September 22, 2021

Opinion: Desperate for hope? Linking human well-being and climate solutions is a way forward

by Yusuf Jameel, Carissa Patrone, and Kristen P. Patterson

This article originally appeared on New Security Beat.

If raging wildfires, extreme drought, and superstorms haven’t made it clear, the latest IPCC report tells us in plain language: the world is poised for worsening climate impacts over the next 30 years. The report’s release—during an unprecedented pandemic and natural disasters that magnify the connections between climate, health, livelihoods, and human well-being—is a grim reminder of the fragility of life on Earth. There is hope, however: the winding links between climate, health, and well-being also present tremendous opportunities. What if, collectively, thought leaders, negotiators, practitioners, and policymakers in the climate, health, business, and international development communities could do a better job of advancing solutions that address these crises simultaneously? When climate, poverty alleviation, and human well-being are addressed together, a vision of a better future emerges like a beacon in the night.

Leaders from high-income countries—the source of most global emissions to date—reacted to the IPCC report with talk of bold actions, better collective efforts, and a renewed commitment toward decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to cleaner energy.

At the same time, low-and middle-income countries (LMICs) and island nations—all of which are extremely vulnerable to climate change—continue to demand compensation, support, and rapid reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from industrialized nations. Last month, Muhammad Nasheed (ex-president of Maldives) said that the world should not forget “the fundamental injustice at the heart of this emergency.”

Given that LMICs are the most severely impacted by climate change—a scenario for which they are not responsible—it is important to ask how advocates ranging from youth leaders to government policymakers can build bridges that address climate change and the injustice of the climate emergency together.

People and institutions have historically avoided linking climate solutions and human well-being, but understanding how climate change compounds the risks facing the world’s most vulnerable populations is critical to understanding where the solutions lie. Recognizing this, Drawdown Lift—a program of our nonprofit Project Drawdown—was launched to identify and elevate “win-win” opportunities where initiatives and policies are making that critical connection. For more than three billion people—about half of the global population living in emerging economies—tackling climate change has become synonymous with addressing human rights, justice, and equity.

Centering basic human needs

Projections show climate change impacts to people in LMICs will be incredibly severe—hundreds of millions more people will experience poverty and food shortages, while nearly two billion people could face water shortages. Given emerging economies’ extensive reliance on natural resources and the environment for economic productivity, the GDP of some countries, like Madagascar, Nigeria, and Bangladesh, could shrink by more than 10 percent in the face of climate change. Lacking access to vital resources (including technology and finance), LMICs are already struggling to protect themselves from climate impacts that are likely to intensify

Upholding and protecting basic human needs must remain at the heart of all climate justice work. One year after cyclone Ida hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, tens of thousands were still without access to basic sanitation, adequate shelter, food, and healthcare. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change extend beyond the shock of extreme weather events. Deteriorating human well-being due to climate impacts often leads to more environmental damage. In the Sundarbans of India and Bangladesh—one of the largest mangrove forests in the world—frequent superstorms led to a decrease in agricultural lands due to crop destruction and loss of property. More than 70 percent of people there live below the poverty line and access to health care, clean water and sanitation, electricity, education, and food is limited. Frequent job losses have led to rapid deforestation as people resort to selling timber that can fetch high prices. Due to ongoing destruction of life-saving, carbon-storing mangrove forests by cyclones and timber harvesting, the Bengal Basin—–one of the most densely populated regions in the world—–has become even more vulnerable to powerful storms.

Hard-won Hope

Despite continuous global climate injustices and heartbreaking facts and figures, the IPCC report presents a ray of hope. Through coordinated efforts and cooperation, we can stabilize the global temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But this isn’t possible without climate-informed solutions that also meet the essential human needs of the approximately half of the global population that live in LMICs.

If emerging economies aren’t supported in their efforts to pursue climate-smart development pathways, they will resort to building and maintaining electricity and transportation systems that rely on fossil fuels. Unless significant financial and technological impetus is provided to the renewable energy sector, most of the new electricity generation in Africa by 2030 will be fossil fuel based which will hinder achieving drawdown. Both the population and economy of Africa is projected to grow at the fastest rate of any region in the coming decades. Access to energy is a fundamental right of all people, and it is the responsibility of historical carbon emitters to support emerging economies in deploying clean energy to meet their fundamental human needs, grow their economies, and boost the health of their populations.

Climate and poverty alleviation champions, local community members and experts worldwide must hold their leaders accountable—across the private sector, government, business, and NGO communities—for ensuring that LMICs have the resources needed to adapt to extreme weather while also implementing climate solutions as quickly as possible. To the high-income nations that agreed to provide $100 billion in annual funding to LMICs in support of clean energy and climate adaptation—where is the money? We should all feel the urgency to support communities bearing the brunt of climate impacts—both in our neighborhoods and across our global community. It’s time to integrate and uplift solutions that address human well-being and climate change, centering those most impacted, as we chart the course for a safer, more equitable future. It’s time to build a world where everyone has the chance to thrive.

Yusuf Jameel, PhD, is a multidisciplinary environmental scientist with experience in water resources, public health, big data analytics, and science communication. As the Research Manager for Drawdown Lift, Yusuf leads research and analysis into win-win solutions that address climate change and improve human well-being.

Carissa Patrone, MPA is a passionate connector who enjoys finding and amplifying the interconnectedness and synergies of all things. Carissa is the Program Coordinator of Drawdown Lift, where she advances partnership engagement and written communications that support the intersection of climate solutions, improvement of human well-being, and poverty alleviation. 

Kristen P. Patterson, MS, MPH is an innovative leader focused on finding equitable solutions to global challenges that improve people’s lives. As the director of Drawdown Lift, Kristen leads efforts to advance climate solutions that improve human well-being and alleviate poverty in emerging economies in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

Sources: Amnesty International, BBC, Government of India, Government of West Bengal, GreenBiz, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Nature Energy, News Laundry, Project Drawdown, United Nations, United Nations Development Program.

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December 22, 2021
Drawdown Labs year in review: accelerating the moment of drawdown
by Drawdown Labs team
To be a business climate leader in the 21st century, doing incrementally “less harm,” relying on offsets, and making far-off emissions reductions commitments no longer make the grade. And while the U.S. Congress repeatedly fails to lead on climate, the private sector must dramatically level up its ambition and action. We need a new definition of business climate leadership, one that not only dramatically reduces emissions, but also mobilizes capital, skills, and technologies—as well political and cultural influence—to scale climate solutions, quickly, safely, and equitably in the broader world.  Drawdown Labs engages businesses, investors, and philanthropies to take bolder and more expansive climate action. Below are key highlights of our 2021 work and impact. This year: We worked to make every job a climate job. We published Climate Solutions at Work, a how-to guide for employees poised to help companies take bolder climate action—encouraging every employee to find their inroad. The guide introduced a framework for the drawdown-aligned business, an ambitious new north star for the private sector. We presented this new framework to over 700 employees (across hundreds of businesses) in the last two months alone, and shared with many more via social and press (enjoy features in Fast Company and GreenBiz).  We built community and shared tangible steps to grow climate engagement at work. In a collaboration with The All We Can Save Project, we launched an expanded edition of All We Can Save Circles, specifically designed to help employees foster dialogue and action around climate in their workplaces. To celebrate the launch, our organizations hosted a virtual event with 450 attendees across dozens of organizations and industries. (Join our Slack community, today!)  Collaborating with our partners to develop job-specific playbooks for climate action, including a guide for marketing teams at a large tech company to integrate climate action into their jobs. We spread the word about climate solutions by: Advocating for climate action—and the private sector’s role in scaling solutions—far and wide: on CNN, The Weather Channel, and the Second Transition and Your World, Your Money podcasts. We also publicly challenged companies in various outlets, while we supported our committed business partners to accelerate their action. Facilitating crucial knowledge sharing of solutions and bringing in the experts. Our partner Google presented to the Drawdown Labs consortium on the impact of their 24/7 Carbon Free Energy (CFE) initiative, inspiring others to learn more and take related action at their own companies through the recently launched Carbon Free Energy Compact. Providing insights to dozens of philanthropies, startups, and impact investors on the most impactful climate solutions, helping build awareness of and shape strategies for—much-needed climate financing. We convened private-sector partners to help galvanize outsized impact by: Partnering with ENGIE Impact, Rare, Count Us In, and Netflix's "Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet” to collaborate on a new platform for individuals to identify the solutions that resonate most in their own lives and calculate the positive impacts those choices make. Project Drawdown’s own Chad Frischmann and Crystal Chissell also published an article on individual and household climate action, encouraging adoption of these solutions. Bringing together Intuit, Aspiration, and Copia to launch Intuit’s Climate Action Marketplace, enabling small businesses to take climate action. 75 percent of small businesses believe environmental sustainability is important to the future of the economy, and because small businesses comprise 90 percent of the global business population, Intuit’s new marketplace is harnessing a massive and untapped opportunity for collective climate action. We utilized private-sector influence to help the world achieve drawdown by: Sending a message to Congress and state legislators that the private sector supports bold climate policy. Drawdown Labs business partners signed a joint letter in support of the climate provisions in the Build Back Better Act—a crucial piece of climate legislation that passed in the House in November with the help of vocal private sector support, despite experiencing serious setbacks in the Senate this week. We also worked with our partner Allbirds to express public support for California’s Senate Bill 260, the Climate Corporate Accountability Act, which would require all U.S.-based businesses in California with over $1 billion in gross annual revenue to report their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and set science-based emissions reduction targets.  In 2022, you can help expand our work to leverage the influence of the private sector and make every job a climate job. Read Climate Solutions at Work, the employee guide to the drawdown-aligned business  Start a workplace-focused All We Can Save Circle Sign up for our newsletter ​Support the work of Project Drawdown  Stay tuned for more from Drawdown Labs in the new year.
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December 14, 2021
Collaboration for climate action—insights from the inaugural Drawdown Lift Advisory Council
by Christina Kwauk, Glory Oguegbu, Ndola Prata, and Carissa Patrone (Drawdown Lift)
The inaugural Drawdown Lift Advisory Council is made up of 15 members who shape, guide, and inform Drawdown Lift’s research on the links between climate change solutions, poverty alleviation, and human well-being—particularly in emerging economies in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Council members include innovative and talented academic researchers, thought leaders, advocates, and development practitioners who have a variety of topic-area expertise and a passion for working in a multidisciplinary manner to address the world’s dual equity and climate crises. Collectively, Council members working in 11 different countries offer insights about: food security and nutrition ​conservation and natural resource management gender women’s health girls’ education ​sustainable energy ​the demographic dividend reproductive health planetary health poverty alleviation and development economics ​and climate resilience  Here, three new Council members—Christina Kwauk, Glory Oguegbu, and Ndola Prata—share thoughts  on bridging the gap through collaboration and innovation, collective and individual reach, and embracing the complexity of working together to address climate change.  While working to advance climate solutions and research, Council members will apply their diverse expertise to forward climate work that is intersectional and challenges various systems of oppression. For example, examining how climate action is financed—and how the impact of such action is measured—not only informs programming and action on the ground, but also lifts up the need for a better understanding of how various global systems can advance climate solutions that provide cascading benefits while addressing barriers to climate action and resilience.  “One of the things that drew me to the Drawdown Lift Advisory Council,” says education leader Christina Kwauk, “is that this sort of effort between such diverse sectors really reflects the kind of cross-sectoral, holistic, systemic work that needs to happen for the kinds of social transformations—even before many technical changes—we’d like to see.”  Part of the Council’s collaborative action encourages better policies and support for communities who have been (and continue to be) the most impacted by climate change, particularly rural communities in low- and middle-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Award-winning development entrepreneur and youth advocate Glory Oguegbu says that the Council’s work encourages “better decisions that are informed.” She emphasizes that this sort of informed decision-making translates to better policies that incorporate real-world climate impacts on communities and changing climate trends as part of the whole. Bridging the gap Only through collaboration and collective action can climate stakeholders bridge glaring gaps and support the world in reaching “drawdown”—the point in the future when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline, thereby stopping catastrophic climate change. Drawdown Lift Council members share knowledge and best practices to establish better avenues for collaboration, exciting new opportunities, and stronger networks for future action.    An important goal of this collaborative climate work is to foster a deeper level of system self-awareness and bridge-building to address misconceptions and foster healthier systems that work for everyone, everywhere. Encouraging governments, donors, and philanthropies to fund and finance action in intersectional ways helps foster climate action that addresses problems that communities are facing today. For example, programs focused on agriculture can more deeply examine the intersections between population, health, and education within their work, and partner with folks that value holistic action.   Collective and individual power  Individual and collective action must go hand-in-hand—everyone has a role to play when it comes to climate solutions. Ndola Prata, public health physician and academic thought leader, says that despite being an expert in one area, she can make her role “more impactful if we synergize with other disciplines and collaborate together.” By working together across disciplines, she says, groups can achieve more ambitious goals that make better sense to more people.  When thinking about achieving climate and planetary health solutions, stakeholders must be mindful about how they choose to magnify a solution or action. For example, as a collective, the Drawdown Lift Advisory Council can forward rights-based action and research through the lens of women and girls as climate leaders and solutionists—especially when they have equitable access to high-quality education, sexual and reproductive health and rights, land tenure, and decision-making.  Council members can contextualize and promote the most relevant climate information for their communities, sharing tools that foster a deeper understanding of current and local climate impacts, and ways to forward solutions that prioritize long-term climate-resilience.  Oguegbu says, when starting her journey as a climate advocate, she was “confused a lot of the times when I was reading about climate change, because many of the things that I saw did not apply to me as a Nigerian living in this part of the world.” Hearing about declining polar bear populations, extinctions, and melting ice didn’t resonate. “So,” she says, “I tried to think about how I could promote climate change to the people in my country because they couldn't understand this—I began to study ways that climate change affected me.”   Embracing challenges and complexity together  Climate change—one of the most complex challenges of our lifetime—will continue to negatively impact every sector and community on Earth without collective action. Prata would like to “open up, quite a bit, the perspective on how to look at these issues—not to shy away because ‘it’s too complex for us to tackle’ but to appreciate the complexity” of working together to implement numerous climate solutions.  When a diverse group of climate actors from a variety of disciplines work together, opportunities to influence, listen to, and include future generations of climate professionals multiply. COP26, the 2021 UN Climate Conference, showed the world how modern climate work often fails to  address disproportionate impacts and highlight stark inequities within resource allocation.  “If we’re talking about the need to address poverty, underlying structures of inequity, systems of oppression, and so on,” says Kwauk, education expert, “then we need to bring together diverse actors working on little pieces of those very complex problems.” It’s the way to create opportunities for people to achieve a higher quality of life and reach their full potential, no matter who they are or where they live. Drawdown Lift’s inaugural Advisory Council will continue to embrace the challenges of systemic, holistic, and multidisciplinary climate action—and the complexity that comes along with it—as a way to advance long-lasting, relevant, and equitable solutions for a safer future.   
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December 6, 2021
The win-wins of climate and biodiversity solutions
by Paul C. West
What’s better for plants and wildlife is better for the climate. But where do we start to accomplish the best results? This story was originally published by The Revelator.  The climate is changing, and species are going extinct faster than any time since civilization began. The two crises are not independent. That’s good news—it means there are solutions that benefit both biodiversity and climate. Nature is already our best defense against runaway increases of greenhouse gas emissions. Earth’s lands and waters currently absorb about 40 percent of the carbon dioxide human activity and natural processes release into the atmosphere. That can’t continue, though, without our oceans acidifying and plants reaching the limit of what they can absorb. As an ecologist, I’ve spent nearly three decades working to conserve biodiversity within landscapes largely managed for food and goods production. Now, as special projects director at Project Drawdown, I study how climate solutions can benefit the planet’s biodiversity. Through all of this work, I’ve found that many climate-friendly initiatives also help with conservation. Although some solutions can come with costs or tradeoffs to plants and animals, what’s better for biodiversity is generally better for climate. That means protecting and restoring nature needs to be a critical part of an all-of-the-above set of solutions for reducing the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Stopping or slowing habitat loss, for example, is good for biodiversity and the climate. Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air to grow, and a portion of that carbon is stored in plants and soil. Habitat loss releases the carbon stored in soil and plants, so it’s a major source of emissions. Tropical deforestation alone, mostly to clear land for agriculture, accounts for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If deforestation were a country, it would be the third biggest greenhouse gas emitter, trailing only China and the United States. Climate solutions can also enhance nature’s role as a carbon sink — its ability to store carbon. A complex habitat structure supports more species and stores more carbon at a greater rate. Protecting, restoring and enhancing biodiversity on managed lands all enhance sinks. In other words, protecting natural habitat both reduces production of greenhouse gases and boosts nature’s ability to sock them away. But with so many ecosystems under threat, and the climate crisis getting worse by the day, where do we start? Protect What’s Left To achieve the most benefits for both biodiversity and the climate, we must start by protecting the Earth’s remaining intact ecosystems. Protecting all remaining habitat is, of course, important, but destroying intact areas disproportionately affects species loss compared to further destroying fragmented areas. And clearing and degrading intact areas is also a double whammy for climate. The existing carbon stock is emitted and the habitat’s ability to act as a sink is lost. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving—except it keeps on taking away. And the impact compounds over time—when you include the foregone sequestration, the carbon impact over a decade of clearing tropical forest can be six times higher than the immediate emissions alone. Intact areas have more carbon in the vegetation and soils and a higher species diversity than degraded areas. Intact areas are also better carbon sinks. They store carbon at a faster rate than degraded areas. For example, nearly a fifth of the world’s forests are legally protected, yet they store more than a quarter of the carbon accumulated across all forests every year. But protection is not on pace with loss. Forest protected areas almost doubled from 1992 to 2015, from 16.6 to 32.7 thousand square miles. During that same time, nearly 200,000 square miles were deforested. If you had a gap like this between savings and withdrawals in your bank account, you would — and should — be very, very worried. We need to accelerate the rate of designating new protected areas. Protected areas need not be parks. In fact, many of them shouldn’t be parks. Indigenous communities play an essential role in protecting biodiversity and reducing the threat of climate change around the world. Areas managed by Indigenous people are commonly more intact than neighboring private and public lands. Securing land and water rights for Indigenous communities is not just good for nature. It helps protect identity and sovereignty. Restore What We Can So what about habitats that have been altered by human activity? They’re still important. Restoring disturbed lands and waters to a natural state boosts their ability to conserve biodiversity and increases their potential to suck carbon from the atmosphere and store it in vegetation and soils. Restorations generally have lower species diversity and a simpler structure than intact ecosystems and are not as effective at storing carbon. However, they’re an essential part of recovering ecosystems where only small fragments remain, such as the grasslands of North America, Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, Mediterranean forests and scrublands in North America, Europe, and Africa, and dry forests of Asia. Unfortunately, the list of endangered ecosystems is much longer than those few examples. Restorations also are less beneficial than protecting intact land from a climate perspective, since carbon accumulates slowly over decades or hundreds of years. And we can’t assume that today’s acorns will become tomorrow’s oak trees—or, if they do, that those trees will escape harvest, natural disasters or pest outbreaks long enough to serve as meaningful carbon sinks or legitimate sources of carbon offset credits. Enhance Biodiversity on Working Lands Of course, not all lands can remain natural. We need space for farms, wood production, roads, homes and businesses. Croplands and rangelands cover 38% of all land on Earth. Forests cover about another third of the land, of which 60 percent is managed for timber and other forest products. That means about 58% of all ice-free land is used to produce food and forest products. Several climate solutions that can be implemented on agricultural lands, such as agroforestry and managed pastures, also benefit biodiversity. Although these solutions may provide smaller benefits at the scale of a farm field or forest stand, a little bit of change everywhere can add up to a lot of carbon stored and locally provide species diversity, habitat structure, and ecosystem function. Ocean-based solutions exist too, and researchers are learning more about how they benefit both biodiversity and climate. Targeting Actions Each ton of carbon is equally important. The potential avoided emissions and carbon stored for several solutions are summarized in two key publications, The Drawdown Review and Natural Climate Solutions. For biodiversity, some land, water and coastlines are more important than others. How much land and water do we need to protect biodiversity? Truth is, we don’t really know. But very basic rules are true: More is better, bigger is better, more connected is better, and more geographically and climatologically diverse is better. Initiatives like the Global Safety Net lay out a roadmap for conserving biodiversity, maintaining highly productive agricultural lands, and stabilizing climate by protecting or managing 50 percent of all ice-free land on Earth. Other efforts have identified critical areas (or frameworks) for protecting marine and freshwater biodiversity. (Potentially Huge) Bonus Points Several other climate solutions can indirectly benefit biodiversity. For example, shifting to plant-based diets, reducing food waste, and sustainably intensifying food production on smallholder farms all reduce the need to expand agricultural lands, the biggest cause of habitat loss and degradation. When these solutions are implemented, agriculture’s land footprint would not only stop expanding—it could shrink. The land used for grazing or growing animal feed could instead be used to restore ecosystems or to produce fiber and fuel. Big or Small, It Takes All We need all efforts, big and small, to solve the biodiversity and climate crises. Yes, we need a concerted effort among governments, companies and investors for transformational change. But individual efforts, from managing a small fish farm in a mangrove forest to protecting tiny prairie remnants, matter too. Small changes accumulate and help shift the social norm of what we expect from our neighbors, CEOs and presidents. An all-in, all-of-the-above approach is essential. All we need are the incentive and motivation to start.
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