Many companies are making ambitious pledges about getting to net-zero, meaning that by 2050 they will produce close to zero emissions and will offset the remaining. But while such ambitious targets are important, they can leave leaders unsure of where to even start. The good news is that nature already can act as a carbon sink to remove emissions from the atmosphere. Companies can take five steps: reduce deforestation; invest in land restoration; support the shift to more plant-intensive diets; invest in sustainable agricultural projects; and advocate for a nature-friendly policy from governments.
One in five of the world’s 2,000 largest publicly listed companies have now committed to a “net-zero” emissions target — meaning that by 2050 they will produce close to zero emissions and will offset the remaining. But while such ambitious targets are important, they can leave leaders unsure of where to even start. Simply put, the world needs to bring annual emissions down from the current 57 gigatons of CO2 to zero.
The good news is that the natural world already has many ways of reducing carbon in the atmosphere available today, and companies can start with these proven methods for turning nature into a carbon sink. In total, nature can bring 30% of the emissions reduction needed. Here are five impactful ways companies can incorporate nature into their climate plans.
Eliminating deforestation from supply chains and helping suppliers take action is an immediate and impactful action companies can take to reduce their contribution to nature-driven climate change. If the private sector works with governments to reach net zero deforestation by 2030, we could avoid 3.6 Gt of emissions annually according to conservative estimates, more than is emitted from fossil fuels every year by the EU.
Many emissions occur outside commercial value chains through activities like subsistence agriculture and natural disasters like forest fires. The recently launched $1 billion Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest Finance (LEAF) coalition gives companies a mechanism to go beyond their own supply chains and provide a financial incentive for governments to manage land more sustainably. This enables companies to display a new kind of corporate climate leadership, bolstering climate action by supplementing rigorous internal emission reduction plans.
Companies can also join platforms like the Tropical Forest Alliance and the Consumer Goods Forum forest positive coalition to drive greater impact by taking collective action across entire landscapes.
Increase carbon removals by restoring land.
We must both rapidly reduce carbon dioxide emissions and remove carbon from the atmosphere — at scale. Companies can do this by helping bring degraded forests back to health by planting trees alongside crops in agricultural fields or by restoring peatlands. These activities are attractive because of the co-benefits they bring, like employment opportunities for local communities, biodiversity conservation from restoring wildlife corridors, or improving water and soil quality within watersheds as ecosystems are brought back to health. This could remove 3.1 Gt of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Companies can find guidance on how to invest in a range of approaches, including carbon removal, through initiatives like the Natural Climate Solutions Alliance, run by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
Support the shift to more plant-intensive diets.
Agriculture — and particularly the meat industry — is increasingly recognized as one of the hardest sectors to cut emissions from. Consumers have a big role to play by shifting towards more plant-based diets. Companies can support this by developing their product ranges.
A recent report from the EAT Lancet Commission suggests that doubling our consumption of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and legumes while halving consumption of red meat could reduce the emissions of our current food systems trajectory by 4.8 Gt annually by 2050.
Invest in more sustainable agricultural practices.
We also need to change the way we grow food by using more regenerative practices, less fertilizer and reducing emissions from livestock. This can be achieved by increasing the use of cover crops, reducing our reliance on fossil-fuel based fertilizers, changing irrigation practices in rice production, and improving livestock feed. Collectively these actions could reduce emissions by 1 Gt annually by 2030.
These actions could shave a quarter off direct agricultural emissions, but require investment of $300-$350 billion annually by 2030. Companies need to begin investing now, for example in more R&D to identify undiscovered pathways to decarbonizing agriculture and creating new markets .
Advocate for nature-friendly policy.
With the upcoming UN biodiversity summit in October ahead of COP26, it is critical that business supports policy to drive greater action for both nature and climate. Companies can show their support for nature policy through Business for Nature and give governments the confidence to introduce incentives and regulation to enable a quick transition to new approaches for nature.
There is a clear imperative for companies to invest in nature now, both for helping achieve climate goals and creating a nature positive future. This will also improve the resilience and stability of supply chains and sources of raw materials, while improving rural livelihoods.
It’s time for companies to get ahead of the curve and invest in nature now.