Let’s face it: technological innovation is attractive. It has solved so many of our problems that people have come to view technology as the key to improving society. The world of policy, big business, investment, and venture capital mirrors (and often leads) this perspective. Tech companies dominate the top 10 of the world’s most innovative companies, according to Boston Consulting Group’s most recent report. More broadly, perhaps part of the appeal of “innovation” is that we implicitly associate it with economic progress, at least since the second half of the 20th century.
This modern association of technological innovation with economic progress may help to explain why one obvious solution to climate change remains often forgotten or underrepresented in mainstream conversations: natural solutions to environmental challenges. Nature has solutions that can sustainably balance environmental health and human priorities. In other words, sometimes nature can outperform our best technological innovations.
At least 20% of the solution, but only 0.1% of the attention
With around 3,000 journalists in attendance, the UN Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris generated more column inches than any previous COP. And not surprisingly, energy terms and topics received hundreds of times more attention than the land sector, which received just 0.1% of the media coverage. Yet, the land sector can potentially deliver at least 20% of the climate solution — and likely much more.
Certainly, within the negotiations, the land sector and especially parts of the forest sector are recognized for the solutions they could contribute to the global climate situation. More than 100 countries mentioned climate mitigation or adaptation from the land use sector in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted for Paris, and the COP21 agreement explicitly recognizes the role of tropical forest protection, the agriculture sector, and restoration of oceans and coasts. And while more and more companies are recognizing the importance of removing deforestation from their supply chains (which I have written about here and here), that potential hasn’t been translated through to action or the message hasn’t reached capital markets, private enterprises, public policy, and mainstream media. At least, not yet.
What needs to happen to provide nature an equal seat at the table?
This is about changing the conversation around climate change solutions. Decarbonizing the energy sector is critical and it is encouraging that the renewable energy sector is now attracting some $300 billion of capital each year. But it is insufficient on its own. We can’t get to a 2 or 1.5 degree Celsius stabilization pathway without taking land use more seriously. Indeed, it is the only sector that can switch from being a net source of carbon to a net sink. For us to reach a 2 degree world, we must optimize land use through smart land management decisions. The renewables sector scaled up with a mixture of developments in public policy, business models, technology, and finance. The land sector can scale up too, with this same approach.