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Insight Article: How Do Nature-based Solutions Fit Into Your ESG Strategy?


Climate change is happening and the human race needs to do its best to reduce the effects. One method is by investing in Nature based Solutions (NbS) which capture carbon from the atmosphere and, therefore, reduces global warming.

NbS are part of a collaboration of solutions and they add so much more than just carbon removal. They align with five UN Sustainability Development Goals which means their benefit potentially outweighs their cost. SDGs should form part of any ESG strategy and, with careful planning, NbS could be a successful part of that.

The History of Carbon

Since the Industrial Revolution in the 1760s humans have increased the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. This carbon had been stored as a fossil fuel in the lithosphere (lithosphere = land) as a carbon sink (an area of the planet that captures more carbon than it releases). Carbon is also held in the biosphere (living things), hydrosphere (water), and atmosphere (air). The balance of the carbon within these spheres creates stability for all life on earth.

However, as the atmospheric carbon volume is growing exponentially, the natural equilibrium is off-balance, changing the climate and warming the planet. The Paris Agreement of 2015 is a legally binding treaty with a goal to limit global warming to well below two-degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, in effect rebalancing the carbon in the four spheres. This should be achieved by:

1) reducing greenhouse gases (GHG) and
2) removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Direct Air Capture (DAC)

Innovators have ingeniously created machines to remove this CO2. Direct Air Capture (DAC), as shown below, is one solution that separates the CO2 out from other gases in the air and then injects it deep underground for sequestration in certain geologic formations.

Direct Air Capture in Iceland (Image from https://journeytozerocarbon.com/?p=543)

Currently, DAC stores 0.01 million tonnes of CO2/year but in 2019 human activity added 43.1 billion tons of CO2. DAC is expensive, uses lots of energy and not yet deployable at scale. At the moment these creations will only be part of the solution for atmospheric carbon removal, which means we will need a collaborative approach for other systems to achieve enough removal to reach the Paris Agreement target.

How Nature Absorbs Carbon

The other 3 spheres, (Bio-, Litho-, and Hydro-) are naturally adjusting to the change in the carbon balance. It is suggested that the oceans absorb 2-3 billion tonnes per year, but at a cost. The result is the acidifying of the oceans causing environmental change to precious ecosystems such as the coral reefs.

Vegetation absorbs carbon when it photosynthesises and uses the carbon as the building block for growth. However, deforestation, change of land use, bad land management and pollution are reducing the amount of vegetation and, therefore, reducing the amount of carbon being absorbed.

What are Nature-based Solutions (NbS)?

Nature-based Solutions (NbS), is the term used for all natural systems or processes that can be used to help achieve the Paris Agreement target and they could contribute enormously to minimizing climate change and its effects.

Research shows that nature-based solutions and the broader land sector could contribute up to 30% of the climate mitigation needed by 2050 to meet the Paris Agreement’s target to limit global warming.

Rainforests, woodlands, kelp forests, sea grass fields, salt marshes, peatland, mangroves, coral reefs are all examples of NbS that are currently being deployed to absorb carbon.

For these ecosystems to be useful in our mission of carbon removal they need to be protected, restored and sustainably managed. The great news about these solutions is that they also contribute much more to society than just carbon removal.

Healthy natural and managed ecosystems control floods, restore degraded landscapes, stabilise coastlines, clean the air and water, generate jobs, maintain a healthy biodiversity and, overall, work to improve our well-being.

How Do NbS Help to Mitigate Climate Change?

NbS align with UN Sustainable Business Goals (SDGs) 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life Below Water) and 15 (Life on Land). They are increasingly being viewed not only as a way to reconcile economic development (SDG 8) with the stewardship of ecosystems, but also as a means to diversify and transform business and enable sustainable development (SDG 11).

NbS seem to be a win-win solution. They contribute to the carbon removal from the atmosphere into the Bio- and Litho-sphere, in partnership with innovations like the DAC, NbS also help SDGs 8, 11, 13, 14 and 15 simultaneously.

As previously mentioned, organisations can use NbS to offset carbon emissions, which is actually how many NbS receive funding. But there are some potential issues that you should be aware of:

1) Carbon offsetting has been used as an excuse for not cutting emissions, allowing environmentally destructive activities to continue under the green veil of NbS. Offsetting should be only used for the last 10% of your emissions that are completely unavoidable.

2) Money for NbS has been used for land grabs, taking land away from indigenous people, leading to potential human rights abuse.

3) Some NbS have detrimental ecological side effects as monocultures of woods have been planted which aren’t native to the surrounding ecosystem and, thereby, degrading the areas that have been planted. If the site has not undergone a full ecological assessment there is a chance that the ecosystem will have low resilience to environmental change and hence unstable carbon stores.

These potential pitfalls can be mitigated and NbS can achieve the goals that are aspired to. Offsetting provides vast sums of money to help other species and protect the richness of our planet.

NbS are not THE solution, but they are a huge part of it.

How We Can Help You

It is important to ensure your ESG strategy doesn’t support greenwashing or unsustainable practices to reduce carbon in the short term.

Get your strategy right first time and it will be a solid foundation on which to build, not only your environmental values, but also your sustainable brand.

The next step is to communicate your impressive ESG credentials to support business growth, staff retention, customer loyalty and strengthen investor relationships.

At SKCI, we can help you find your ideal carbon offset partner and work with you to create your carbon reduction strategy.

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