While disconcerting, NASA’s new report is only the latest in a long line of warning signs. This makes it just one more indicator of what is already known worldwide – that we need to act faster and more ambitiously on combatting climate change. So where can we see signs that this attitude is being taken up and acted on?
Firstly, a key development occurring this month is the strategic linking of the issues of climate change and nature loss. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a combined report this month that intrinsically links these two issues together, highlighting the immediate need for ‘Nature-based Solutions' (NbS) as a strategic approach to solving both problems at the same time.
The report outlines how rising global temperatures are accelerating a general loss of biodiversity through habitat destruction and ecosystem disruption, which in turn reduces nature’s ability to store carbon, thus exacerbating climate change further. Fortunately, there are effective NbS approaches that can be put in place quickly and scaled up dramatically. These include the reversal of deforestation and the protection of crucial mangroves, rainforests and peatlands – all of which are hugely effective natural carbon storage systems as well as cradles for biodiversity. Another NbS approach gaining traction is the grazing of wildlife on land prepared for renewable energy production, expanding habitats for pollinators and other wildlife while securing clean energy.
The report predicts that an NbS-based approach could provide 37% of CO2 mitigation needed by 2030 to maintain global warming within 2°C, another ‘red line’ linked to irreversible ecological devastation.
Alongside the more long-term plans, there are dozens of more immediate, and often dramatic, solutions being developed. One of the more controversial ones is the brainchild of Tom Green, British biologist and director of the charity Project Vesta. His plan is to transform a whole one trillion tonnes of CO2 into rock and sink it to the bottom of the ocean through a process of accelerated weathering. By depositing sand rich in olivine – an abundant volcanic rock known as peridot to jewellers – the ocean can quickly churn it up while capturing carbon dioxide in the process. While there are ongoing concerns about the unforeseen ecological impact of this experimental approach, Green calculates that depositing olivine-rich sand across 2% of the world’s coastlines would be enough to capture 100% of total global annual carbon emissions.