The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) held an event on 22 April to highlight initiatives at national, regional and local levels aimed at mitigation and adaptation to climate change through nature-based solutions. The event took place on the sidelines of the signing by over 150 countries of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The event, titled ‘Towards Nature Based Solutions,' was moderated by Jeffrey Kluger, TIME Magazine.
Sandrine Dixson-Declève, Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All), said a key issue is the nexus of water, land and energy and what countries can do to respond to risks and scale up responses. It is key to protect is not strip nature of its capacity. A key issue for the developing world is accessibility of clean energy, noting that access to sustainable and clean off-grid electricity, in combination with clean cook stoves, can have a dramatic impact on health and well-being as well as climate change.
Hasan Mahmud, Parliamentarian from Chittagong and former Minister of State for Environment and Forests of Bangladesh, spoke of adaptation now being key in Bangladesh where climate change is already happening. National initiatives in his country include two climate change trust funds with participation from Australia, the US and European countries, and a forest ownership programme for local communities. He stressed the importance of ownership to effective forest stewardship. He highlighted Bangladesh's lead in installed capacity of home solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, having the largest number of such home systems in the world, more than 4 million. He also mentioned the advances in the country's early warning system so that casualties from major cyclones have been substantially reduced.
Nilda Mesa, Director, New York City Office of Sustainability, focused on climate change initiatives at the local level. She noted New York City's vulnerability to the effects of climate change, which she said has been addressed in the city's 'OneNYC' plan. She indicated that buildings are the key emitters in the city and how they are operated is vital in mitigation efforts. One billion dollars is being invested in energy efficiency and retrofits with a view to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050. She reported that the city has made progress on energy, water and biodiversity, by investing heavily in solar PV as well as building energy efficiency, developing a public education campaign on plastics and water pollution, and raising awareness of the impact of the built environment on local biodiversity.
Eric Klinenberg, New York University (NYU), emphasized the importance of both the natural and the built environments in dealing with climate change. He made four key points. The first is that cities are heat islands, getting hotter, and coastal cities face flooding, sometimes of catastrophic proportions. Secondly, natural infrastructure is essential for cooling and protecting cities and can moderate the power of wave energy. Third, natural and social infrastructure can change the way we live. Fourth, all infrastructure we build will need to have multiple benefits in future, including to protect us and improve the quality of life.
Tim Tear, Director Africa Programme, WCS, gave an example of a nature based solution, namely, through greater sequestering of carbon in soils especially of grazing lands in Africa, rendering them more sustainable since they are directly related to the health of the biomes for which they form the basis. He argued that sequestering carbon in soils has tremendous potential and scalability, and can support both mitigation and adaptation. It can also improve the livelihoods and economic security of herders dependent on healthy soils.
Darren Long, Lead and Director Global Climate Change Adaptation, WCS, spoke to the fact that "saving nature is saving ourselves". For example forests regulate climate, ecosystems are our defenses against flooding. WCS works with communities around the globe to protect intact forests and wildlife, and to restore natural ecosystems such as mangroves. He said that, right now, close to 90% of current global investments are focused on climate mitigation, which generates faster returns than adaptation. However, the long-term avoided costs of adaptation should be of interest to the private sector through for example investment for coastal defenses, as cities that are protected will attract more investment. Right now there is ongoing investment to rebuild the marshlands of New York City for coastal protection. He spoke about the WCS Climate Adaptation Fund, about $2.5 million a year, with so far $10 million spent on 54 projects across a range of adaptation challenges.
Lorena Aguilar, IUCN gender expert, addressed the issue of social infrastructure and that women are a large consumer group which should be better represented in environment and climate change decision making. She discussed progress towards including a gender dimension in mitigation and adaptation processes. She said gender-responsive climate change strategies and gender-sensitive nature-based solutions are starting to make a difference for some countries.
One participant noted the multiple benefits to his people of providing clean cooking alternatives to firewood. Another participant suggested that the information on natural infrastructure’s role in building cities’ resilience to climate change could usefully inform the Habitat III preparations.
Cyrie Sendashonga, IUCN, closed by indicating that we are now at a historic point with global frameworks such as the SDGs and the Climate Agreement lining up behind multiple efforts underway to address the complex challenges ahead. She underlined the fact that all the interventions and case studies presented in this side event validated the view held by IUCN and many partners that sustainable development requires indeed that the three dimensions (social, economic and environmental) are addressed together, and it is a major step forward to have both the SDGs and the Paris Climate Change Agreement recognize this interconnectedness: people and nature go hand in hand. She emphasized that the nature-based solutions approach which IUCN and like-minded partners have been promoting is, by design, intended to deliver benefits for both people and nature. She noted that IUCN's World Conservation Congress will convene in Hawaii from 1-10 September 2016, on the theme 'Planet at a Crossroads' – which is another way of saying ‘Humanity at a Crossroads’. This mega-event will present a huge opportunity for multiple stakeholders to share experience on how collectively we continue to scale up nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation and more broadly. She concluded by saying that the ingredients for scaling up nature-based solutions are in place – unleashing the power of science, knowledge, innovation and technology; empowering communities to be stakeholders in the management of the resource; leveraging the energy of the youth and empowering women to be part of the climate change decision-making; putting in place the right government policies and incentives at all levels for replicating and scaling up pilot initiatives which have proven to work and are cost-effective.