When we think about corporate climate action, the story is usually about companies cutting their emissions. Whether that’s from rolling out fleets of electric vehicles, investing in new green technology or purchasing renewable energy, companies are making progress towards net-zero emissions. Less often talked about are companies’ efforts to protect and restore nature.
Natural systems have a huge impact on climate change, both in terms of creating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and removing them. One quarter of all human-caused GHGs come from the way we manage land and agriculture. But at the same time, the latest report from the United Nations' scientific climate body, the IPCC, was clear that nature is central to keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius. By protecting and restoring nature, we can both reduce the emissions caused by loss of natural systems and help remove carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere.
When actions to protect and restore nature are measured, verified and accounted for, Nature-based Solutions (NbS) can supplement companies’ decarbonization actions. However, these "carbon offsets" can be controversial, with some companies only investing in offsets rather than eliminating GHG emissions from their own activities. But companies must do both — aggressively decarbonize their businesses and invest in protecting and restoring nature.
We Mean Business Coalition has been working with scientists, business leaders and carbon market experts to understand how NbS can help avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Here’s what we’ve learned:
What is the science behind nature-based solutions?
The simplest and cheapest solution for absorbing and sequestering carbon dioxide is restoring and protecting nature. Forests, trees, mangroves, peatland, soil and countless other natural ecosystems are key to a more sustainable future.
Many industries have a direct impact on nature. A quarter of net global annual greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, forestry and other land uses. Companies working in these sectors have a special responsibility to eliminate emissions from deforestation and transform the land system into a significant carbon sink by 2050.
Regardless of sector, all companies need to address the emissions they cannot cut and compensate for remaining emissions with high-quality carbon credits. NbS allows us to compensate for emissions, while simultaneously providing co-benefits, such as purifying water sources, enhancing biodiversity, and maintaining our well-being.
But won’t it take a long time for the benefits of nature investments to be realized?
Addressing emissisions from nature loss will pay immediate dividends today — in fact the science shows that NbS are some of the most promising near-term climate actions, providing 30 percent of the climate solution needed in the coming decade. Protecting ecosystems now will enable nature to provide vital benefits, such as filtering and cleaning our air and protecting communities from the impacts of extreme weather events. As storms, wildfires and floods become more frequent, action in support of nature has never been more urgent.
However, nature takes decades to fully restore and many NbS actions require a long-term commitment. This is why funding reforestation, agroforestry and other restoration actions today are necessary to deliver on our long-term climate goals.
Can carbon markets help deliver on our climate goals?
Yes. Voluntary carbon markets are needed to fund NbS. Here’s how: Companies purchase a "carbon credit" representing the reduction or removal of carbon from the atmosphere. The market connects these companies with the projects that deliver emissions reductions or removals.
To maintain high integrity, buyers in the carbon market must also aggressively decarbonize their own businesses. The voluntary carbon market has previously received backlash as not all companies adhere to these principles. Carbon credits must represent an actual reduction or removal of GHG emissions and ensure social safeguards for the communities where the project takes place.
How can companies be confident that they are investing with high integrity?
The step-by-step guidance produced by the Voluntary Carbon Markets Initiative instructs companies on how to credibly engage with carbon markets. On the supply side, the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Markets has published core principles to ensure environmental integrity.
What can companies do?
Companies such as Amazon, Salesforce and GSK are already taking bold climate action. As signatories of The Climate Pledge, they are committed to the ambitious goal of reaching net-zero by 2040. Alongside actions such as switching to renewable energy, they are also significantly investing in nature. For example, Amazon and Salesforce are among the many participants in the LEAF Coalition, which aims to halt deforestation by financing large-scale forest protection.
Whilst these large companies are leading the way, businesses of every size have a role to play. Small and medium-sized businesses can also invest in a range of nature-based solutions. These solutions include direct purchases of forests or agricultural land, investment in individual projects that protect and restore ecosystems, and reducing your company’s supply chain deforestation impact.
Of course, it’s not all down to businesses. Effective government policy and legislation is also necessary. But at this moment, it’s critical for businesses to embrace nature-based solutions alongside technological ones, to ensure a credible and impactful path to net-zero.