Climate change threatens our ecosystems and their precious biodiversity. But supporting them—through ‘nature based solutions’ (NBS) like afforestation and reforestation—can mitigate climate change via increased carbon sinks, and enhance resilience. While NBS is a powerful but largely neglected area of global climate action, EIT Climate-KIC has developed a suite of initiatives with systemic impact that integrate NBS and related strategies, such as granular-level urban greening, normalising climate resilience labelling for properties, scaling sustainable food production and reducing emissions through plant-based diets.
Global warming is the third biggest factor driving species extinction after changes in land and sea use and the direct exploitation of organisms, according to the report by the UN’s biodiversity science body IPBES. A hike in temperature of just 1°C has impacted life from the level of ecosystems to that of genetics. At 1.5°C to 2°C of warming—the goals of the Paris climate agreement—the report warns the ranges of most of the world’s species on land will shrink significantly.
Yet healthy ecosystems are imperative for the earth’s capacity to mop up C02. Our current ecosystems are currently absorbing 25 per cent of GHG emissions and a further 25 per cent of our GHG emissions are going into the oceans, which is causing ocean acidification. It’s been shown that some ecosystems act as better sponges than others. Coastal habitats, such as mangroves, sea grass and salt marshes can soak up carbon up to 40 times faster than tropical forests. Peatlands, which cover three per cent of the land surface, represent the largest terrestrial carbon store. In general, it has been estimated that so-called ‘nature based solutions,’ which benefit climate and biodiversity, could provide 40 per cent of the carbon emissions cuts needed by 2030 to give a decent chance of limiting warming below 2°C.
Additionally, biodiversity is essential for us to enhance resilience, particularly in urban environments that are predicted to expand rapidly over the next couple of decades. This could pose a number of challenges, which a focus on biodiversity could help to solve, not least addressing the loss of agricultural land that urbanisation is expected to result in with knock on consequences of having less land to produce more food to feed growing populations. The challenge is to manage urbanisation so that it’s sustainable, and innovation can play an important role to work towards achieving human well-being, and for biodiversity and ecosystem assets. If we embrace what we know about ecosystems, they can help cities address challenges climate change poses such as increased frequency of heatwaves and higher variation in precipitation. For example, we can use trees and vegetation to cool cities and ecosystems, and vegetation can also be used to reduce the risk of flooding.
Damage to biodiversity, therefore, limits the available options for—and the possibility of—meeting the climate mitigation targets defined in the Paris Agreement and reduces our resilience in the face of a changing climate. Yet they receive less than three per cent of climate funding.
What is EIT Climate KIC doing to address both biodiversity and climate change through systems innovation?
At EIT Climate KIC, we’ve long recognised the importance of ensuring continued global biodiversity as both a meaningful mitigation strategy for absorbing GHG emissions but also as an adaptation strategy for climate change in terms of ensuring ecosystem resilience and food security.
We therefore couple biodiversity with the climate change agenda across our portfolios of experiments and in our deep demonstration activities.
Examples of just a few activities in our current portfolio addressing the biodiversity climate change nexus include:
- Supporting NBS for advancing resilience. GREEN BOOST works to enhance the use of NBS in urban planning, applying an instrument called green factor (GF). The GF will be developed to enhance impact indicators including for biodiversity and promoted so that’s used for increasing urban green and supporting micro scale NBS, such as green roofs, rain gardens and versatile vegetation. Several cities in Sweden, Finland, Germany and the US have applied the tool. The City of Malmö has successfully applied the tool in Västra Hamnen and enhanced storm water management by green roofs and urban livability by lush courtyards. Due to positive outcomes, there’s a growing interest in—and a clear demand for—the tool and for its broader application from the site level to the city level. Currently, work is ongoing in two cities—Helsinki, Gothenburg—where the project will measure the potential impacts of GF on carbon storage, biodiversity and storm water management.
- Enhancing resilience and biodiversity by mitigating climate risk. Climate Resilience Labelling – Towards an EU Approach will develop a viable scaling model for climate resilience labeling in a pan-European context. The purpose of the labelling system will be to advise private house owners and local authorities (and potentially climate auditors) about climate risk (i.e. using a system akin to the well-known ‘energy label’). Using such a scoring system, users can be informed about the tangible benefits in terms of risk reduction (and reduced damage costs) that can be derived from, for example, investing in climate adaptation measures, including investments to enhance biodiversity either individually or collectively. As part of the scaling model, we aim to build a consortium for internationalisation and prototyping, which will include complementary international activities on climate resilience labelling such as the “Blue Label” developed by Dutch Insurer Achmea and the German “Hochwasserpass.”
- Supporting biodiversity by incentivising investments in ‘blue-green solutions’ (BGS). Blue Green Dream enhances the synergy between urban water systems (blue assets) and urban vegetated areas (green assets) and provides effective, multifunctional BGS. The project will develop a business model for BGS to prevent flooding and drought, and develop new forms of cooperation between private, public and civil stakeholders through a new financing instrument. The business model proposes that downstream landowners pay or, in other ways, compensate upstream landowners to maximize the water retention potential through NBS. The financing instrument is designed towards application through agreements between different landowners, both municipal and private. The project will be conducted in Gothenburg and western Sweden as test pilot and involve will private, public and civil stakeholders. The benefits of the model are those derived from the land and water policies’ primary aim, which is improving the water bodies’ status, controlling flood risks, reducing scarcity and droughts, etc. The indirect benefits include the positive outcomes on biodiversity, nutrient retention, creation of ground water and private and social benefits such as recreation, health and well-being.
- Groundwater management tool for mitigating aquifer pollution. AquiferCARe aims to protect freshwater by mitigating aquifer pollution and depletion, and to adopt to climate change, through the development of a groundwater management tool. It’ll also capture petrochemical pollutants that would otherwise be oxidised to CO2 over time. The demonstration will be implemented at a polluted site affected by strong groundwater variations due to climate. It’s a cooperation of Deltares, Arcadis, BioSoil Europe and Wetsus.
- Strengthening forests through innovative business models. Integrated Forest Management and Protection aims to protect and increase forests as carbon sinks and to transform forest management costs into profits by creating an economically and environmentally sustainable value chains, starting with the biomass removed by fire prevention actions.
- Supporting sustainable food production. Diversify the Plate aims to support the production of food in alternative food systems, especially in urban/peri-urban environments (rooftop gardening, community farms, zero acreage farming, seaweed cultivation, food forests, regenerative agriculture, etc); however, consumers will ultimately be the driving force for the long-term success and transformation of our food systems. By increasing consumers’ exposure to food grown in alternative food systems, especially unfamiliar, locally-grown foods, diets can be diversified and the sustainability of our food resources can be secured. The aim of this project is to make locally-produced food more attainable. The project will establish a consortium of interested EIT Climate-KIC partners, chefs, municipalities and scientists.
- Reducing carbon by leading people towards a plant-based diet. Innovating consumer behavior change: Leading people towards healthy and sustainable food works to change how and what people eat. Changing Western diets towards less meat-intensive options has the largest positive impact on climate and health of different options (Springmann et al. 2018). Shifting towards more plant-forward diets provides twofold benefits. First, it provides several environmental benefits, mostly contributing to mitigating climate change but also reducing water use, deforestation and biodiversity loss. Second, reduced meat consumption in Western diets also offer substantial health benefits and help prevent diet-related chronic non-communicable diseases (Tilman et al. 2014). In this Pathfinder project, we suggest exploring innovative business solutions that private sector companies can take in two specific areas. In Portugal, we’ll identify business solutions to increase the consumption of fruit and vegetables, with a special focus on a circular economy approach. In the UK, we’ll specifically look at diversifying the consumption of protein and lead people towards non-meat protein alternatives and thereby work to reduce the amount of meat consumed.
- Protecting the environment by reifying its value. SATURN – System and sustainable Approach to virTuous interaction of Urban and Rural LaNdscapes defines an approach that allows a totally different assessment of value, by noting all the inter-dependencies of social, economic and planetary well-being—with nature and landscapes; framed within an holistic vision with the intent of establishing a financially-sustainable initiative that creates value from and for sustainably managed land. The SATURN project will explore the landscapes and activities within the following areas: The metropolitan area of the city of Birmingham and its supporting regional landscape of the West Midlands Combined Authority, the cities of Trento and Gothenburg, and their supporting surrounding territories. These three hubs will test and amend this model approach to build a comprehensive landscape assessment framework to become a best practice template linking climate goals, SDGs and ecological principles that would deliver a holistic, systemic change for all future landscape interventions.
- Increasing sustainable landscape funding. The Landscape Finance Lab was approved in 2017 with the aim of launching a platform to unlock large funding for sustainable landscape initiatives and to systematically refine these new products for application more broadly in the land use and sustainable finance sectors. These involve minimum blended finance of 50M€/project (grant, loan, equity, guarantees and result based payments). Following up on the initiative started in 2016 by WWF and the successful incubation and piloting of first landscape programmes, the Lab is aiming to spin-off and become self-sustainable by 2019. It’ll support the development, financing and the impact monitoring of a portfolio of 20 projects by 2020 (i.e. around one billion euros of landscape investments). The Landscape Finance Lab´s mission is to harness blended finance (public and private) at scale for sustainable landscapes and deforestation-free supply chain solutions.