Earth Day special – Harnessing nature’s innate power to address the climate crisis
By Ho Ning Li
In 2019, the United Nations Environment Programme released a New Deal for Nature, calling for “transformations to recalibrate humanity’s relationship with nature, and harness nature-based solutions for climate change” .
Nature-based solutions can provide up to 37% of the cost-effective carbon dioxide mitigation needed through 2030 to prevent average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels . Nature-based solutions include green and blue infrastructure initiatives such as forest and wetland restoration, climate-smart agriculture and urban greening. These initiatives accelerate the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that plants and soils sequester, hence mitigating the warming effect in the atmosphere.
Adaptation to climate change impacts is also a key benefit of nature-based solutions. Besides being effective carbon sinks, healthy ecosystems can significantly reduce the impact of climate-related natural disasters such as floods, storms and droughts . For example, mangroves and coral reefs can protect coastal communities from rising tides and storm surges. In Singapore, the government plans to employ mangrove restoration in addition to building polders and dykes to tackle rising sea levels .
According to the United Nations (UN), coral reefs are expected to reduce damages from storms by more than US$4 billion annually . Natural ecosystem’s ability to regenerate also means reduced maintenance costs compared to man-made structures such as sea walls.
The value of nature is increasingly recognised, not just for climate change mitigation and adaptation, but also due to our dependence on ecosystem services. The collapse of natural ecosystems and biodiversity loss will devastate economies and livelihoods and threaten the survival of mankind. In the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Risks Report, “biodiversity loss” was ranked by leaders in business, government and civil society as one of the top five threats to humanity in the next 10 years .
The UN, in its New Deal for Nature, has called for a global commitment to implement natural capital accounting in Systems of National Accounts by 2030. In March 2021, a landmark framework was adopted by the UN to integrate natural capital, such as forests, wetlands and other ecosystems, in economic reporting . The framework — the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting—Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA) marks a major step towards addressing the inadequacies of the traditional gross domestic product (GDP) for economic reporting.
For businesses, natural capital reporting and disclosure of nature-related risks and opportunities will be increasingly expected. A Taskforce on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), similar to the Taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) framework, is in the works and will be finalised in 2023 .
Nature is an intangible capital to be harnessed, but more importantly, to be protected.
 A new deal for Nature – United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) https://www.unep.org/resources/policy-and-strategy/new-deal-nature
 We are at a critical point for the future of the planet – The Nature Conservancy https://www.nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-insights/perspectives/natural-climate-solutions/
 On Earth Day, harnessing the power of nature to heal herself – United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) https://stories.undp.org/on-earth-day-harnessing-the-power-of-nature-to-heal-herself
 Explainer: Why we need to use nature in the fight against climate change – Today https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/explainer-why-we-need-use-nature-fight-against-climate-change
 New Nature Economy Report Series – World Economic Forum https://www.weforum.org/reports/new-nature-economy-report-series
 UN adopts landmark framework to integrate natural capital in economic reporting – United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs https://www.un.org/en/desa/un-adopts-landmark-framework-integrate-natural-capital-economic-reporting
 Why a Taskforce is needed – Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures https://tnfd.info/why-a-task-force-is-needed/
Image credits: Photo by Timothy K on Unsplash