Natural Solutions Can Ease the Effects of Climate Change

The last decade was the hottest ever recorded since scientists from the  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began keeping records 140 years ago. On average, annual temperatures hovered 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit higher compared to the years from 1950 to 1980.

Although that increase might not sound like much, small shifts in the overall amount of heat stored in the oceans, air, and water can have significant effects on the planet, including rising sea levels, increased severe storm activity and droughts.

Scientists have proposed all sorts of solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change. For example, reducing car travel, promoting sustainable agricultural practices, eating a plant-based diet and using renewable energy sources, to name a few.

A systematic review published last month in the journal Global Change Biology investigates the evidence of nature-based solutions for climate change. It is the first global systematic review that quantifies the effectiveness of nature-based solutions.

A nature-based solution to climate change refers to any action that enhances nature to address global warming and support biodiversity. The most common example is tree-planting, which removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Other examples include protecting old-growth forests to reduce floods and landslides and restoring coastal ecosystems as a defense against storms and sea-level rise.

The new review includes 386 studies of both real-world cases and models. The authors, a team of climate researchers at the University of Oxford, looked at benefits beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions including social outcomes, such as a reduction in food and water security, and ecological outcomes, such as improved biodiversity. They built an interactive tool  that identifies the pros and cons for specific types of nature-based solutions.

“We hope policymakers will use this research to better understand which nature-based solutions are most effective, and how they can help with climate-related challenges while providing social and environmental benefits,” said Alexandre Chausson, study author and senior researcher in the Nature-based Solutions Initiative at the University of Oxford. “It’s not just about tree-planting and greenhouse gas removal. In many cases nature-based interventions can help communities adapt to the wave of climate change impacts we’ve seen over the past months, from record-breaking heatwaves to wildfires and hurricanes.”

Solutions included in the review run the gamut including restoring mangrove forests in Costa Rica, promoting floating agriculture in Bangladesh, creating artificial breakwater reefs in the Gulf of Mexico and restoring ancient water supplies in Peru. The effectiveness of each solution depends on the local ecosystem and the social and economic factors at play in each community.

The take-home message: a growing body of evidence demonstrates that protecting, restoring, and managing natural ecosystems are important ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and manage the negative impacts of climate change across the globe.

Visit Cornell University’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research’s website for more information on our work.

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