to replace an extractive economy with a regenerative one through innovation, collaboration and by partnering with Indigenous peoples and local communities.

Together, we are:

  • Working with businesses and governments to minimize deforestation by addressing its largest drivers, particularly agricultural expansion.
  • Identifying and mapping high-carbon ecosystems such as mangroves, tropical peatlands, and old-growth tropical forests that, once lost, are extraordinarily difficult to replace.
  • Leveraging philanthropic funding by guiding public and private investments to initiatives such as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), a UN-backed approach to fight climate change by conserving forests.
  • Developing methods to increase the return on investment in tropical reforestation, making it more attractive for governments and private investors.
  • Supporting local and Indigenous communities to protect forests on their lands.
  • Mainstreaming and maximizing nature’s role for achieving climate goals in national and international climate actions.

 

Conservation International aims to:

Avoid 2+ gigatons of CO2 emissions through the avoided loss and conservation of high-carbon ecosystems such as peat, mangroves and old-growth forests. This will require preventing the loss of 3.3 million hectares of forest and protecting a much larger area.

 

Remove another 1+ gigaton of CO2 through restoration and sustainable management of natural ecosystems by 2025. That will require the restoration of 35 million hectares of land.

 

Secure 13 percent of the ecosystems that are storing the planet’s “irrecoverable carbon” — approximately 120 million hectares. These critical ecosystems contain a generation’s worth of carbon and are vulnerable to human activity.

 

Ensure all mangroves are included in countries’ climate action commitments, known as Nationally Determined Contributions, and are protected and/or covered under a sustainable financing mechanism, with the aim of increasing mangrove forests worldwide by 20 percent by 2030.

 

Ensure tropical countries’ climate commitments reflect at least 50 percent of national mitigation potential for natural climate solutions. Help at least 30 countries enact policies that maximize natural climate solution potential.

 

Develop projects to capture 200 megatons of CO2, and increase available financing for natural climate solutions by US$ 10 billion, with a particular focus on high-emitting sectors.

 

 

Irrecoverable Carbon

To avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate breakdown, there are certain places we simply cannot afford to destroy. These ecosystems contain more than 260 billion tons of “irrecoverable carbon,” most of which is stored in mangroves, peatlands, old-growth forests and marshes. If released, these vast stores of living carbon would be impossible to recover by the middle of the century, which is when the world needs to reach net-zero emissions to avoid a climate disaster.

Conservational International scientists are leading a team of globally renowned experts to determine where these carbon stocks are, whether they are threatened by human activities and how quickly the stocks could be recovered if lost — creating a global map of irrecoverable carbon in Earth’s ecosystems.

Informed by this pioneering research, Conservation International is undertaking an ambitious initiative to protect 120 million hectares (nearly 300 million acres) of ecosystems — an area larger than Colombia — containing high amounts of irrecoverable carbon by 2025. 

 

 

On the ground

Conservation International is hard at work

© Charlie Shoemaker
Chyulu Hills, Kenya
Conservation International is working to restore tens of thousands of hectares of grasslands in Kenya’s Chyulu Hills, which will protect wildlife, support the livelihoods of the Maasai people and remove carbon from the atmosphere. By scaling this cost-effective approach, up to 900 million hectares (2.2 billion acres) of degraded shrub and grass lands could be restored to natural savanna, benefiting people and wildlife, and potentially sequestering billions of tons of carbon dioxide each year.
© Thomas Muller
Alto Mayo, Peru
Despite its protected status, Peru’s Alto Mayo Protected Forest — a swath of Amazonian rainforest twice the size of New York City — has seen some of the country’s highest rates of deforestation, fueled by agriculture and illegal logging. Conservation International is helping to provide local farmers with economic alternatives to deforestation, as well as benefits such as agricultural training, improved cookstoves and educational materials. These agreements have been partially funded through carbon credits, a critical tool for reducing deforestation and supporting sustainable development.
© Conservation International/photo by Bailey Evans
Bajo Madidi Municipal Conservation and Management Area, Bolivia
With support from Conservation International, the Bolivian municipality of Ixiamas established the 1.5-million-hectare (3.7-million-acre) Bajo Madidi Municipal Conservation and Management Area. A critical part of Conservation International’s climate strategy is centered around increasing the protection of carbon-rich forests in the Amazon — benefiting nature, climate and communities.
© Shutterstock
Cispatá, Colombia
Along the northern edge of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, Conservation International is directly preventing the loss of 9,600 hectares (nearly 24,000 acres) of mangrove forests and actively restoring an additional 1,800 hectares (about 4,500 acres). Mangroves store more carbon per unit area than any other ecosystem on Earth while protecting coastal communities from the devastating impacts of climate change, including sea-level rise and severe storms.

 

 

Related conservation news from the field

Climate change puts the squeeze on wine production

Jan 4, 2021, 09:33 AM by User Not Found
The first global map of future land suitability for vineyards could change everything we think we know about wine.
True or false? Wine grapes may soon be growing around Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Wines from New Jersey are statistically indistinguishable from French wines. A little over a century ago, Algeria was the world’s largest wine exporter. China is the world’s fastest growing wine-producing country.
 
As it turns out, all of these statements are true — and each has an important lesson for conservation.
 
I recently led a research team of scientists from six universities and conservation groups in a study looking at the impacts of climate change on wine and what they might mean for conservation. Our paper, “Climate Change, Wine and Conservation,” was just published in the latest issue of the journal PNAS. The results surprised even us, as did a number of things we found out along the way.
 
Our study produced the first global map of future suitability for wine production. Here are four factors that might change where the world’s wine is grown:
 
1. Rising temperatures
 
The area north of Yellowstone will be one of the areas with the greatest increase in suitability for growing wine grapes in the next 50 years. The reason is climate change. Temperatures are warming, and suitable lands for wine grape growing are moving north.
 
This shift may have a big conservation impact on the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), an innovative attempt to connect wildlife habitats between Yellowstone and Canada’s Yukon Territory. Vineyards would be a major impediment to this connectivity. They provide poor habitat for wildlife, and would probably have to be fenced to avoid bears snacking on the grapes.
 
These changes in North America are symbolic of changes happening across the globe. Wine suitability is moving toward the poles. In South Africa, Chile and Australia, there is little land left in the direction of the South Pole, and suitable area for vineyards is declining. In the north, there is a lot of high-latitude land, and area suitable for vineyards is expanding. This will result in a global redistribution of wine-producing regions, with some serious consequences for ecosystems and wildlife habitat.
 
2. Public perception of wine-growing regions
 
Wine from Montana doesn’t sound so wild when you consider the results of a blind wine tasting organized by the Journal of Wine Economics. The test pitted New Jersey wines (yes, these exist!) against French wines. Judged by French wine experts, the scores for the New Jersey wines were statistically indistinguishable from the French wines; the French judges couldn’t tell them apart.
 
If experts can’t reliably tell them apart, most consumers won’t be able to either, and wine from anywhere — even Montana — could become competitive in the global market. This result swings the doors wide open to wines from everywhere — and our study shows that lots of new places, some in very good wildlife habitat, will become suitable for wine.
 
3. Shifting market forces
 
But people have their preferences, and won’t switch easily — or will they? In your great-grandfather’s time (or great-great-grandfather, depending on your age), the world’s largest exporter of wines was actually Algeria, a country that today produces almost no wine. What changed? The swing came because of market forces; French production recovered from a fungal blight, and Algeria’s markets dried up.
 
Are the forces that drove that dramatic shift so different from climate change? What happens when wine-growing regions in the Southern Hemisphere lose suitability and large areas of suitability open close to major markets in North America and Europe? In North America, that change may come on lands that are currently important habitat for grizzly bears, mountain lions, pronghorn, elk and many other species that need large natural landscapes to survive.
 
4. China’s growing love of wine
 
Believe it or not, China is the fastest growing wine-producing region in the world. By aggressively buying both wine and vineyards, the country’s upper classes are driving up the price of both. As this upper-class fervor for wine reaches the middle class in China, demand will explode.
 
Much of that demand will be met by imports, but China has suitable areas for growing wine grapes, and production will start there as well. Those areas happen to be in the same mountains that are habitat for giant pandas, so wine expansion in China may have repercussions for what is arguably the world’s most iconic animal.
 
Lions and pandas and bears, oh my — are they really wrapped up in the future of wine? Do we have to choose between a nice red and nice wildlife habitat? Not necessarily.
 
Consumer awareness and sustainable industry practices are already a potent combination in wine marketing. However, wine industry eco-initiatives currently focus largely on land management and pesticides and little on where the vineyard is located or the impact on wildlife. But this can change, particularly if vineyards and conservationists work together — and if consumers make it known that wildlife-friendly wine production is important to them.
 
What we’ve learned about wine has important implications for agriculture, climate change and conservation in general. Just as it’s moving wine-producing regions, climate change will be moving other agricultural areas, which may displace wildlife habitat. An important lesson for the future of conservation is that we need to consider not just direct climate change impacts on species (like polar bears) but also the indirect impacts: moving agriculture into areas that are currently providing important services for people and wildlife alike.
 
Lee Hannah is senior scientist for climate change biology in CI’s Moore Center for Science.
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