As we count down to another Earth Day, it's worth taking stock of what has been achieved over the past year and what solutions should be adopted by business and governments to tackle the global environmental and climate crisis. It’s encouraging that the environmental movement is now coming of age; the message to reject “short-termism” now appears to be transcending the generational divide.
We’re seeing a new paradigm emerge—and not just because climate activism is on the rise among diverse groups, such and children and the elderly.
Crucially, more and more investors are saying that businesses must take bold climate action to protect long-term assets, while many fund managers are pulling their investments out of fossil fuels. If we do not green our economies much faster than we are currently doing, we will have to suck huge amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to keep the planet habitable for human beings.
People around the world are mobilizing to avoid this scenario. Take for instance the prominent group of environmental activists in the UK who launched an inspiring new campaign called Rewilding the Earth, focused on drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by allowing ecosystems to recover on a massive scale. Another newly formed group, Extinction Rebellion, is using non-violent resistance to call upon governments to take decisive action on the climate and ecological emergency we face.
We’re often distracted in our own day-to-day lives by immediate concerns, such as how to pay our bills, and sometimes don’t realize the magnitude of the environmental crisis we are facing. But without a concerted effort now, this clarion call will become a planetary SOS.
Earth Day provides yet another platform—alongside days like World Environment Day in June––to create important conversations for collective action on environmental stewardship.
We can achieve change—but not by waiting for geo-engineering projects or “carbon capture and storage” technologies, which are still unproven and expensive and may cause as many problems as they might solve.
What we need—next to transitioning away from fossil fuels—is to focus on proven natural climate solutions, working with nature rather than against it. Specifically, business has a lot to gain by investing in natural climate solutions—which include practices such as forest conservation, restoration, climate-smart agriculture, and improved land management—that capture carbon and remove it from the atmosphere.
Natural climate solutions have significant potential: Scientists say they could help us achieve more than one-third of the emissions reductions required by the Paris Agreement. They also increase climate resilience and stability (along with cleaner water and healthier soil) in production landscapes that are crucial to many global supply chains. Clearly, natural climate solutions alone are not sufficient in the fight against climate change. But they do represent an essential part of a broader solution—one that must also include a rapid transition to renewable energy. Training and guidance for farmers and forest communities to assess the risks posed by climate change is part of this fight—and Rainforest Alliance programs include that.
Adopting climate-smart production methods that increase farmer resilience while protecting the environment is the way to go. These include planting new trees and climate-resilient crop varieties, as well as managing soils in ways that increase yields on existing land and sequesters carbon from the air.
And finally, sustainable livelihoods are an essential element of natural climate solutions—in fact, the question of livelihoods and environmental protection are inseparable. Through our own three decades of work on the ground, we’ve learned that when farmers can earn a sustainable livelihood from their land, the pressure to expand into forested areas is reduced.
I shared our call for greater investment in natural climate solutions at the 2019 Economist Sustainability Summit, where I listened to thought leaders, CEOs, government representatives, and heads of industry debate the available solutions that business and governments must implement to tackle the global climate crisis.
I hope the next 12 months will see a concerted effort from business and governments to take bold action on the measures outlined in the Paris Agreement. We know what we need to do; now we must move from commitment to execution.