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Agriculture

A Wave Of Technologies Uses Nature To Fight The Climate Crisis

Innovative ventures in the newly-emerging category of “Nature Tech” are focused explicitly on accelerating nature’s natural ability to regenerate. Considering an estimated $44 trillion of economic value relies on nature, these investments are increasingly seen as sound propositions, both financially and for the sake of the planet.

Drone technologies for reforestation. Satellite and eDNA data for monitoring biodiversity and natural capital. Blockchain for transparent carbon transactions. Increased processing power, better algorithms, machine learning, and widely available data. A wave of technologies is accelerating natural climate solutions, and experts say that, together, they can provide around one-third of the cost effective climate mitigation needed between now and 2030 to achieve the 1.5ºC target of the UN Climate Paris agreement.

In fact, nature-based solutions are estimated to have the potential to lift a billion people out of poverty, create 80 million jobs, add an additional $2.3 trillion of growth to the global economy, and also prevent $3.7 trillion of climate change damages. Now it’s up to investors to acknowledge this potential and direct the funds where they’re needed.

A new white paper, “What You Can Measure, You Can Manage: How Nature Tech Can Help Us Solve the Climate and Nature Crises,” hopes to raise interest, inspire action, and, ultimately, stimulate investment in the nature-based solutions sector  — as well as highlight the potential pitfalls and how they might be avoided. Natural climate solutions are methods of reducing carbon emissions and storing them in the world’s forests, grasslands, and wetlands.

Big picture examples are:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), related to land use
  • Capturing and storing additional CO2 from the atmosphere, and maintaining its flow into existing sinks
  • Improving the resilience and adaptation possibilities of ecosystems, thus helping communities adjust to the increases in consequences of our changing climate

These solutions are often complex and interconnected. Better stewardship of the land has a positive resulting impact on other critical environmental, social, and economic factors. Reflective interactions that take a holistic approach foster greater societal and human gains.

The role of clean tech in accelerating climate action is well known: despite economic turmoil in 2022, investments in climate tech ventures passed $19 billion in the first 6 months of the year. However, when it comes to tackling the climate crisis and critical biodiversity loss, the potential of nature tech to help accelerate critical climate action is sometimes overlooked.

What is Nature Tech?

“Nature tech” describes technologies that can accelerate the implementation of nature-based solutions at scale. They mimic the earth’s ecosystems or advance nature’s ability to regenerate. Considering $44 trillion — over half of the world’s GDP — is moderately or highly dependent on nature, investing in nature tech is smart, both financially and for the planet.

It’s generally split into 4 categories: deployment; monitoring, reporting, and verifying (MRV), transparency, and connection. Technologies such as LiDAR and open source solutions hold great potential for improving the resolution and reducing the cost of MRV, driving greater accountability in nature based solutions. Mobile apps can connect local communities to sources of information, other people, and higher-paying markets for their products, helping to drive the sustainable use of natural ecosystems.

Nature tech can play a crucial role in tackling climate change and the biodiversity crisis by:

  • Effectively measuring the benefits that nature provides, allowing us to value and manage with a “big data” approach
  • Reducing the cost and improving accuracy of data gathering through machine learning and remote data sensing
  • Enhancing transparency
  • Helping to address the historic lack of trust in nature based solutions as a tool to tackle climate change
  • Enabling and facilitating data gathering, sharing, and evaluating, which helps stakeholders identify which projects are truly high integrity and can have the most impact on reversing nature loss and tackling the climate crisis

The Dilemma of Deployment

Due to limitations in measurement, carbon has often been used as a proxy for the host of biodiversity, ecosystem, and community co-benefits for nature’s abundant ecosystems. This is because the actions that deliver measurable climate mitigation usually also deliver a host of other benefits, such as water quality and increased biodiversity.

The metrics for these more complex features of natural systems are either much harder to measure or still being developed, but to integrate nature into global financial models and systems means having the ability to measure and monitor existing systems, their loss, and gains at specific locations. It’s important to set meaningful goals and targets and to hold to account those who don’t meet them.

Contemporary data science is capable, within the parameters of human knowledge, of dealing with complexity to give simple, accurate scores and metrics. It can also help with prioritization — that is, optimizing and maximizing outcomes of nature-based solutions within a finite landscape.

It will require seeing nature as a classic “big data” problem, in that data analysis will need to digest billions of living things reacting to lots of different variables in every place. Yet that kind of big data approach isn’t quite current; however, exciting tools and a wave of technologies are getting us there — bio-acoustics, innovations that remove dependence on petroleum derived chemicals, artificial intelligence services sprouting to monitor and manage more precisely carbon sequestering.

Next steps will be to ascertain the relevance, precision, accuracy, and feasibility of these tools to effectively evaluate their utility in decision making. It will be necessary to identify exactly how much data is necessary to take action. Moreover, for these technologies to be trustworthy and scalable, transparency and open sharing of data is critical.

Want to see how the wave of technologies is helping the areas of the world you know and love? Check out this fascinating database of Case Study Selections.

Making The Wave of Technologies Transparent

Nature4Climate is the impetus behind the new white paper that’s highlighted in this article. The organization’s mission is to help raise the profile of natural climate solutions and catalyze action on the ground. It is composed of 19 of the world’s leading conservation, multilateral, and business organizations that work to establish partnerships between governments, civil society, businesses, and investors. Their goal focuses on the urgency to protect, restore, and fund nature-based solutions.

Nature-based solutions are available to deploy today, are scalable and can transform key industry sectors, such as forestry and agriculture. Nature Tech can help to address the interrelated challenges of climate change and nature loss, supporting global climate, nature, and sustainability goals. Given the point we are at in both these crises, we need all the innovation, speed, and scalability of technology that we can throw at it, working alongside science and with the appropriate guardrails in place.

 
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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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