This past Sunday, the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) concluded. Climate delegates, advocates, and leaders met for two weeks in the Egyptian city of Sharm el Sheikh for discussions and negotiations surrounding the mitigation of global warming and the payment of loss and damages for developing nations that are bearing a majority of the climate crisis.
While much of the conference centered around finding ways to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably below 1.5 C, (which we are not currently on track to achieve) COP27 did yield an important conservation-related discussion: nature-based solutions to climate change.
On November 16, dubbed the “Biodiversity Day” of the conference focused on nature and ecosystem-based solutions, the Egyptian COP27 Presidency, Germany, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature announced the Enhancing Nature-based Solutions (NbS) for Climate Transformation (ENACT) Initiative for nature-based solutions. The initiative will coordinate global efforts to address climate change, land, and ecosystem degradation, and biodiversity loss through nature-based climate solutions and produce an annual report to update COP28 and future meetings on its progress. The initiative aims to enhance the protection from and resilience to climate impacts of at least 1 billion vulnerable people, including at least 500 million women and girls, secure up to 2.4 billion hectares of healthy natural and sustainable agricultural ecosystems, and significantly increase global mitigation efforts through protecting, conserving, and restoring carbon-rich terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems.
Nature-based climate solutions involve conserving, restoring, and better managing ecosystems to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Nature-based solutions are a central part of conservation work and the mission of Openlands, and involve processes including wetland restoration, tree planting, and forest protection, restoring and protecting grasslands and local ecosystems, planting native species, and instituting regenerative agricultural practices.
Nature-based solutions to climate change use the built-in processes of nature to trap carbon dioxide and prevent greenhouse gas emissions. Planting trees and native species removes carbon dioxide from the air, stores carbon in the soil, and releases oxygen into the atmosphere. Wetlands capture CO2 from the atmosphere and store more carbon than any other ecosystem on Earth. They are also hubs of biodiversity that help prevent erosion and improve water quality. Using regenerative agricultural practices can increase the carbon stored in soil or vegetation. Using cover crops can also lead to less runoff of sediments and nutrients into waterways, reduced flooding in watersheds, and greater soil carbon sequestration.
As the second-largest carbon emitter in the world, the United States has a major leadership role to play in rapidly reducing emissions and taking action to protect ecosystems. Earlier this year, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which is the most significant climate legislation in U.S. history and puts the United States on track to achieve President Biden’s ambitious goal of cutting U.S. emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels in 2030. In addition, President Biden set forth the nation’s first-ever conservation goal – to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.
Nature-based climate solutions are an essential part of remediating the climate crisis and should be a part of all major mitigation plans. Commitments to stop deforestation, restore land and water, and protect it from degradation are all commitments that have a direct impact on the Midwest and the Chicagoland region in addition to cutting methane and fossil fuel emissions. On a local level, Openlands is committed to the work of protecting 30% of all lands by 2030. Advocacy successes such as the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Wildlife referendum and programmatic wins such as the completion of Space to Grow’s 34th schoolyard and the creation of the Arborist Registered Apprenticeship are examples of Openlands’ commitment to furthering nature-based solutions to climate change. You can learn more about Openlands’ work to protect our local ecosystems and take action here.