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.
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.
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.
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
Related conservation news from the field
How to talk to kids about climate change
Editor’s note: Conservation International climate expert Shyla Raghav recently joined a group of children on an episode of the National Children Museum’s podcast, “STEAM Daydream,” to explore climate science. In a new post, Raghav shares advice to help parents educate their children about climate change.
As climate breakdown accelerates, it is crucial for children to learn about how the planet is being affected and what they can do to help.
But teaching kids about such a complex and unsettling issue can be daunting for any parent.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be an expert to talk to your children about the climate crisis. Here are five tips to help.
1. Give examples
As a global issue, climate change can be extremely difficult to talk about at an individual level. The key to explaining the climate crisis to children is finding ways to relate it to their daily lives. For example, I always start by talking about the weather, which changes almost every day and can impact anything from our moods to the rate at which plants grow. At its most basic, climate change is just a pattern of weather over a longer period of time. To illustrate this to your children, try comparing the weather today to the weather 50 years ago: Are there any major differences you can find? Is it hotter or drier now? While it is natural for the climate to fluctuate over time, it is important to explain that humans are causing the climate to change at an unprecedented rate. In fact, research shows that 19 of the hottest years ever recorded have occurred in the past 20 years.
2. Don’t just talk about examples — show them
Similar to most scientific subjects, climate change is easier to understand with visuals. Some of the terms used by climate experts actually have visuals built into their names, such as the greenhouse gas effect. When you are explaining what drives global warming, try showing your child a picture of a greenhouse or visit an actual greenhouse. Essentially, the glass structure housing the plants traps the sunlight within that space, making it a lot hotter inside — and we are doing the same thing with our planet when we burn fossil fuels, which release greenhouse gas emissions that trap sunlight in our atmosphere.
You can also show visuals of the things that are helping to stop climate change just by going outside. Recent research found that nature can contribute at least 30 percent of the carbon emissions reductions and removals necessary to keep average global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius (3.7 degrees Fahrenheit). That means that the trees in your own back yard are playing their part in combatting climate change by absorbing and storing the emissions that humans are releasing.
3. Don’t underestimate what children can understand
I think a lot of people would be surprised by how much kids already know about climate change. Children are constantly observing changes happening to our planet, and many of them are curious about how it might impact their lives. While it is important to educate your kids about the climate crisis using terms that they are familiar with, don’t feel like you need to oversimplify or “dumb down” the topic. If you do, you may risk leaving out critical points that could help them understand what their future might look like — and how they can help prevent climate catastrophe.
4. Focus on action — and hope
Given that humanity is facing a pandemic, it can be daunting to try to teach kids about another global crisis. However, it is crucial to continue talking to children about climate change, not despite the pandemic but because of it. There are so many lessons to learn from the global response to the pandemic that are applicable for climate change. Crises demonstrate the incredible capacity of societies to come together in the face of unprecedented, insurmountable challenges and adapt. This is exactly what we need to tackle climate change.
To help avoid the stress and fear that comes along with talking about the climate emergency — what we call “climate fatigue” — focus on what actions you and your child can take to help end it. For example, cutting back on red meat is beneficial to the planet because livestock such as cows release methane, a greenhouse gas, and require large amounts of land and feed. Even small things such as shutting the lights off when you leave a room or installing solar panels in your house can cut your carbon footprint. By helping your children understand the climate impacts of the actions that they and others take, it will help them to recognize the changes that must occur to build a safer, healthier and more resilient future — and to act on those changes as they pursue their educations and grow into adults.
- For more tips to live green, visit here.
5. Learn from your children
With children, learning is not a one-way street. Adults also have a lot to learn from kids, especially when it comes to climate action. Children have joined together to form an international youth climate movement, organizing massive protests, online climate campaigns and social media strikes. Like never before, children are part of a global community and are holding adults accountable for their actions. Being open to what your child has to say about the climate movement will help build a more inclusive and sustainable world for them to grow up in.
Cover image: A youth group in the Philippines (© Keith A. Ellenbogen)
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