What do we mean by nature-based solutions to climate change? Why might we consider an animal an ecosystem engineer? Here are some common terms used by IFAW when discussing our work to combat climate change. Because other organisations and stakeholders may refer to these terms as well—or use different ones—we want to help clarify what they mean.
Agroforestry involves integrating trees and shrubs into agricultural practices. Agroforestry can provide many benefits to agriculture and the climate—for example, trees can shield livestock from the sun, wind, and extreme weather. Trees and shrubs also provide habitats for crucial pollinators, strengthen soil health, sequester carbon, slow runoff, reduce erosion, and improve water quality around crops and livestock.
Agroforestry can take many different forms, but they all involve planting crops or sheltering livestock around or in between trees. Trees are crucial for our planet, and they can help our agriculture, too.
Biochar is a carbon-rich ash product made by heating biomass (including wood chips, plant residue, and manure) at very high temperatures. It is a solid material that is a form of charcoal.
The main purpose of biochar is carbon sequestration. It can also be used as a soil supplement. Using it as fuel, however, would release carbon into the atmosphere, which negates the goal of carbon sequestration.
Biodiversity refers to the variety of animal and plant species living in a given ecosystem—or globally. The biodiversity of many ecosystems is threatened by rising temperatures and changing weather patterns, as is global biodiversity—1 million species face the threat of extinction as they prove unable to adapt to climate change.
Blue carbon refers to carbon dioxide that is stored in the ocean after being absorbed from the atmosphere. Most blue carbon dissolves directly into the ocean, but it is also stored in sediment, vegetation, soil, DNA and protein molecules, and organisms ranging in size from phytoplankton to whales.
Carbon sequestration is the capture and storage of carbon in plants and animals. Since plants absorb and store carbon dioxide, and animals eat these plants, animals help store and cycle carbon.
By protecting and conserving wildlife, we help sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Whales are an example of major contributors to carbon sequestration, as the largest animals on Earth. When a whale dies, it brings tonnes of carbon to the bottom of the ocean and stores it there for centuries.
Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperature and weather patterns (rather than short-term or day-to-day changes). Since the 1800s, human activity has largely been the driver of climate change. Burning fossil fuels—coal, oil, and gas—contributes to the greenhouse effect, which has been rapidly changing the climate of our planet.
Climate resilience describes landscapes, communities, and individual livelihoods that are well-suited to face rising temperatures, changing weather patterns, droughts, and other effects of climate change.
A conference of the parties (COP or CoP), broadly speaking, is the supreme governing body of an international convention (also known as a treaty). Representatives from member states of the convention comprise the COP. Their concern is the treaty’s implementation, and they make decisions in order to support this.
COPs are not just used for conventions on climate change—they might also focus on treaties about nuclear weapons, hazardous chemicals, or tobacco, to name a few—but the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) is held annually and has been since 1992. COP28 will be held from November to December 2023 in Dubai.
Ecosystem engineers are animals that modify their ecosystems in significant ways, often by creating or altering their habitats. They affect other species by creating and maintaining these habitats. There are two types of ecosystem engineers: Allogenic engineers physically change biotic and abiotic materials in their habitats (e.g., beavers), while autogenic engineers make changes to themselves as organisms (e.g., trees).
Elephants are one example of ecosystem engineers. Through their diet, they gather and disperse seeds, which grow plants that are crucial for other species. In addition, as they travel through forests or savannahs, they bring brush and trees lower to the ground, which allows smaller animals to eat them. In this way, other animals rely on elephants for their survival. Sharks are another example, as their diet allows certain populations of algae-eating fish to thrive, which keeps our oceans healthy.
Ecosystem services are benefits produced by nature on which our survival depends, including water, shade, soil, and organic matter. If we continue to degrade biodiversity on a global scale, we will lose access to these ecosystem services.
Ecotourism is the tourism of natural environments, often involving the observation of wildlife. Not only does ecotourism serve to raise awareness about threatened ecosystems and the conservation of vulnerable species, but it also provides alternative livelihoods and forms of income to communities living in these environments. An example of ecotourism is whale watching, which provides an alternative form of income for places that previously generated income from whaling.
Energy efficiency describes home appliances and other items designed to use less energy and create less emissions. One example is the energy-efficient stoves IFAW and WTI installed in Assam, India. Previously, families in Assam cut down significant amounts of trees for fuel for these stoves. The energy-efficient stoves IFAW helped this community install have helped them save more than 10,000 trees. Not only do energy-efficient appliances reduce emissions, but they also have economic benefits and help preserve important ecosystems.
Global warming is the increase in global average temperature we have witnessed due to the changing climate. Global temperatures are expected to rise by 1.5°C by 2040.
Greenhouse gases are gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect by trapping infrared radiation—which comes from the sun and warms the planet—in our atmosphere instead of allowing it to be radiated back into space.
Integrated landscape and water resource management
Integrated landscape management involves linking and balancing the protection and effective management of wildlife and their habitats to the wide range of other land uses. Integrated landscape management should take into consideration the livelihoods of people who rely on the land as well as the survival of wildlife.
Integrated water resource management describes practices such as building dams, using agricultural techniques to increase water retention, and planting trees. These methods allow water to sink into the landscape so it can be retained from one rainy season to the next. This minimizes the impact of droughts and allows both people and animals to survive off the land.
Loss and damage
In UN climate negotiations, loss and damage refers to the impacts of climate change to which communities cannot adapt and we cannot mitigate. This includes the loss of homes to extreme flooding or severe weather, damage to the environment, loss of lives, and more.
Nationally determined contributions
Under the Paris Agreement, each country’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) is its self-defined climate pledge. Each NDC details what that particular country pledges to do to help reduce emissions and mitigate climate change. NDCs also outline how each country will secure the finances to reach these goals.
Nature-based solutions focus on protecting nature as a means of mitigating, adapting to, and addressing loss and damage from climate change. These solutions involve putting measures in place that protect and conserve nature, wildlife, and key ecosystems, all of which are important for our climate. Nature-based solutions include wildlife conservation, marine conservation, ecosystem reservation, blue carbon projects, and more.
Every problem has a solution, every solution needs support.
The problems we face are urgent, complicated and resistant to change. Real solutions demand creativity, hard work and involvement from people like you.