Researchers from the University of Glasgow have contributed their expertise to a new report on how nature-based solutions could help nations mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Professor Nick Hanley and Professor Larissa Naylor are among the authors of Nature-based Solutions for Climate Change, People and Biodiversity, a briefing paper released by the COP26 Universities Network.
The Network is a growing group of more than 50 UK-based universities and research institutes working together to help deliver an ambitious outcome at the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow and beyond.
The new report says as societies face the triple challenge of enhancing human wellbeing, avoiding dangerous climate change, and protecting remaining biodiversity, increasingly there are calls to end siloed thinking and design solutions that simultaneously address each of these problems.
Examples include tree planting to sequester atmospheric carbon, restoring coastal habitats to mitigate floods, sustainable management of working landscapes, such as agricultural land, and the creation of novel habitats.
The authors explain, in the UK, nature-based solutions (NbS) can support job creation and livelihoods, and can play a key role in ‘building back better’ after COVID-19 and can be more cost-effectively deployed than non-NbS approaches to mitigation and adaptation. There is also scope for the UK to use its presidency of COP26 to promote effective and fair NbS across the globe. In this context, the briefing recommends that the UK promotes a broad range of NbS that goes beyond the present emphasis on tree planting.
Professor Hanley, of the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, offered input to the report on how economic incentives might be used to encourage climate-conscious behaviour from landowners and industry in ways which also benefit biodiversity and increase the supply of ecosystem services.
Professor Hanley said: “Nature-based solutions like peatland restoration and native woodland planting have a great deal of potential for helping the UK reduce its net emissions of greenhouse gases and mitigate some of the effects of climate change/ However, they need to be widely adopted in order to maximise their impact.
“It’s also vital that they are adopted alongside successful efforts to drive down carbon emissions in other parts of the economy in order to achieve the scale of impact required to minimise the effects of climate change.
“Economic incentives are one potential solution which could help spur quick and lasting action from those with the power to make those kinds of decisions. That could mean, for example, that grants and subsidy schemes offered to landowners are contingent on measurable gains in biodiversity on their land, and measurable increases in carbon stored.
“Any future incentive schemes will need careful design and monitoring to ensure that targets are being met, but I believe that there is real potential to effect change and I’m glad to have been able to contribute to this briefing.”
Professor Naylor, of the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, co-authored the paper and sits on the COP26 Universities Network steering committee.
Her contributions helped shape the briefing paper’s advice on how naturally functioning coasts provide vital frontline defence for society against rising tides and extreme weather. She also advised on how coasts can be managed in the future to maintain both their natural protection function, their biodiversity, and the wider additional benefits this provides to society.
Professor Naylor said: “Sea level rise over the coming decades is inevitable. However, we still have an opportunity to adapt now in order to help sustain biodiversity and alleviate the risk to infrastructure and communities posed by serious flooding and erosion.
“Nature-based, ‘green engineering’ projects, like the enhancement and protection of coastal landforms including saltmarshes and sand dunes, must be placed at the heart of long-term investment strategies. Efforts such as these will be critically important to the success of efforts to improve societal resilience against the risks climate change poses to coasts and estuaries.
“There is an urgent need to create space for natural systems to adapt to climate change, informed by the latest evidence of coastal flood and erosion risks now and in the future. At the coast and in our estuaries, this will often mean re-thinking the current land-sea boundary to make space on current water edge land for these coastal landforms and the biodiversity they support to roll landward as they adjust to sea level rise.
“It’s been encouraging to see that recommendations from previous briefing papers from the COP26 Universities Network have been seriously considered by government and other decisionmakers. I’m hopeful that the changes outlined in this latest briefing will also help lead to more informed and effective policymaking. Crucially, they must be supported through practical implementation of climate-resilient development plans that make space for nature and the resilience benefits it can provide for society. The planned Granton Waterfront Redevelopment in Edinburgh is a good example of this kind of proactive, climate resilient development planning.”