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Protect, manage and then restore lands for climate mitigation

February 14, 2022
News item image The study proposes prioritising protection for threatened carbon-storing landscapes

Cook-Patton et al 2021.

A recent study in Nature Climate Change, led by scientists from The Nature Conservancy, outlines a hierarchy for decision-making regarding protecting, managing, and restoring natural systems for climate mitigation.

A series of approaches to maximising the use of Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) to tackle climate change were compared against four key criteria: magnitude of climate benefit; immediacy of impact; cost-effectiveness; and co-benefits for people and nature.  Analysis of the results were then used to propose a  robust decision-making hierarchy designed to aid public and private sector organisations in deploying such nature-based approaches at scale.

The hierarchy utilises a general rule of thumb to protect, manage and then restore lands – prioritising establishing stronger protection and management protocols for existing climate-critical landscapes like forests, wetlands and grasslands given their ability to reap cost-effective carbon-storing benefits. It also reveals how the key criteria explain alternative prioritisation and portfolio schemes, as the framework aims to optimise the effectiveness of natural climate solutions when resources are constrained.

The NCS routes of protection, improved management and restoration are not mutually exclusive, and in planning and practice they can be highly complementary. As the priorities at the national and local scales depend on context (for example, biophysical, political, institutional, economic and socio-cultural factors), the framework provides a process to improve the overall impact of climate mitigation and biodiversity conservation, in place of more rigid prescriptions. The authors note that NCS do not replace or delay the large scale decarbonisation needed to keep global warming below 2 °C, but NCS land-stewardship actions aid in this by capturing or reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; through protecting existing ecosystems, improving the management of working lands or restoring natural ecosystems.

Read the full paper, Protect, manage and then restore lands for climate mitigation, in Nature Climate Change.