Nature Based Climate Solutions
Nature-based climate solutions present a unique opportunity for Saskatchewan to make important progress in tackling two environmental crises; mass extinction and climate change.
What are Nature-Based Climate Solutions?
Natural climate solutions defend and restore natural areas (ex. forests and wetlands) that are essential for the removal of greenhouse gasses, like carbon dioxide, from our environment —protecting us from climate change impacts and reversing wildlife decline. According to a Nature United report, natural climate solutions could reduce Canada’s greenhouse gasses by as much as 78Mt a year in 2030. That’s more than 10% of Canada’s total emissions!
Methods like protection, restoration and improved land management can not only benefit nature but also humans alike. For example, Canadian cities are increasingly threatened by floods, heat waves, air pollution, fires and storms. The implementation of green infrastructure like green roofs can help cool the air, absorb excess water, and reduce energy use while supporting biodiversity and making cities more livable.
Nature-based climate solutions are also cost-effective and are expected to stimulate our economy through the creation of new jobs or revenue streams for Indigenous communities, farmers, ranchers and foresters.
We would like to thank Nature Canada for providing the resources and information about nature-based climate solutions for this page. For more information about Nature Canada and the work they do with nature based-climate solutions please click here.
Approaches to Nature-Based Climate Solutions
The protection of threatened carbon-rich ecosystems has the biggest impact in the battle against climate change. Once an area is degraded or destroyed, it is costly and sometimes impossible to restore it back to its original state.
The government of Canada has made an unprecedented commitment to protecting 25% of Canada’s land and oceans by 2025, and 30% protection by 2030. These promises will be extremely important for the protection of biodiversity, and for stabilizing and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Through targeted protection, it’s possible to identify and safeguard Canadian landscapes that store significant amounts of carbon. Protecting these spaces in perpetuity will ensure that these landscapes are not destroyed and the carbon stored within them is not released into the atmosphere.
There are many ways that municipalities and local organizations can work to protect areas within their jurisdiction as a nature-based climate solution.
Targeted protection is the process of using biodiversity and climate data to identify and enact new protected areas. Key actions include the greater protection of biodiverse and carbon-rich areas, including moratoria on:
- Harvesting remaining carbon-dense old-growth forests
- Conversion of natural grasslands to other uses
- Destruction of remaining eelgrass meadows and saltmarshes on all three coasts
- Drainage of peatlands for industrial activities
Increased resourcing of Indigenous leadership in conservation and protection (e.g., Indigenous Protection and Conservation Areas, Guardian program) is needed. While community-based land protection initiatives are expanding.
Carbon Offest Projects
Carbon offset projects safeguard natural carbon stores through compensation for emissions from an activity being undertaken somewhere else. They can be a good way to secure funding for the protection of areas that are of high-carbon value.
It’s important to ensure that these projects fund additional protection of landscapes that otherwise would not have happened and that they do not replace the obligations of emitters to also reduce GHGs.
Land Use Planning
Municipalities can protect areas that have high carbon sequestration and biodiversity value through land-use planning policies that reject the development of sensitive areas.
Although formal protection through provincial or federal policy is preferable in order to ensure these areas will be protected in perpetuity, land-use planning offers a good solution that is within municipal control.
Restoration is the practice of renewing or returning degraded, damaged, or destroyed ecosystems and habitats in the environment to ecological integrity through active human intervention and action. These activities can have positive impacts on both climate and biodiversity.
It is critical to conduct research and engage with experts when starting a restoration project as there are many important considerations. For a planting project, for example, considerations include determining native species of vegetation for your area, what vegetation will maximize biodiversity and or climate benefits, and where to plant in your restoration area.
The Two Billion Tree Reforestation Commitment
The federal government has committed to planting two billion net additional trees by 2030. This is one of the largest Canadian restoration projects to date and can have massive benefits against climate change. In order to maximize these benefits, it is crucial that the right trees are planted in the right areas and for the right reasons.
Wetlands provide a number of benefits and ecological services that are essential for fully functioning ecosystems. Not only do wetlands sequester more carbon than any other landscape in the world, but they also perform crucial services like water filtration, flood mitigation, and pollutant removal.
Restoration of these sites can increase the carbon sequestration of these areas, provide further habitat area for species that need it, and maximize benefits
Reclaiming Green Space
Municipalities often have a lot of land that they own or manage already, like parks, for example. In order to gain the most climate and biodiversity benefits, it’s encouraged that municipalities restore these spaces to their native state. For areas that are used often by the public, even restoring a portion of these areas can have a significant impact.
Land and Water Management
Billions of tons of GHGs per year could be offset or avoided by natural climate solutions such as responsible management of cropland, peatlands, and forests.
Governments should apply forest carbon accounting principles to quantify the potential of the forest sector to contribute to climate change mitigation and demonstrate the importance of sustainable forest management.
Indigenous Guardian programs for land and marine areas, which increase stewardship by Indigenous communities of their territories using traditional knowledge can also play key roles in improving the management of carbon-rich natural areas.
Better management of land in urban areas is critical as populations grow and development infringes on already degraded ecosystems.
Proper Management of Farmland is Vital to Climate Change Objectives
Expanding regenerative agricultural practices is key to reducing CO2. In fact, increasing the carbon content of the world’s soil by 0.4% could remove as much CO2 from the atmosphere as was emitted globally in 2015.
However, the carbon content of farmland has been decreasing since 2006 in Canada due to increased conversion from perennial to annual crops that require more fertilizer and pesticides, the intensity of tilling practices, expansion of intensive livestock operations, and conversion of wetlands to agricultural lands.
- More accurately account for and regulate logging industry emissions
- Better quantify the GHG impacts of industrial activities on wetlands, grasslands, and oceans, and include in Candian law and policy
- Support innovative management and technology solutions to reduce ecosystems emissions from industries (oil, gas, forestry, ag)
- Improve natural forest management and fire management such as increasing stand diversity and using selective logging
- Expand harvest cycles on forest lands
Urban Areas and Communities
Urban areas generate about 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. At the same time, cities are increasingly threatened by climate change-linked extreme weather events like floods, heatwaves, fires, and storms.
Protecting cities from climate change through traditional infrastructure approaches, like sea walls, stormwater and sewer upgrades, and expanded air conditioning, is expensive. Likewise, cities are looking to nature-based solutions as a means to build resilience while improving the health and well-being of citizens and securing ecological and economic benefits.
Adaptation & Green Infrastructure
Climate change is already impacting us. Extreme weather events, such as fires, floods, heat waves and droughts, are becoming more frequent and severe.
Cities and towns are facing increased costs to protect their residents, spending billions to deal with weather-related damages, and investing in new or enhanced infrastructure to prevent damage. Leaders are learning that it is often more economical to protect and enhance natural or green infrastructure – planting trees to reduce extreme heat, or constructing wetlands to reduce flooding – than it is to build traditional grey infrastructure.
- Better account for the value of natural assets
- Embed nature-based climate solutions in adaptation planning
- Establish, protect or better manage created ecosystems through afforestation, planting grass strips near waterways, and constructing wetlands for water purification