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Our Race to Zero: why nature can help us safeguard our planet and build a healthier future

Blog | Thu, 10 Dec, 2020 · 8 min read
Our Race to Zero: why nature can help us safeguard our planet and build a healthier future

With UNFCCC COP26 just one year away, momentum for nature-based solutions is growing, as politicians and scientists focus on tackling our growing environmental, social, and economic challenges.

In November, leaders in international development, politics, civil society and business came together at UN-REDD’s Race to Zero event to discuss how we can leverage the potential of forests as a key nature-based solution to carbon emissions. Inger Anderson, UNEP Executive Director, was joined by Lord Zac Goldsmith, the UK’s Minister for the Pacific and the Environment, Sveinung Rotevatn, Norway’s Minister of Climate and the Environment, Andrea Meza, Costa Rica’s Minister of the Environment and Energy, as well as by youth, indigenous peoples and corporate representatives in stressing the urgency to prioritise nature and, in particular, forests.

We are facing a number of nature-based emergencies: continuous human pressure on ecosystems, species extinction, climate change and biodiversity loss. These emergencies are interconnected in fundamental ways, according to a recent report from the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), and need to be addressed in tandem. This research also shows that nature-based solutions (NbS) are essential to addressing climate change and biodiversity loss.

“If there was ever a time to prioritise nature, it’s now,” said Inger Anderson, UNEP Executive Director. “As the UNEP-WCMC report and the work of the UN-REDD Programme show, if we are able to realise the full contribution of nature to climate change mitigation, we will also have achieved the goal of biodiversity conservation.”

Limiting global warming to 1.5°C and meeting the Paris Agreement goals requires annual carbon emissions to fall by 32 gigatonnes by 2030. “Nature-based solutions alone can provide 12 of those 32 gigatonnes, and of those, five can come from forests alone,” stressed Anderson.

“Among nature-based solutions, the forest sector represents the largest, most advanced, shovel-ready and cost-effective solution, with a massive mitigation potential of 5 gigatonnes,” said Mario Boccucci, Head of the UN-REDD Programme Secretariat.

“There is no pathway to the race to zero without an effort to restore nature,” said Lord Zac Goldsmith, the UK’s Minister for the Pacific and the Environment, at the UN-REDD event. Leading the COP26 next year in Glasgow, the UK government is stepping up its decarbonisation efforts, making NbS one of its priorities for reaching the Paris goals. “The UK has chosen to put nature at the heart of the agenda. We announced that we will double our climate finance, and as part of our COP26 agenda, we encourage other countries to do the same,” said Lord Goldsmith. “Public money will not be enough. We need to pull powerful levers We are asking other countries to look at their land-use subsidies driving forest destruction. We will require bigger businesses to remove illegal deforestation from their supply chains.”

The Race to Zero event focused on the ways in which governments of donor countries and of forested developing countries, alongside private companies, can speed up finance for NbS and forest solutions within the next 12 months.

Slashing deforestation can help mitigate our climate and biodiversity crises, explained Sveinung Rotevatn, Norway’s Minister of Climate and the Environment. Remote forest monitoring has become increasingly important for holding companies and governments accountable for forest management. “Norway has made high-resolution, commercial satellite imagery of the tropics free to everyone which will be an important building block in this system we are trying to make work for everyone. By COP26, we should have in place a coalition to end tropical deforestation which should be a good outcome,” said Rotevatn.

Andrea Meza, Environment and Energy Minister for Costa Rica stressed that governmental action must be backed by the private sector if we are to improve forest governance. “We have developed our decarbonisation plan, and, as you know, we have been very effective in our payment for environmental services system. This has allowed us to mobilise local resources. But public money will not be enough. We need to mobilise private funds…ecosystem services from improved forest management alone accounts for $30 billion.”

The year ahead will be critical for boosting political willingness and corporate commitments to make forests and other nature-based solutions the foundation for rebuilding the economy and fostering green growth in the long term. As part of NbS, putting forests on top of the global agenda will not only bring us closer to meeting climate and biodiversity goals, but will also create tangible benefits in terms of jobs for the 1 billion people worldwide who depend on tropical forests.