My wealth is your wealth: when communities team up with nature

 

Climate change, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss are all linked and can have devastating consequences on health, social welfare and economic systems. As mainstream media report more and more frequently on heatwaves or massive forest fires, diluvian rains and devastating floods, we have a growing awareness of these multiple challenges. Longer-term phenomena, such as erosion, rising sea levels, degrading soils and water scarcity, are other scars on our ecosystems which are further depleting nature’s resilience mechanisms. These are long-term processes and we have already witnessed an ever-increasing number of people being impacted.  The Lancet publication in February 2021 revealed that about half of the world thinks that humanity is simply doomed. Young people are the most sensitive to this anxiety, which does not only concern privileged countries: 84% of young Filipinos say they are worried. 

Mangroves

 

The European Green Deal sets a window for action: before 2030. So, it is time to act for positive change, but the question is: how?
The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2019 specifically recognised the economic risks posed by biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse and the need for nature-positive business solutions. Furthermore, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers that 62% of the population in rural Africa depend directly on healthy ecosystems and the services they provide. 

Faced with these observations, nature-based solutions (NbS) provide interesting alternatives for addressing the challenge of climate change while, at the same time, bringing other benefits, including ecosystem restoration, food provision, water supply and socio-economic development. NbS are ‘actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems to directly address societal challenges in an effective and adaptive manner, while ensuring human well-being and producing benefits for biodiversity,’ according to the IUCN. These solutions are an umbrella term that includes approaches such as ecosystem-based adaptation and ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction.
A simple approach NbS is to use categories of landscapes and ecosystems, such as:

  • Forestry, including the planting of new forests, allowing forests to recover and grow, and better forest management. Restoring natural forests in upper catchments can help to protect communities downstream from flooding;
  • Wetlands need conservation and restoration, including peatlands and coastal wetlands with mangroves;
  • Agricultural areas, if and when they are related to restorative/agroecological practices, notably those that limit soil disturbances and enhance soil carbon sequestration, such as low or no tillage, maintain soil fertility, crop rotation, agroforestry;
  • Oceans and marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, also need restoration to increase biodiversity action and carbon sequestration;
  • Urban areas require green and blue areas to limit water and air pollution, lowering both flooding risks and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and reducing the urban heat-island effect, while also providing recreation and health benefits;
  • Coasts need buffer areas to protect them from erosion, while the coastal economy can also be affected by land degradation.

 

Senegal
EU GCCA+ - Senegal

 

Yet, the potential of NbS for climate change has yet to be unleashed. First, the growing costs of actual production systems, in the form of environmental degradation leading to greater risks of non-linear changes and systemic collapses and the exacerbation of social inequalities, still need to be recognised. Furthermore, assessing and acknowledging the contributions of NbS to climate change adaptation and mitigation, together with all other related benefits, is still a work in progress. 

In addition, the conditions under which NbS should be implemented in order to deliver full benefits are not always well described. For instance, afforestation measures without studying tree species may not result in a fully biodiverse environment associated with multiple ecosystem services. Also, the lack of agreement with surrounding communities on access to products from the newly forested areas may lead to social tensions over the available resources. Existing inequalities concerning access to natural resources, such as water, land and forest products, could be exacerbated by the overprotection of NbS sites. Although green areas make cities more sustainable, they also increase the price of living in their immediate surroundings, making them unaffordable to the majority of people and exacerbating any existing inequalities.

So, yes, NbS are climate smart when implemented with the aim of achieving restorative environmental functions, socio-economic development and fewer inequalities. Further, if we really are in the ‘Anthropocene’ – an era when human activity dominates the influences on climate and the environment – it is our full responsibility to make the necessary transformations in our energy, land, urban, industrial, agricultural, and communication systems to support biodiversity and people and yield desirable climate futures. This is all the truer in vulnerable areas like the Sahel, the region of the world to which this issue of our magazine is dedicated.

Tchad
EU GCCA+ - Chad

The first Impact and Sustainability Report describes direct and indirect impacts achieved by 21 projects supported between 2009 and 2017 by the Global Climate Change Alliance Plus (EU GCCA+). It provides a comparison of actual and expected impacts, a description of the levels of sustainability as well as drivers of successes and failures in terms of impact and sustainability. A useful tool for managers and implementers, it also includes recommendations for the design and implementation of future projects. Specific country reports on Ethiopia, The Gambia, Mali and Senegal provide insight into GCCA actions in the Sahel over the last decade.