Nature-based Solutions and “Chumamich”

It was an inspiring couple of weeks representing Point Blue Conservation Science for its first time as an official UN observer organization at the 2017 global climate meeting in Bonn, Germany in November.  Delegates from every country in the world gathered for COP23, the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The country representatives worked on developing the “rulebook” for implementing the 2015 Paris climate agreement to keep increases in global temperature well below 2°C or 3.6°F since the pre-industrial era.

But COP23 was much more than negotiating rules.  It truly was an enormous global conference with over 23,000 people attending from all levels of government, NGOs and businesses exchanging insights, progress and challenges.  I personally logged more than 4 miles a day just walking from one session or press conference to another across the huge venue along the Rhine River!

COP23 saw more inclusion of city and state voices (roughly 15 cities in the world are bigger than half of the UN countries combined, according to one presenter) and a new “Carbon-Free City Handbook” was released.  There was also a greater focus on women as climate action leaders (currently women make up less than 6% of all the mayors in the world and less than 15% of all legislators).

And, after more than four years of negotiations, the countries formally recognized that how we manage agricultural lands can be a significant part of the climate solution for carbon sequestration, water, biodiversity and other benefits.

The latest science indicates we will need dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas pollution and removal of warming gases from the atmosphere to get back to a safe climate by 2100 (<1C of warming and ~350 PPM CO2 in the atmosphere).  Natural climate solutions, including reforestation and climate-smart land management will be key to achieving these “negative emissions” goals as well as resilience and adaptation.

At a COP23 panel on this topic, Dr. Deborah Bossio of The Nature Conservancy, reported on a recent publication showing that natural climate solutions could make up more than 1/3 of the emissions reductions needed to stay below the 2°C warming limit by 2030 per the Paris accords.  She also reported on a new study she coauthored that better management of cropland soils could conservatively sequester up to 7 billion tons (Gt) of CO2e per year or about 18% of annual global emissions, while also providing food and water security.

COP23 featured multiple presentations and discussions on nature-based solutions to the climate crisis.  Barron Joseph Orr of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, spoke about “optimizing your land” and reminded us that “you can’t have biodiversity above ground unless it’s in the soil.”  Another panel featured Batio Brassiere, Minister of the Environment for Green Economy and Climate Change from Burkino Faso.  He explained how “agroecology can help save the environment, improve living conditions, increase productivity and remove carbon from the atmosphere.”  And, Inger Anderson, Director of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature summed it up when she said, “When you invest in nature, nature invests right back into our communities and resilience.”

I was honored to present on nature-based solutions as part of a panel about California’s innovative climate policies organized by The Nature Conservancy and held at the US Climate Action Center.  Panel participants were Louis Blumberg/TNC, Jonathan Parfrey/Climate Resolve, Nicolas Muller/UNFCCC, myself, and Ricardo Lara/CA State Senator (see photo below, left to right).

Other side events (there were many going on simultaneously) included one on a new certification for city planners to raise the qualifications and status of those who assess urban greenhouse gas emissions, develop climate action plans and guide their implementation.  Presenters from the World Bank, World Resources Institute and ICLEI Sustainable Cities talked about many of the same issues we seek to address in the natural climate solutions arena– from the need to implement an adaptive management approach for testing and improving efforts, to exploring approaches for scaling up and catalyzing more action locally, regionally and globally.

As Governor Brown concluded his talk on America’s (non-federal!) Pledge, “economy is rooted in ecosystems”…. and “we are not where we need to be to prevent catastrophic warming.” He stated emphatically that “we have to create a different consciousness about what it is to be a human being in the 21st century.”  He implored us, “Don’t be complacent. We face unprecedented threats to everything we hold dear. Be on the edge of your seat. Push yourself to the furthest degree. Billions of people are depending on us.”

Hilda Heine, the first woman President of the Marshall Islands, shared the meaning of the Fijian word “chumamich” – tenacity, determination, and resilience on a long sea voyage when tasked with ensuring the safety of the passengers to the end of the journey.

Working together with “chumamich,” we must each redouble our efforts to secure a healthy future for us all.

Note: See here for my blog post for more on COP23 outcomes.



Ellie Cohen, President and CEO of Point Blue Conservation Science since 1999, is a leader in catalyzing collaborative, nature-based solutions to climate change, habitat loss and other environmental challenges. She and Point Blue’s 160 scientists work with natural resource managers, ranchers, farmers, local governments and others to reduce the impacts of environmental change and develop climate-smart conservation approaches to benefit wildlife and people. Ellie is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Observer Organization representative for Point Blue. She is Immediate Past Chair and Steering Committee member of the CA Landscape Conservation Cooperative, an invited member of the SF Bay Area’s Resilient by Design Research Advisory Committee, and co-founder of the Bay Area Ecosystems Climate Change Consortium.  Ellie was honored with the Bay Nature 2012 Environmental Hero Award for her climate change leadership. Ellie received her undergraduate degree in Botany with honors at Duke University and an MPP from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government where she was honored with the first Robert F. Kennedy Public Service Award. She speaks regularly on the urgent need to include nature-based approaches in the climate change solutions toolbox.


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