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Nature is Critical to Slowing Climate Change, But It Can Only Do So If We Help It First

Nature is Critical to Slowing Climate Change, But It Can Only Do So If We Help It First

Biden’s climate summit highlighted “nature-based solutions,” but political and Indigenous leaders agree Native peoples should lead the way and researchers warn of pitfalls.

No matter how many solar panels, wind turbines and electric cars are built between now and 2030, the world won’t meet its increasingly ambitious climate targets without a lot of help from forests, fields and oceans.

“Achieving net-zero by 2050 will not be possible without nature,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said on April 22 at the online climate summit hosted by President Joe Biden as she opened a session on nature-based climate solutions. “The impact of greenhouse gas pollution from extreme heat and storms is having a devastating effect on our lands and oceans. At the same time, nature provides us with solutions.”

Nature-based solutions aim to slow climate change as well as protect biodiversity and human communities from its impacts by bolstering ecosystems that store carbon. Those efforts range from shielding Central Africa from the encroaching Sahara with a wall of trees to rebuilding coral reefs around Florida, restoring beds of seagrass in the United Kingdom and planting swaths of bamboo in California.

Oceans, forests and fields already stash away about half of the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels, and international plans to limit global warming depend on even more help from such ecosystems to slow the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Most countries claim nature will help them lower their emissions in coming decades. But recent studies suggest that neither forests nor oceans will be able to take up as much carbon in the future as they do now, making such commitments uncertain bets.

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