While the UN climate talks are celebrating their 25th year, carbon emissions around the world have continued to climb. For many, that is where natural solutions could play a key role in managing a dramatic climate transition.
Nature-based solutions or the process of working with and around natural ecosystems to deliver real-world benefits for climate resilience and sustainable development, took center stage on day 4 of COP25 in Madrid).
The African Development Bank has three main approaches to nature-based solutions; namely, restoring damaged ecosystems (land, forests and water bodies), conserving biodiversity, and integrated natural resources management.
Vanessa Ushie, Manager of the Policy Analysis Division at the Bank’s African Natural Resource Centre, briefed delegates at COP 25 about the Centre’s work during a panel discussion on Tuesday.
“Nature-based solutions are easy to use, and very effective in improving community livelihoods and resilience to climate change. The AfDB is scaling up the use of nature-based solutions to address climate impacts on critical ecosystems and biodiversity in Africa,” Ushie said.
UN biodiversity expert Valerie Kapos described a range of natural solutions being implemented across Africa, and around the world. These included protecting rivers, forests, and marine solutions, to benefit local economies.
“We need to be applying that argument to whichever solutions we are choosing,” said Kapos, Head of Climate Change and Biodiversity at the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).
This is definitely true for the Seychelles, which has been appointed by the African Union to be the champion of the blue or ocean economy across the continent. While the continent is known for its deserts and jungles, a blue economic transition will be essential for the 48 coastal states that collectively make up the world’s longest coastline.
“We have protected 47% of our land, and are moving toward 50%. But our ocean territory is 3,000 times bigger than our land territory, and we are on track to protect 30% of that area,” said Ronald Jumeau, Permanent Representative of the Seychelles at the UN.
This was made possible by one of the world’s biggest debt-swap programs. The debt-for-nature deal was made possible through The Nature Conservancy, which bought the island nation’s $400 million sovereign debt at a discount. That money will be re-invested in nature conservation programmes.
“Through this program we have funded mangrove restoration and climate education programmes,” said Angelique Pouponneau, who runs a Seychelles-based trust fund focusing on climate adaptation and conservation.
Ushie from the African Development Bank pointed out that “one thing we are looking at is changing the way in which lending is being channeled to Africa, and how nature can be integrated in the measurement of national wealth and sovereign credit ratings for African countries.”
2019 second hottest year on record
Last year was the second warmest year on record, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) confirmed on Wednesday.
“The average global temperature has risen by about 1.1°C since the pre-industrial era and ocean heat content is at a record level,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
“On the current path of carbon dioxide emissions, we are heading towards a temperature increase of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by the end of century.”
WMO analysis showed the annual global temperature in 2019 was 1.1°C warmer than in the period from 1850-1900, or the pre-industrial era.
Only 2016 was hotter, due to a very strong El Niño which causes warming, combined with long-term climate change.
Furthermore, average temperatures for the past five years and 10 years, respectively, were the highest on record.
Since the 1980s, each decade has been warmer than the previous one: a trend the UN agency expects will continue due to the record level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
WMO added that 2019 and the past decade also were characterized by retreating ice, record sea levels, increasing ocean heat and acidification, and extreme weather, all of which have “major impacts” on human health and the natural environment.
Meanwhile, the New Year began where 2019 left off, according to Mr. Taalas.
“Australia had its hottest, driest year on record in 2019, setting the scene for the massive bushfires which were so devastating to people and property, wildlife, ecosystems and the environment,” he said.
“Unfortunately, we expect to see much extreme weather throughout 2020 and the coming decades, fuelled by record levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”
Biodiversity loss: what is causing it and why is it a concern?
Biodiversity, or the variety of all living things on our planet, has been declining at an alarming rate in recent years, mainly due to human activities, such as land use changes, pollution and climate change.
On 16 January MEPs called for legally binding targets to stop biodiversity loss to be agreed at a UN biodiversity conference (COP15) in China in October. The conference brings together parties to the 1993 UN Biodiversity Convention to decide on its post-2020 strategy. Parliament wants the EU to take the lead by ensuring that 30% of EU territory consists of natural areas by 2030 and considering biodiversity in all EU policies.
What is biodiversity?
Biodiversity is traditionally defined as the variety of life on Earth in all its forms. It comprises the number of species, their genetic variation and the interaction of these lifeforms within complex ecosystems.
In a UN report published in 2019, scientists warned that one million species – out of an estimated total of eight million – are threatened with extinction, many within decades. Some researchers even consider we are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history. Earlier known mass extinctions wiped out between 60% and 95% of all species. It takes millions of years for ecosystems to recover from such an event.
Why is biodiversity important?
Healthy ecosystems provide us with many essentials we take for granted. Plants convert energy from the sun making it available to other life forms. Bacteria and other living organisms break down organic matter into nutrients providing plants with healthy soil to grow in. Pollinators are essential in plant reproduction, guaranteeing our food production. Plants and oceans act as major carbon sinks.
In short, biodiversity provides us with clean air, fresh water, good quality soil and crop pollination. It helps us fight climate change and adapt to it as well reduce the impact of natural hazards.
Since living organisms interact in dynamic ecosystems, the disappearance of one species can have a far-reaching impact on the food chain. It is impossible to know exactly what the consequences of mass extinctions would be for humans, but we do know that for now the diversity of nature allows us to thrive.
What measures does the Parliament propose?
MEPs are calling for legally binding targets both locally and globally, in order to encourage more ambitious measures to ensure the conservation and the restoration of biodiversity. Natural areas should cover 30% of the EU territory by 2030 and degraded ecosystems should be restored. In order to guarantee sufficient financing, Parliament proposes that 10% of the EU’s next long-term budget is devoted to conservation of biodiversity
Who turned up the temperature? Climate change, heatwaves and wildfires
The cautionary tale of the boiling frog describes how a frog that jumps into boiling water will save itself by jumping straight out, but the frog that sits in the water while it gradually gets hotter and hotter will boil to death. The global warming crisis surrounds us today and we must act now to protect ourselves.
On 15 January 2020, the World Meteorological Organization confirmed that 2019 was the second hottest year on record after 2016, according to the organization’s consolidated analysis of leading international datasets.
Average temperatures for the five-year (2015–2019) and ten-year (2010–2019) periods were the highest on record. Since the 1980s, every decade has been warmer than the previous one. This trend is expected to continue because of record levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that has caused our climate to change.
Averaged across the five data sets used in the consolidated analysis, the annual global temperature in 2019 was 1.1°C warmer than the average for 1850–1900, used to represent pre-industrial conditions. 2016 remains the warmest year on record because of the combination of a very strong El Niño event, which has a warming impact, and long-term climate change.
“The average global temperature has risen by about 1.1°C since the pre-industrial era and ocean heat content is at a record level,” said World Meteorological Organization’s Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
Across 2019, Europe sweltered in its hottest-ever July since records began, causing multiple deaths, closed offices and disruptions to flights and vital services. Wildfires also broke out in the Arctic, with smoke-filled air swirling across a larger-than-ever area of Arctic wilderness.
The heat didn’t let up as the seasons changed across the hemispheres, and Australia’s hottest, driest year on record created dangerously flammable conditions, across wider areas and earlier in the wildfire season, with devastating consequences. Australia’s 2019–2020 bushfire season is already the worst on record, burning 18.3 million hectares by mid-January, causing loss of life, homes, livelihood and the reported death of a billion animals. There are still ten weeks to go before the end of the bushfire season.
“The reality is that this is the world we live in with 1.1°C of warming,” says Niklas Hagelberg, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) climate change expert. “These record temperatures, record heatwaves and record droughts are not anomalies but the wider trend of a changing climate. We can only expect worsening impacts as global temperatures rise further.”
As fires continue to smolder across the remains of Australia’s devasted communities, and threaten yet more new ones today, and as Australia, a well-resourced country used to seasonal bushfires, continues to receive international support to face the challenges of the weeks of the remaining bushfire season, it appears that we are woefully underprepared to face our future reality.
UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2019 reported that on the current path of carbon dioxide emissions, if we rely only on the current climate commitments of the Paris Agreement, and they are fully implemented, there is a 66 per cent chance that warming will rise to 3.2°C by the end of the century.
“Governments, companies, industry and the public in G20 countries, who are responsible for 78 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, must set targets and timelines for decarbonization,” says Hagelberg. “We must embrace the potential and opportunities of a world powered by renewable energy, efficiency technologies, smart food systems and zero-emission mobility and buildings.”
2020 is the year that governments will meet to take stock of and increase the ambition of their commitments to climate action. It is the year that global emissions must drop by 7.6 per cent and by 7.6 per cent again every subsequent year until 2030 in order to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C.
Before extreme weather events push more communities and ecosystems beyond their ability to cope, in 2020, as a global community we have the means and opportunity to prevent our planet from boiling but need to act now cannot be ignored.
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