June 5, 2020 | Authored by: Annlyn Mc Phie, UNDP; and Candida Rodriguez, UNDP
Recognizing the value of nature
The natural world provides us with the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the land we live on. The world houses diverse ecosystems, habitats, and a myriad of plant and animal species – including some that we probably haven’t even yet discovered. Our oceans, forests, rivers, and lands support our economies, societies, culture, and overall prosperity and well-being.
This year’s World Environment Day theme “Time for Nature” emphasizes the need to pause and reflect. We need to take time to consider the enormous benefits we derive from nature and focus on how we can more effectively protect our natural world for future generations.
Unprecedented biodiversity loss has been recorded over the years, with a ground-breaking UN report concluding 1 million animal and plant species are currently threatened by extinction. More than two thirds of the earth’s forested areas have been cleared to make way for development. Time for Nature is especially pertinent, given that the world has been on lockdown to avoid the worst impacts of a global pandemic – due to the latest infectious disease and as a result of human degradation of wildlife.
Photo: Wetlands. UNDP China
Nature as a tool to fight climate change and increase climate action
So, what exactly are Nature-based Solutions (NBS)? NBS refers to an approach to overcome challenges in our society. Challenges such as climate change can effectively and adaptively be addressed in a way that protects, sustainably manages, and restores our natural or human-modified ecosystems, while simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.
Land ecosystems and biodiversity are highly vulnerable to ongoing climate change impacts and risks. A more sustainable, medium to long-term approach such as sustainable land management, can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and the negative impacts of climate change on ecosystems and societies.
However, nature can also provide us with many important climate solutions, through forest restoration and sustainable management, and climate-friendly agriculture. As one report stated, these ground-tested solutions can be a key part of global efforts to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement by providing "over one-third of the cost-effective climate mitigation needed between now and 2030 to stabilize warming to below 2 °C, achieving nature’s mitigation potential of 10-12 gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year".
Decarbonization and the reduction of climate change risks are just two of the many benefits of implementing NBS into climate action strategies, including the Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, that underpin the Paris Agreement. NBS is a key component in achieving sustainable and climate resilient societies because it values the harmony between humans and nature, providing a holistic, people-centered response to climate change. Overall, it’s a tool that’s effective, long-term, cost-efficient and globally scalable. But if we are to achieve the ambitious goal of halving our emissions by 2030, NBS and biodiversity preservation need to be rapidly scaled up.
Photo: Peatland restoration. UNDP Belarus.
The opportunities are endless – for environment, society and economy
Fortunately, the opportunities of applying NBS into climate action strategies are seemingly endless. Practices such as “Step Farming” or “Terracing” – farming on hills or mountains with steep slopes, reduces the amount of water loss and soil runoff and enables intensive farming in a sustainable manner. As an initiative part of the NDC Support Programme, farmers, cooperatives, and women entrepreneurs in Vietnam are adopting a new smart and green farming technique and supply chains to reduce GHG emissions; boosting farmers’ revenues and livelihood resilience.
In urban areas, green infrastructure promotes climate resilience, and natural landscaping shows to improve citizens’ well-being and health - and, can even be used to reduce GHG emissions. With access to nature, lower incidents of illnesses are recorded in communities and persons tend to possess a stronger connection to nature, promoting a more sustainable society.
With the world at a halt, numerous economic shutdowns, and record unemployment rates due to the COVID-19 crisis, turning to nature seems like the most effective way to support life on earth and human development. Investing in NBS helps reduce financial consequences of crises such as the current economic, climate and loss of biodiversity crisis. This in turn promotes new gender-sensitive jobs, livelihood resilience and poverty reduction. In Côte d'Ivoire, for example, the NDC Support Programme is working with the government to prepare for the launch of a green bond to finance the reduction of GHG emissions by 28% by 2030.
Tackling the climate and biodiversity crisis through bold climate pledges
Through the Climate Promise, UNDP is currently supporting 110 countries to enhance their NDCs this year. About 84 percent of countries included NBS for Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) and water/oceans into their climate pledges, either for reducing GHG emissions or adapting to the impacts of climate change. Nigeria, for example, committed to a 20-30 percent GHG emissions reduction by integrating NBS, gender, and whole of society participation. This clearly demonstrates countries’ bold commitments to reducing GHG emissions, enhancing climate ambition, and restoring and safeguarding nature.
The “Time for Nature” is now
Many may be reading this article while still in some form of lockdown or restricted activity due to COVID-19. The amount of stress the world and its plant, animal and human inhabitants are going through right now is unprecedented. But let’s take this opportunity; this time to reflect on nature and all it has given us, so we can forge a cleaner and greener pathway to the future.
UNDP’s NDC Support Programme is supporting nearly 40 countries to use their NDCs as a strategic instrument for realizing zero-carbon and climate-resilient development that is sustainable, equitable and fully inclusive. The Programme is funded by the European Union and the governments of Germany and Spain as a contribution to the NDC Partnership.
With the world at a halt, numerous economic shutdowns, and record unemployment rates due to the COVID-19 crisis, turning to nature seems like the most effective way to support life on earth and human development. Governments are working for people, for planet through UNDP's Climate Promise. This World Environment Day, it's time for nature.