Here’s how we go beyond net zero and actually achieve drawdown

By Mamta Mehra, Senior Fellow, Land Use & Research Program Officer & Chad Frischmann, Senior Director, Drawdown Solutions, Project Drawdown | November 12, 2021

As representatives from all over the world begin their departure from Glasgow and begin, we hope, the pivot from words into deeds — we wish to reiterate the key to keeping 1.5C alive: nature-based solutions.

Our soil, water, forests, and wetlands can’t represent themselves, though they are the very reason we can exist on this planet. Our collective actions have already caused extensive damage to nature, and we can’t afford to lose more. If humanity has to survive on this planet, we have to take care of natural resources.

Simple changes in the way we manage ecosystems and produce and consume food will lay the foundation for a regenerative future. We need to transition from industrial agriculture and unsustainable ecosystem management to a regenerative system to restore the health of the planet and prevent climate catastrophe.

The good thing is that many of the changes needed are already underway around the world. Our team at Project Drawdown has carried out climate and financial analysis of 26 “nature-based” technologies and practices; that protect ecosystems, restore degraded land, and shift agriculture practices.

If land had a voice, what would it say? The 3 billion hectares of degraded forests, grasslands, croplands and peatlands might be wondering how and why they lost the lush, thriving life they once supported. They may wonder why humanity continues to clear prime ecosystems, condemning more precious hectares to a barren, abandoned existence. These lands can once again be a source of life, teeming with biodiversity, sequestering carbon, and becoming again part of a flourishing, regenerative system.

It’s time to heal these lands by applying restoration measures. Nature already does this as part of its endless impetus to sustain life, but that’s not enough considering the pace and extent of degradation. We humans must actively protect and restore degraded land, either to its pristine form through natural regrowth, or for productive use in a regenerative economy. Doing so protects and restores biodiversity, offers income-generating opportunities for local communities, and pulls carbon out of the atmosphere, storing it safely in plants and soil. We estimate 145–232 gigatons of CO2 equivalent can be sequestered between 2020 and 2050 by restoring degraded land. Moreover, restoration will reduce pressure on non-degraded ecosystems, by meeting demand for biomass and food they might otherwise be called on to fulfill.

And what would undegraded ecosystems that are still teeming with life, say? What would you say—cut me down, or let me live? It is very possible that we can protect remaining undegraded ecosystems and prevent future degradation, in the process further sequestering 33–53 gigatons of CO2 equivalent between 2020-2050 and protecting a cumulative carbon stock ofy 1,328–3,374 gigatons of CO2 equivalent by 2050. The announcement to curb deforestation by 2030, where more than 100 countries, accounting for 85% of the world’s forests, came forward and agreed to protect and restore them, is very welcome. However, such declarations have been made in the past, and yet still our forests are being degraded at alarming rates. We hope fresh actions will come from these fresh words.

And what about the health of the soil? Soils around the world are wearing out, threatening future food security for countless humans. Rather than sustaining their health, we are trying to keep them alive with synthetic fertilizers and chemicals. But what they really need is a healthy diet. Our soils need to be more in sync with nature, as they were before industrial agriculture. Regenerative agriculture practices such as  minimizing disturbances to soils, keeping soils covered, shifting from monoculture to crop diversification, adding perennial crops, integrating trees with crops and pastures, using organic fertilizers, and enhancing efficient use of inputs; all can help keep soils healthy. These regenerative practices increase yield, while building soil productivity. They also can reduce the cost of cultivation and boost net profit margins. These are win-win solutions for the soil and for farmers.

All together, regenerative agricultural solutions can boost yield by 1,452–2,081 million metric tons, save US$4.34–5.52 trillion, and provide a net profit margin of US$7.46–11.02 trillions between 2020 and 2050—while providing climate benefits of 125–209 gigatons of CO2 equivalent at the same time.

Natural climate solutions not only contribute to climate change mitigation, they also can build resilience against extreme climatic events. Our lands and oceans must be wondering why humanity is focused on “treatment” and not “prevention”, investing millions of dollars in post-disaster measures while ignoring opportunities to build resilience in advance by investing in these natural resources. We can do better.

Natural climate solutions are the key for the Race to Zero and the Race to Resilience. They can take us beyond net zero, to actually achieve drawdown. With all of the cascading benefits to people and the planet, it is clear that climate finance should support nature-based climate solutions.

Our natural resources are looking at you—funders, policymakers, and decisionmakers. They have a question for you: Are you seeing them, do you understand their concerns, will you listen? They can’t represent themselves; will you make an effort to reach out to them and understand what they need and then take appropriate actions for them?

May this call from nature open your heart and inspire you to act to support nature today, without further delay.










No net zero without nature

Preserving nature is a key element in the world’s effort both to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and it also happens to be good for business. But new findings show that much of the private sector continues to lag far behind in tackling deforestation and protecting biodiversity.