“Renaturing” the planet to save species and the climate

Photo credits: A golden lion tamarin, one of Brazil’s iconic species, in danger of extinction. Antonio Lacerda/EFE/SIPA

Restoring a third of the Earth’s most degraded landscapes could be enough to slow down species extinction, while sequestering half of the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere since the start of the industrial revolution. These are the conclusions of an article published in Nature journal by a team of international scientists. They have identified opportunities for restoring landscapes on every continent, from tropical forests through coastal wetlands to peatlands. 

“We were surprised by the magnitude of what we found – the huge difference that restoration can make,” Bernardo Strassburg, from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and the lead author of the article, told The Guardian. 

At present, just 1% of the funding devoted to the fight against climate change goes to nature restoration. However, according to the study, ‘nature-based solutions’ are among the cheapest ways of absorbing and storing the carbon dioxide contained in the atmosphere. 

Restoration planning

Restoring nature should not be to the detriment of farming or food production, warn the authors of the article: “If restoration is not properly planned it could lead to a risk to agriculture and the food sector, but if done properly it can increase agricultural productivity. We can produce enough food for the world and restore 55% of our current farmland.”

The study also indicates that planting trees, the most popular nature-based solution to date, is not always the best way to preserve biodiversity and store carbon. Peatlands, wetlands and savannahs are also home to a multitude of unique species and can store large amounts of carbon. 

However, the way ecosystems are restored counts just as much as the place and scale of the restoration. “If you plant trees in areas where forests did not previously exist it will mitigate climate change but at the expense of biodiversity,” warns Bernardo Strassburg. 

Sources: 

“Global priority areas for ecosystem restoration,” Nature, October 14, 2020 www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2784-9

“Rewild to mitigate the climate crisis, urge leading scientists,” The Guardian, October 14, 2020 www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/14/re-wild-to-mitigate-the-climate-crisis-urge-leading-scientists