Why Nature Based Solutions Should be Central to Climate Policy
In 2019 UK parliament declared a climate emergency. The government have now committed the UK to reaching net-zero by 2050.
This came off the back of widespread Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests that brought London to its knees for two weeks, alongside the Fridays for Future and other youth strikes. Since then climate has been a prominent part of almost every major election campaign. At more recent XR actions you might see protestors holding signs promoting a Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) Bill.
XR are only one of hundreds of organisations and individuals pushing for such a Bill, that is spearheaded by the campaign group the CEE Bill Alliance.
The CEE Bill Alliance are an “alliance of scientists, campaigners, academics, citizens and increasingly, politicians, at local and national levels calling the climate and ecological emergency bill,” their Parliamentary Coordinator, Oliver Sidorczuk, tells me.
Through both the engagement of politicians, civil society and businesses, the Alliance hope to get a much more ambitious climate and ecology bill passed. As Alex Bradbury, Grassroots Coordinator for the Alliance tells me “there's no campaign like us that's both within parliament, and has a mass movement outside of parliament supporting it as well.”
The Alliance currently have the support of 110 cross-party MPs, 50 local councils, 150 organisations and have 12000 campaigners, all of whom joined their ranks since September 2020.
The CEE Bill
The CEE Bill put forward by the alliance takes a more holistic view of climate and nature challenges by “addressing the ecological emergency shoulder to shoulder with the climate crisis” Oliver explains.
“The ecological emergency often just received so much less attention,” he adds. “But I think that is one of the real strengths of this bill is that it links these two concepts in MPs’ minds especially. So that there isn't this purely climate focus, which often is the thing that springs to mind.”
Ecosystem degradation exacerbates climate change. For example, destruction of the Amazon has transformed the world’s largest tropical rainforest from a net carbon sink, to a net carbon source.
What could have been a great buffer against climate change is now just another emissions source.
Whilst many are calling for and investing in rapid development of negative emission technologies (NETs), at present no such technologies are capable of absorbing emissions at anything near the scale needed.
The CEE bill rules out the use of NETs.
As Oliver says “the bill, and the campaign, are explicit about not relying on these unproven, speculative, far off technologies.”
Alex adds: “There’s that risk, that you don’t go all out to avoid the worst outcomes and you bank on something that might not pull through.”
A few high profile tech billionaires made press in the past year in their support for the development of NETs. Elon Musk has launched a $100m competition to develop carbon capture technologies.
Bill Gates, perhaps the world’s favourite conspiracy bogeyman, is funding one of the first attempts at solar geoengineering to reduce the greenhouse effect and thus slow temperature increase.
NETs advocated by billionaires are an imagined get-out-of-jail free card: a world where continued burning of fossil fuels wouldn’t necessarily increase temperatures or atmospheric CO2 concentrations.
The success of NETs to deliver us from the worst climate impacts is anything but guaranteed. In the case of solar geoengineering, it will only keep temperatures down as long as we continue to pump aerosols into the stratosphere, and does nothing to combat other problems caused by increased CO2 levels like ocean acidification.
“It's an interesting one about Bill Gates” Oliver says “because, trying to attract more people to this debate is important. And someone of this stature makes press for a whole week, as he did earlier this year.”
“But I’m personally a bit sceptical. This guy is an anti-regulation tech billionaire. Possibly not the best person to be talking about climate change, but I welcome all sorts of people getting involved in it.”
And it’s not just billionaires: The UK government’s 2020 National Infrastructure Strategy contains the phrase ‘Carbon Capture’ seventeen times, pledging to invest £1bn in these technologies.
Nature Based Solutions
In place of NETs, the Alliance advocate for the mass implementation of ‘nature based solutions’ as a key strategy to both rein in the UK’s emissions and revitalise ecosystems.
Nature based solutions could greatly supplement a reduction in consumption emissions to bring us to net-zero.
To maximise UK ecosystems’ capacity to sequester carbon we will have “not only protect but restore UK biodiversity with a focus on soils and water, due to their vital role as natural carbon sinks.” Oliver says. “The nature based solutions are a no brainer.” “It seems like we put a lot of energy, or especially this government administration puts a lot of energy, into technology. It’s a very sexy thing to talk about: Fintech, prop tech, climate tech.”
“And you miss the wood for the trees, about the nature based solutions that are staring us in the face and that we’re destroying.”
What’s more: the ability of ecosystems to sequester carbon at scale required is proven at scale, and free. To harness nature based solutions as nature’s own NETs. Yet, the same government infrastructure strategy document that puts £1bn aside for the development of Carbon Capture technologies, contains the phrase ‘Nature-Based Solutions’ only three times.
The Time is Now
Huge investments have been made in NETs so far and they may well prove useful in cutting emissions. As Alex puts it “it’s a real hot potato.”
“Our strategy is to try and move forward as ambitiously as possible without losing people, while getting the government on board.”
With a strategy of inclusivity, the Alliance hope to build a large enough mandate for the bill that the government will have to respond.
“It could be a replicable framework in lots of other nations.” Oliver says about the bill. “Often what government spokespersons say the UK is a climate leader, compare the UK’s plan to country A, B and C. But it doesn't mean any of them are suitably ambitious or comprehensive to meet the scale of the challenge.”
“It's worth praising the government when they do something right. They just happen to keep doing things that don't go far enough, or rolling back on promises and pledges that they do make.”
The UK will host the upcoming UN COP26 climate summit in November, where international efforts at capping warming at 1.5 degrees will be assessed. As Alex puts it “the UK has a reputational risk, and our bill could be very useful for the government, to set an example and show leadership.”
With nature based solutions at the heart of holistic and robust climate policy, we can hope that the UK will be a model to others. Through continued campaigning that is what the Alliance hope for.
As Oliver says “It will be huge. I don't think we should shy away from saying that the implications of this type of bill would be absolutely massive. We're talking Brexit scale reform. And then the hard work starts once the bill is passed.”
With only six months until the COP26 summit, the time for a CEE Bill in the UK, and elsewhere, is now.
About the author: Joey Grostern is an environmental journalist based in London, UK. He has a background in activism, community organising and local journalism. You can follow him on twitter @joeygrostern.