Our incredible natural world can help solve the climate crisis.
Lush tropical forests teeming with life. Seagrass beds swaying in the ocean current as fish dart in and out. Eucalyptus-scented bush where kookaburras call.
Our forests, wetlands and bushlands provide homes for our unique animals and birds, and are places where people restore and revive.
But did you know protecting these places also helps keep down climate pollution?
The big drivers of climate damage — polluting industries, excessive consumption, failing to value nature in our decision-making, putting profit before people and planet — are also what destroy our forests, oceans, plants and animals.
Climate damage. Photo: Annette Ruzicka
This is why we must solve the climate and nature crises together — or we’ll solve none.
Because we can’t limit global warming without repairing nature. And we can’t protect nature without solving climate change.
Our big old trees store a lot of greenhouse gases. When forests are logged and burnt, massive amounts of greenhouse gas are released into the air from the trees and soil and it takes generations to be captured again in regrowth forests.
Old growth forest. Photo: Henry Gold
Like the tall wet forests of south-east Australia or the wet tropics of Queensland. They are some of the most carbon-dense forests on earth and studies have shown just how much pollution we can save by protecting and restoring them.
Yet one-quarter of Australia’s greenhouse gases comes from land clearing and poor forest management, meaning deforestation continues to be a big part of our climate problem.
We knock down trees at such a rate that we are the only advanced economy in the world that is considered a deforestation hotspot. It is also largely why we are a world leader in extinction.
Our big old trees store a lot of greenhouse gases.
At the COP26 UN Climate Conference in Glasgow, more than 100 countries signed a pledge to halt and reverse forest destruction and land degradation by 2030. Because keeping global warming below 1.5C is only possible with radical action to halt deforestation.
The mangroves along our coastlines are home to a vast array of birds, and a nursery for marine life like fish and turtles. Along with underwater kelp and grass meadows, they store even more greenhouse gases than tropical rainforests.
And when we face more extreme storms fuelled by climate damage, mangroves help protect communities and coastlines from storm surge.
Biodiversity is part of the solution. Photo: EA Given/Shutterstock.com
Even our woody grasslands and savannahs are an important climate solution. The vast tropical savannahs of northern Australia, the most intact in the world, are a great store of greenhouse gases and with roots buried in the soil they are protected from fire.
Wetlands store even more greenhouse gases than tropical rainforests.
Yet in Australia, 19 of our most important ecosystems are collapsing.
But this can be turned around. We can restore our wetlands, forests and savannahs so they thrive again. And we can bring Indigenous knowledge into the way we manage these ecosystems too.
Indigenous-managed wetland and savannah. Photo: Marian Reid
In Australia, many farmers are already restoring the land and improving farming practices. Even big companies are switching to regenerative farming — which improves the quality of land and requires less money on chemicals and fertisilers.
Farmers can earn carbon credits from restoring their land too, which is an added income stream.
Many farmers are changing how they work. Photo: David Sickerdick
So although large-scale industrial farming has severely degraded land all around the world, as seen acutely here in Australia — new research shows we could restore our degraded landscapes, mostly on marginal farming land, for about $2 billion a year – just 6% of what we spend on defence.
We’d have more habitat for threatened plants and animals, store more greenhouse gases and have healthier, more productive soil for growing food — it’s a win, win, win.
There is so much to gain from restoring nature beyond limiting the damage from climate change.
Alongside the COP26 climate negotiations, the UN Biodiversity Conference — COP15 — is in the middle of its own goal-setting process. In April and May 2022, countries will sign off on a new Global Biodiversity Framework — a set of goals and targets for the next 10 years that countries will try to deliver together, for nature. It’s the most important decision for global biodiversity in a decade.
Nature is being destroyed at a rate never seen in human history. This is our opportunity to reverse that trend.
Protecting and restoring the land is not just essential for our climate, it is how we end extinction, bring our rivers back to life, have clean air to breathe and good food to eat.
So everyone and every living thing can thrive.