We are face-to-face with the climate crisis. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report concluded humans are having a bigger and quicker impact on climate and nature than previously thought. After a summer of record-shattering heatwaves, smoked-filled air, and crop-withering droughts, Canadians experienced how this reality impacts their lives and communities. We need to tackle this crisis head on, starting now and for the decades to come.
We’re moving in the right direction when it comes to government policy. But unfortunately, not even the best designed bureaucratic response will be enough to save the planet.
One solution “invented” billions of years ago is photosynthesis. Since the beginning of time, the world has relied on green plants to regulate the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This summer, new science in the peer-reviewed Science Advances showed that natural climate solutions—actions to protect, manage and restore nature—can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada by up to 78 megatonnes annually in 2030, equivalent to 11 percent of Canada’s annual emissions.
Natural climate solutions are market-ready. We can protect forests so the carbon they store isn’t emitted, and we can improve the growth rates of trees after logging to improve carbon sequestration. We can invest in regenerative agriculture—practices such as cover cropping and nutrient management—which keep carbon in the ground and improve soil health. And we can accelerate restoration efforts such as tree-planting to increase the number of plants removing greenhouse gases. Many of these tried and tested pathways are cost-effective at less than $50 per tonne of carbon.
Investing in our natural environment has also significant co-benefits, such as simultaneously increasing biodiversity and growing local economies. And importantly, it’s a path in our ongoing work on reconciliation. Solutions for climate change require partnership with Indigenous peoples. Recognition of Indigenous rights and knowledge must be central to how we tackle these challenges, and industry must play a leadership role in this process.
Leaders must be bold and decisive about how they’re advancing ideas into action. Mindsets need to shift from seeing climate as a risk to an opportunity—from addressing the impact of climate change to their business, to the positive impact their business can have on climate change.
Companies must look beyond their fence lines to ensure their commitments address the full impact of their business. Many, including food processors, retailers and the building sector, are finding their biggest carbon footprint is in their supply chain. Leaders need to think holistically to transform what they’re doing in their own organizations, but also in their domestic and international supply chains.
Key to success will be partnering with farmers, foresters and local communities that are a critical part of the supply chain for so many products that Canadians depend on. They are also on the front lines of the climate crisis, facing drought, fires and invasive species. Supporting them to make changes to the way they manage their forests and fields can make a big difference. These aren’t dramatic shifts. And in many cases, these practices will ultimately result in bigger profits, climate resiliency and alternative revenue sources.
Some companies are making real, ambitious net-zero climate commitments, but it is the dollars put behind these announcements that are critical to success. Realizing the full potential of natural climate solutions in Canada by 2030 alone will cost roughly $50 billion.
Canada’s largest bank, RBC, is investing $500 billion in sustainable economic development by 2025. Bain & Company has also stepped up with a commitment of $1 billion of pro bono consulting services for solving the world’s biggest challenges, including climate change. This scale of investment can start to move the needle.
Of course, natural climate solutions alone aren’t enough to ensure Canada meets its climate commitments. To get all the way there, we must also decarbonize our economy, including drastically reducing fossil-fuel use, increasing energy efficiency and greening our transportation network. But we must pull every lever we have now. Investments in nature are comparatively an easy place to start, with many benefits for nature and people.
As governments, companies and organizations debate, align and announce commitments this November at COP26, they need to raise the bar and be bold. Governments will be in the headlines, but to succeed, we need the private sector to invest in the power of nature.
Nature United was founded as a Canadian charity in 2014, building on decades of conservation in Canada. Headquartered in Toronto, our organization has field staff located across the country. Nature United supports Indigenous leadership, sustainable economic development and science and large-scale conservation, primarily in British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and Manitoba. Our organization is also working to accelerate Natural Climate Solutions at national and regional scales. To learn more, visit natureunited.ca or follow @natureunited_ca.
We are the Canadian affiliate of The Nature Conservancy, a global conservation organization with more than a million members and a diverse team that includes more than 400 scientists. Our global organization works in 79 countries — either directly or through partnerships — to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press.