Post-COP26: Accelerating a nature-based future

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Earlier this month, we were invited by Fathom Consulting to discuss the topics raised at, and in the aftermath of, COP26. Issues surrounding climate change are at the forefront of our everyday work at Ecosulis so, naturally, it was something we were eager to be a part of. 

One of the most significant conferences of not just the year, but arguably of our time, COP26 saw a host of conversations surrounding the significant ecological, economic and social obstacles we face today. 

We’d like to share our take on the conclusion of the conference, shedding light on some of the key talking points and their partnering solutions. 

Decarbonising sectors 

The EU’s climate law proposes that industry sectors must deeply decarbonise over the coming years to meet 2050 net zero targets and keep the planet below 1.5-2°C from pre-industrial levels. As we have already seen, decarbonising is a huge pursuit, especially so for energy-intensive industries like steel, cement, chemical, transport and agriculture. 

More than just tree-planting 

At Fathom’s webinar, we were asked about rewilding and its role in decarbonising sectors. Whilst there’s a lot of talk about ‘planting trees’ at COP26 and further afield, rewilding isn’t just about that. Rewilding is about making the world wilder again and creating a resilient environment. One where populations of keystone species can flourish, resulting in the restoration of trophic cascades, amongst other things. 

Rewilding also entails a particular focus on encouraging the re-establishment of natural ecosystem processes and functions. This can be achieved by allowing not just woodlands but also wetlands and grasslands to re-establish themselves on a massive scale.  

In fact, it’s a relatively poorly understood fact that soils and substrates below wetlands can store more than three times the carbon sequestered by tropical forests. The soils beneath temperate grasslands can also store more carbon than such forest ecosystems (see Fig. 1). 

Taking a rewilding design approach to all projects, including large scale decarbonisation tree planting, will benefit initiatives in many ways. 

This understanding is important because it’s essential that we restore ecological processes to not only decarbonise but also to create ecological resilience. If we don’t meet the 1.5° C target then we need to consider what our options are for a plan B. However, more than this, it would be a huge failure on the part of governments, corporations, and other organisations if such critical thinking is not applied while we still have a chance to do that. 

Restoring ecosystems can strengthen the environments around our homes and businesses and act as a defence against fire, flood and famine. What is clear is that the science supports the effectiveness of such nature-based solutions and that by adopting rewilding principles early on, proposed decarbonisation projects have a greater chance of success and contribute to a sustainable future. 

Agriculture as a hard-to-decarbonise sector 

Whilst agriculture is an especially difficult sector to decarbonise, there is a silver lining in that much agricultural land is already heavily degraded – the land can be considered a blank canvas. This presents an ideal opportunity to encourage accelerated forms of rewilding.   

By taking a multifunctional approach to agriculture, incorporating targeted tree planting, establishing wetland features, introducing botanical diversity and starting practices such as regenerative farming, it is feasible to contribute to the restoration of soil health. This, as described above, contributes significantly to decarbonisation and can also help improve and sustain agricultural productivity over time. 

The key to success is considering factors such as: 

  • Local context (what are the most suitable forms of agriculture and why); 
  • A willingness to let nature lead and have space to flourish; 
  • Buy-in from local communities; 
  • Generating new forms of value and economies; 
  • The implications of land abandonment (something that is being witnessed to a large extent in rural locations). 

By acknowledging and adopting these factors, it’s feasible to accommodate sustainable agricultural practices as well as combined nature recovery and decarbonisation, which in turn should help to contribute towards the regulation of the planet’s temperature. 

Our agricultural-focused solutions   

Incentives to move away from intensive agricultural practices, particularly based around beef and soy feed for cattle, are overarching changes that need to happen if we want to meet the COP26 targets. 

In order to achieve this, financial incentives need to be developed to kickstart and accelerate the process. The good news is that there are a lot of green financing innovations emerging, such as Ecosulis’ rewilding token that focuses not only on offsetting harm but also doing good – we take a nature positive approach. 

Our rewilding tokens are aimed at making rewilding investable and provide alternative funding for the transition from agriculture to other value-generating practices such as artisan goods, ecotourism and nature-based activities. 

Deforestation across the globe 

At COP26, over 100 world leaders made a promise to end deforestation by 2030. This demonstrated a landmark commitment that must be welcomed, however, this deal to protect and reverse deforestation has some major challenges to overcome if it is to succeed. 

In countries such as Brazil, the reality on the ground being reported by organisations such as Brazil’s space research agency states that deforestation has increased by 22% in just a year. Clearly, we can see this threatens the viability of the agreement. 

Beef, soy, palm oil and wood pulp/paper products are the big four contributors to deforestation. However, there is a major fifth driver and that is illegal drug trafficking, as this is often seen as an enabler to other forms of deforestation.  

In reality, the success of the COP26 deforestation pledge is dependent on governments, corporations and citizens all collectively playing their part to make sure it’s a success. For example, citizens have influence through their purchasing and dietary choices. 

On a more positive note, Brussels recently set out to seek an import ban on beef, palm oil, cocoa and other products linked to deforestation. This is the type of effort that needs to be seen from more countries, especially so that larger contributors such as Brazil take appropriate action. 

Staying below 2°C: Nature is our saviour 

It seems, at this point, it’s accepted that we are not yet in a position to limit temperature warming to 1.5°C, and are likely to be nearer to 2°C. 

While the pledges made to expand tree planting are important and a key nature-based solution to the climate crisis, this approach is not enough in itself to keep global temperatures below 1.5- 2°C. There are many other nature-based solutions that should be considered. 

We need to continue with a programme of protecting and recovering the most virtuous ecosystems (both in the terrestrial, freshwater and marine context) and then accelerate the ambition to rewild the rest. 

When based on key principles, rewilding offers one of the most effective nature-based solutions that not only restore ecological processes but lead to significant decarbonisation. And, if we fail to achieve a reduction to 1.5°C, rewilding ecosystems will help improve resilience in the face of fires and floods, increasing biodiversity (keeping in mind we also face an ecological crisis with a 70% decline in biodiversity since the 1970s) and supporting local communities and economies. 

Rewilding science and practice has improved considerably over the last decade, and we hope this continues. We can safely say that we at Ecosulis will continue to show commitment to nature-based solutions to mitigate climate change, using technology to rewild ecosystems globally. 

If you’re interested in watching the webinar, you can view the full recording below. 

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