“Nature-based solutions” is a relatively young concept still in the process of being framed. There is a need now to deepen our understanding of nature-based solutions and confirm the principles upon which they are founded, in order to move towards an operational framework that can guide practical applications. This year more than ever, we are seeing the effects of climate change, and it’s high time for young people’s ideas on learning from nature to be heard. Platforms like Episode 4 of the #Youth4ClimateLive Series, “Driving Nature-Based Solutions,” which took place on September 25, 2020, provide the perfect opportunity to hear not only from the youth that are making change, but also from experts in different fields.
The hour-long webinar started off with a poll question by the moderators: “In one word, what comes to your mind when you hear ‘nature-based solutions?’” The big word of the day was Sustainability, followed by Forest, Restoration and Safety of Nature.
The moderators stressed the fact that 2020 has been identified as the “super year for nature” and how it seems like the perfect moment to come together and take a deeper dive into how we can learn from nature as we implement policy. But the real challenge remains how we can most effectively get involved and engage.
There was a special message from The Rt. Hon. Lord Goldsmith in which he talked about how nature-based solutions fit into the COP26 agenda. “We cannot tackle climate change without ramping up our efforts to protect and restore nature on an unprecedented scale,” he said. “But despite that, just 3% of global climate finance goes to nature-based solutions. So, under our COP26 presidency, we will build alliances to ramp up political and financial support for nature-based solutions, to safeguard livelihoods and the blue economy, to reverse climate change, and to protect and restore the critical ecosystems and rich biodiversity that they support.” He closed by sending a message directly to young people: “We need your help. You are not only the future, you are also the present. We want to continue working with you, your friends, your families, and your communities to protect this planet that we share.”
Driving Youth Action
To kick off the conservation, Dr. David Nabarro, WHO Special Envoy for COVID-19, spoke on the virus and made clear that it is not going away any time soon. He asked all participants to do everything possible to get their governments and any other authorities they may be working with to take COVID really seriously. He then moved on to explain how biodiversity is a vital resource that we want to maintain, for the sake of our own health as well as other organisms’. “I’d like to invite everybody to do everything that they can to respect nature and biodiversity,” he said, “and not to destroy, because by destroying, we are actually exposing ourselves to the risk of more of these viruses.”
Christiana Figueres, Global Optimism Founder and former UNFCCC Executive Secretary then took the stage, explaining that we cannot separate biodiversity and climate change. “By separating biodiversity and climate change into two conventions,” she said, “the result is that we have separated our treatment. That has not served us well. The fact is that these two things are inextricably linked. If we continue to destroy biodiversity, we are accelerating climate change, and the acceleration of climate change is one of the highest threats to the preservation of biodiversity.”
Christiana also reminded us that 2020 was supposed to be a super year for nature, but noted instead how nature made us step up to the plate with a “super year for humanity.” In this unprecedented year, we have witnessed hurricanes, wildfires and strong heat waves around the globe. She closed by reminding the youth that “The 12-20 trillion dollars that has been injected into the economy as recovery packages is debt. No government has the scale of cash flow out of their reserves. Who is going to pay for the debt? It’s not David and it’s not me, sadly. That debt will be paid over time by young people through your taxes. If you are being put into debt about something that you are going to pay, you better make sure those in charge are investing that money to your benefit and not to your detriment.”
The moderators underscored what is at stake, noting that the latest science points to biodiversity and ecosystem health deteriorating rapidly worldwide. The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is dropping more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide. That is why this year’s slogan for the International Day of Biological Diversity was “Our solutions are in nature,” a message that emphasizes hope, solidarity and the importance of working together at all levels to build a future in harmony with nature.
Before transitioning to the next part of the program, the moderators polled participants a second time, asking, “How are you conserving, preserving or restoring nature?” The majority of respondents answered that they were “Learning about and raising awareness of the value of nature.” This is certainly important, because in order for us to convince people to stop cutting down trees and so on, we have to be able to explain to them why, making them aware of the damage they are doing to our planet and presenting them with other options so that they can revise their behavior moving forward. Moreover, in order for us to come together and find nature-based solutions, we have to know what nature is and how far we can go with it.
Vanessa Nakate, Young Leader for the SDGs and founder of the Rise Up Climate Movement, started off by pinpointing how young people have continued even in this pandemic to hold leaders accountable and to speak up in the safest way possible, following all the necessary guidelines. When it comes to nature-based solutions, Vanessa believes that they have not yet been fully unleashed in the public sphere or in government. “We lose the fight against climate change if we do not involve nature. Restoring, protecting and sustainably managing our ecosystems will help us in reducing all the emissions in the atmosphere. Now is the time for the young people and everyone else to start speaking about nature-based solutions.”
There is much we still have to learn about our planet. Until recently, for example, we thought there were 400 billion trees, which was the basis for the UN’s Billion Tree Campaign. But now, because of tree counting done in different countries, we have learned that there are actually over three trillion trees worldwide, which changed the UN’s Billion Tree Campaign to a Trillion Tree Campaign. If we are able to come together and plant one billion new trees by 2030, we will have a tremendous great impact, as the trees we plant will store up to 400 Gt of Carbon.
Our second speaker, Archana Soreng, member of the UN Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change and research officer at Vasundhara, Odisha, stated how nature is life and identity for her indigenous community, the Khadia Tribe. When talking about nature-based solutions, Archana mentioned how indigenous communities like hers have been intertwined with nature for generations, whether in terms of agricultural practices, spiritual beliefs or health care. She also emphasized how important it is for young people and indigenous leaders alike to go back to their elders and learn from them traditional practices respectful of the environment.
Speaking on COVID-19, Archana noted that indigenous communities have displayed impressive resiliency. “One of the things which I witnessed,” she said of her research, “is that they were in a much safer space in terms of food security. That is why I feel, when we are talking about post-COVID recovery, that nature-based solutions need to be emphasized, and the indigenous community needs to be the main stakeholders in the nature-based solutions.” When it comes to these projects, all the funding can be funneled through that community so its members become connected to the projects. On top of that, they can benefit from the thousands of ecosystem services targeting food, medicine, clean air and water that bring huge socio-economic benefits when done correctly. Like Archana said, “We have nature-based solutions, but only when we feel secure will we be able to continue.”
Our third speaker, Claudel Pétrin-Desrosiers, Junior Doctor and Board Member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, stated that climate change is the biggest threat to health in the 21st century, that it will be responsible for 250,000 deaths by the year 2030, and that most of those deaths will be linked to undernutrition and infectious diseases. Claudel pointed out that “Healthcare services are responsible for only about 20% of our health. The rest is social and environmental determinants such as the air we breathe, the food we eat, the places we live, and how much money we’ve got. We have to see climate change as a risk amplifier. It threatens every single determinant of our health, in every single country across the world.”
One thing 2020’s COVID quarantine has taught us, she added, is that if we minimize our fuel consumption, stop cutting down trees, use alternative energy, etc., we still have a fighting chance to combat climate change. According to Claudel, “It is possible to turn it around and to look to create the environments, both in urban and rural settings, that actually support, promote and enhance our health. But to get there, we need ambitious climate goals, we need to reduce the use of fossil fuels and ensure that everything we do is actually based on the protection and restoration of our natural ecosystems.” When talking on COVID-19, Claudel stressed the fact that there is no health equality—those most affected by the virus are the ones who are already facing the biggest burdens of climate change.
Lastly, there was a short video message from Mariangela Zappia, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations in New York. She began by saying how inspiring it is to see so many young people engaged in vital issues affecting all of us and our planet. She then moved on to explain how Italy is actively pursuing a more resilient, sustainable recovery with the 2030 agenda and Paris Agreement as its compass and how its leaders are planning to put global health, biodiversity loss and climate change at the heart of the agenda when it assumes the presidency of the G20. Zappia closed by sending a message to young people everywhere: “As we look forward to the Youth4Climate event in Milan, we count on your passion and on your continued action for accountability and real change. Indeed, you can be the drivers of the change we all need.”
There are almost 8 billion people around the globe—imagine if each and every one of us came together to help fight climate change through nature-based solutions. Not only would we defeat climate change, we would restore and preserve sufficient natural resources for generations to come. Young people specifically have a huge role to play, but we can only reach our full potential if we are directly involved in the decision-making process. Coming off of Episode 4 of #Youth4ClimateLive, my question for world leaders is this: How can we get involved/engaged to make a tangible impact to slow the rate of these devastating trends? And will you be 100% transparent with us when it comes to allocating the finance?