OPINION: Nature-based solutions in Brazil are key to reaching global climate targets

by Robert Muggah | Igarapé Institute
Thursday, 9 June 2022 09:00 GMT

A tree is seen in a forest of wood extraction in the Amazon rainforest, inside Jamari National Forest Park in the County of Itapua do Oeste, Rondonia state, Brazil, September 28, 2021. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

While projects to protect ecosystems are promising, they won't achieve their full potential so long as clear-cutting and forest burning continue unabated

Robert Muggah is co-founder of the Igarapé Institute and the SecDev Group

Any hope of keeping global temperatures under 2C depends on the acceleration of radical climate action - including in the world’s forests.

Current approaches favor mitigation - reducing reliance on fossil fuels and curbing greenhouse gases - and adaptation to more frequent and intense shocks and stresses. The Nature Conservancy believes that nature-based solutions that revalue and protect forests are among the most powerful mitigation tools available. If rolled-out at scale, they could deliver up to a third of the reductions required to reach global net zero carbon targets.

Nature-based solutions maximize natural carbon sequestration and minimize emissions through conservation, restoration and improved management of forests, wetlands and grassland biomes. Interventions include protecting forests, smarter reforestation, fire management and peat restoration.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature says they can safeguard biodiversity and deliver adaptation benefits. Not everyone is onboard. Critics worry that nature-based solutions are dangerous since they facilitate land grabs by elites and amplify harmful practices if not disciplined by ethical standards.

While nature-based solutions are promising in theory, they are difficult to implement in practice, especially where the rule of law and property rights are tenuous. Undaunted, the private sector is already integrating nature-based solutions into corporate emissions reduction strategies, including in the forestry sector.

While appetite is growing for jurisdictional approaches to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) because national and subnational governments believe they can deliver transformational change at scale, project-based approaches are still worthwhile to test new methods, generate demonstration effects and hold governments to account.

Champions of nature-based solutions are determined to secure more investment from diverse investors. At the moment, over 90% of all financing - roughly $120 billion a year - comes from G20 countries, mostly from governments. Private capital kicks in a modest share, just $14 billion per year.

All this green talk will yield few benefits unless private investors lean-in. To put current spending on nature-based solutions in perspective, $14.5 trillion was spent by the world’s 50 leading economies to recover from COVID19 in 2020 alone. 

Brazil, home to 60 percent of all tropical forests, could benefit from nature-based solutions. The country was once an exemplar of conservation: deforestation was slashed by 80% between 2004 and 2012 owing to proactive action planning, the expansion of protected areas, tougher policing and REDD+ activities. The country started backsliding thereafter, reaching 15-year deforestation highs in 2021.

Deforestation spiked after the election of President Bolsonaro in 2018 when his administration scaled-back protections and incentivized land clearances. Interest in forest offsets is now growing, not least since it could help rescue Brasilia's tarnished reputation and increase access to foreign funding.

While Brazilian cities are ramping-up investment in nature-based solutions, the real prize is the country's vast forests and savannah. Notwithstanding enthusiasm, reports have emerged of REDD+ projects overstating claims of reductions in forest loss and carbon emissions. 

Nature-based solutions will not achieve their full potential so long as Brazilian clear-cutting and forest burning continues unabated. The Brazilian Amazon has lost millions of acres to fires over the past four years and the government is failing to deliver on its watered-down climate commitments.

Getting to carbon net zero and delivering solutions at scale depends not just on national and regional public authorities, but also the country's financial sector, environmental groups and local communities. 

It is no secret that Brazil is punching below its weight: it certifies just 5 million tons of carbon reductions a year yet has the potential to service 1.5 billion tons annually. With the price of carbon reaching over $100 per ton in European markets, tens of billions of dollars in credits are up for grabs.

But to achieve its full potential, a foundational shift in mindset starting with a recognition of the immense wealth generating potential of sustainable conservation.

A radical adoption of nature-based solutions is tricky in any society, not least those like Brazil that are hard-wired to the conceit that cutting down forests yields more value than sustainable agroforestry.

The transition to a greener, more innovative and inclusive economy will take work, including regulatory frameworks that deliver environmental safeguards, better land tenure security, stronger command-and-control and business class commitment. Green entrepreneurs and financial backers will need to follow the rules, commit cash to adopt green practices if they are going to leave their bad habits behind.