Mother na­ture vs. cli­mate change

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Wet­lands, forests, and oceans ab­sorb and store carbon, which makes them a vi­tal as­set for coun­tries pur­su­ing the Paris cli­mate agree­ment’s tar­gets for re­duc­ing CO2 emis­sions. So how can we use them most ef­fec­tively?

The Paris ac­cord was con­cluded by 196 gov­ern­ments last De­cem­ber, and came into force ear­lier this month. Now, its sig­na­to­ries met in Marrakesh, Morocco, for the an­nual United Na­tions cli­mate change con­fer­ence. Sev­eral con­fer­ence events specif­i­cally fo­cus on how coun­tries can use nat­u­ral sys­tems to meet their CO2-re­duc­tion tar­gets.

While the cli­mate-change chal­lenge is im­mense, so, too, is the op­por­tu­nity to ac­cel­er­ate sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment and en­sure a bet­ter fu­ture for ev­ery­one on the planet. Un­der the Paris agree­ment, gov­ern­ments have com­mit­ted to re­duc­ing their carbon emis­sions dras­ti­cally, in or­der to keep global warm­ing be­low 2C. The vast ma­jor­ity of sig­na­tory coun­tries have al­ready pre­sented na­tional ac­tion plans for achiev­ing this goal, and these plans will be­come more am­bi­tious over time.

These Na­tion­ally De­ter­mined Con­tri­bu­tions in­clude re­new­able-en­ergy tar­gets and pro­pos­als for sus­tain­able trans­porta­tion, en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, and ed­u­ca­tion. In ad­di­tion, coun­tries should con­sider adopt­ing poli­cies to man­age nat­u­ral cap­i­tal bet­ter. The Paris agree­ment it­self recog­nises the im­por­tant role that nat­u­ral ecosys­tems play in lim­it­ing the amount of carbon in the at­mo­sphere, and gov­ern­ments should not ne­glect such pow­er­ful tools.

Gov­ern­ments will need to take ac­tion to con­serve ex­ist­ing ecosys­tems – and re­store and ex­pand de­graded ecosys­tems – in peo­ple-friendly ways. This is par­tic­u­larly true of wet­lands, which in­clude all land ar­eas – such as lakes, flood­plains, peat­lands, man­groves, and co­ral reefs – that are cov­ered with water, ei­ther sea­son­ally or per­ma­nently.

Peat­lands are par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant. Though they cover only 3% of the world’s to­tal sur­face area, they store twice as much carbon as all forests com­bined. Peat­land soils are com­posed of carbon – in the form of de­com­posed plant ma­te­rial – that has ac­cu­mu­lated for thou­sands of years; and when peat­lands are drained or burned, that carbon is re­leased into the at­mo­sphere. In fact, drain­ing peat­lands re­leases two times more carbon into the at­mo­sphere than the avi­a­tion in­dus­try does.

In 2015, fires raged across In­done­sia’s forested peat­lands, rais­ing con­cerns world­wide about how much carbon was be­ing re­leased into the at­mo­sphere, to say noth­ing of the far­reach­ing health ef­fects. In­done­sia’s govern­ment es­ti­mates that peat­land fires and de­for­esta­tion alone ac­count for more than 60% of the coun­try’s to­tal green­house-gas emis­sions.

Con­serv­ing and restor­ing peat­lands could sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce global CO2 emis­sions, which is why, in 2015, the Nordic Coun­cil of Min­is­ters an­nounced a com­mit­ment to pre­serve the re­gion’s peat­lands. Al­most half of Nordic coun­tries’ peat­lands have been lost, and this ecosys­tem degra­da­tion con­trib­utes 25% of their to­tal carbon emis­sions.

The Paris agree­ment en­tered fully into force in less than a year. This in­di­cates that there is global mo­men­tum for con­crete ac­tion to ad­dress the causes of cli­mate change, as well as its ef­fects, such as the dis­as­trous floods, water short­ages, and droughts al­ready af­flict­ing many coun­tries.

That sense of ur­gency is not sur­pris­ing. Ac­cord­ing to UNWater, 90% of all nat­u­ral haz­ards are water-re­lated, and they will in­crease in fre­quency and in­ten­sity as cli­mate change wors­ens. But nat­u­ral sys­tems can mit­i­gate them: wet­lands act as sponges that re­duce flood­ing and de­lay the on­set of droughts; and man­groves, salt marshes, and co­ral reefs all act as buf­fers that pro­tect against storm surges. And wet­lands, oceans, and forests do far more than just ab­sorb and store carbon; they also pro­vide fresh water, and are a food source for nearly three bil­lion peo­ple.

Coun­tries have a ready­made plat­form that they can use for their fu­ture wet­land-con­ser­va­tion ef­forts. The Ram­sar Con­ven­tion on Wet­lands, an intergovernmental treaty un­der which 169 coun­tries have com­mit­ted to con­serve and sus­tain­ably man­age their wet­lands, is an ideal ve­hi­cle for help them reach their CO2-re­duc­tion tar­gets, as well as meet the UN Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals for 2030.

The Paris agree­ment’s long-term ob­jec­tive is to achieve cli­mate neu­tral­ity – no net green­house-gas emis­sions – in the sec­ond half of this cen­tury. Cli­mate neu­tral­ity is nec­es­sary to keep global warm­ing be­low 2C; to reach it, we must re­duce emis­sions to the point that they can be fully and eas­ily ab­sorbed by na­ture. This was the nat­u­ral cy­cle for mil­lions of years be­fore an­thro­pogenic cli­mate change be­gan.

Cli­mate neu­tral­ity can be achieved through po­lit­i­cal willpower, imag­i­na­tive poli­cies, new green tech­nolo­gies and clean-en­ergy sources, and a multi-tril­lion-dol­lar shift in in­vest­ment to­ward sus­tain­able eco­nomic sec­tors and in­fra­struc­ture. In ad­di­tion, these mea­sures’ suc­cess re­quires cost-ef­fec­tive in­vest­ment in con­ser­va­tion ef­forts and ex­pan­sion of nat­u­ral cap­i­tal. Only na­ture-based sys­tems such as wet­lands and forests can truly guar­an­tee suc­cess – and a clean, pros­per­ous fu­ture.

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