Saving the planet goes beyond carbon

( Getty )

This week’s UN Climate Summit in New York will kick off a year-long marathon of global biodiversity and climate change gatherings.

There’s been a plethora of summits, conferences and conventions to protect the environment over the past 50 years, the catalyst being the ground-breaking UN Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in 1972.

Given this flurry of international activity, our biodiversity and climate must be in good shape, yes? No; and the world’s youth is calling us out for it and creating a new sense of urgency.

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We do see some successes, but not yet at scale. Since Stockholm, WWF says we have lost 60% of our wildlife. According to the UN, one million species are at risk of extinction over the coming decades and we are not on track to deliver on the Paris Agreement’s long-term climate goal.

Global gatherings are important, but their limits are now in plain sight. They may even create a false sense of progress, and the fast-growing number of events since 1972 stands in contrast to the results being observed on-the-ground. So, where do we need to focus?

Climate change is top of the global agenda and nature-based climate solutions, like restoring and protecting forests, may offer over a third of the cost-effective carbon dioxide mitigation needed between now and 2030.

It’s attracting some political interest as it presents a great opportunity, if it is done right. Nature-based solutions don’t automatically mean a good outcome for biodiversity; and could in fact do the opposite. Planting eucalyptus trees the world over will capture a lot of carbon but be a disaster both for wildlife and people.

This week’s Summit needs to achieve a real breakthrough in converging global responses to biodiversity loss, climate change and sustainable development by accelerating ambitious, connected, well-resourced field-based initiatives, which are desperately needed.

Advancing nature-based climate solutions that protect and restore wild places and use indigenous species, provides a unique opportunity to achieve connected solutions for these inter-related issues, especially when they are focused around long-term commitments to biodiverse rich places.

We know how well this works – just look to how parks in Africa from Zakouma in Chad to Majete in Malawi, are generating measurable long-term benefits for biodiversity, climate and people, with better security, more wildlife and decent local jobs.

A serious scaling up of investment in nature-based climate solutions that benefit wildlife and local people is what we need. Protected areas can be leveraged to support these global goals.

John E Scanlon is the Special Envoy of African Parks and was Secretary-General of CITES from 2010-2018

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