November 7, 2021

Opinion: The link between girls’ basic human rights and long-term resilience to climate shocks

by Kristen P. Patterson and Carissa Patrone—Drawdown Lift

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Paula Bronstein/Getty Images/Images of Empowerment

This article originally appeared on Race to Zero's website. Please read Drawdown Lift's latest brief—"Girls' Education and Family Planning"—for more information.

People around the world are anxiously waiting for crucial COP26 commitments to materialize that will engender the generational change that people and our planet desperately need. We’re also seeing glimmers of hope emerging from the rise of powerful voices of young people and Indigenous community leaders.

Again and again throughout our lives, we have been inspired by women from around the world who have too often been pushed to the margins of climate discussions. Oftentimes, these are the people most impacted by climate change and deserve a global platform for demanding action.

Securing gender equality and women’s full representation in vital negotiations about humanity’s future—like those happening at COP26—rely on fulfilling girls’ basic human rights. Some of those rights, such as a quality education and full bodily autonomy (including access to high-quality family planning and the ability to decide whether, when, with whom, and how many children to have), when secured, unleash immediate and enduring cascading benefits for human health and well-being across girls’ and women’s lifespans. It’s time to recognize that they also contribute to long-term climate adaptation and resilience to climate shocks and stressors.

Removing barriers to sexual and reproductive health services and to girls’ education are essential to accelerating climate adaptation and resilience. And yet, national climate plans and climate funding mechanisms don’t yet recognize and resource efforts to fund family planning and girls’ education as part of holistic approaches to adaptation and building resilience.

Project Drawdown is pleased to release a new policy brief, “Girls’ Education and Family Planning: Essential Components of Climate Adaptation and Resilience,” which makes the case for prioritizing family planning and girls’ education as effective long-term climate adaptation strategies. Both should be carefully integrated into climate deliberations, funding priorities, and country-level actions. We encourage you to download and explore the brief to learn more about incorporating girls’ education and family planning in climate adaptation and resilience, utilizing these strategies to help address women and girls’ distinct vulnerabilities, and compelling reasons for prioritizing girls’ education and family planning within national climate adaptation strategies and UNFCCC processes.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), MSI Reproductive Choices, and the Margaret Pyke Trust are co-hosting a high-level hybrid event Monday November 8 from 12:30–1:30 GMT at the Scottish Events Campus (Blue Zone) Shared Pavilion: Hall 4 # PV67, titled, “Removing barriers to health and education: An essential climate adaptation and resilience strategy.” In order to engage people around the world on this topic, the free event will be livestreamed (register here) and open to everyone—not just COP26 delegates. Speakers will include Ministers from Burkina Faso and Denmark along with panelists from Finland, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sudan, and more. The event will highlight evidence and examples of how climate change affects women and girls, and the importance of reproductive choice and girls’ education in adaptation efforts and resilience building. Practitioners working at the nexus of sexual and reproductive health and rights and climate will also share best-practice recommendations and strategies—please join us in listening and learning about how to better support women and girls around the globe for a safer, more equitable 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. A mountain lion caught on a trail cam at Headwaters Forest Reserve. Photo: Bureau of Land Management. 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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November 4, 2021
Cascading benefits: How today’s system of climate solutions can help bring about a regenerative future for all
by Chad Frischmann, senior director, Drawdown Solutions
Making a difference in climate is all about building coalitions and working collaboratively. Bringing together as many and as wide a variety of stakeholders as possible to work hand in hand is the best—perhaps the only—way to truly move the needle on a problem of this magnitude. This is a Race to Zero, and we must link arms to get on track and achieve the 1.5°C climate target. Of course, that is easier said than done. Getting everyone into the same room is hard enough; getting them to agree on a plan and move collectively at scale has proven nearly impossible to date. Climate change is an existential threat the likes of which we’ve never faced before, and it has been politicized to such a degree that even mentioning it can shut down dialogue with many of the people, industries, and institutions that contribute to it most. To bring everyone on board, we need to stop focusing so much on the cascade of destruction that climate change may create and start talking about something else: the cascading benefits that climate solutions can bring to human and planetary well-being. The cascading benefits of climate solutions In 2008, I took a sabbatical from my doctoral research on institutional change to backpack through sub-Saharan Africa. There, I experienced firsthand the intimate relationship between people and the planet. The rich biodiversity and vibrant cultures I encountered filled me with a new sense of joy and passion for the world I lived in. But I also witnessed extreme poverty, malnutrition, and the degradation of precious ecosystems—an all-too-powerful reminder that environmental devastation and human inequality go together, both products of a long history of exploitation and an economic system that benefits few at the expense of many. Since then, I’ve dedicated my life and research to working at the nexus of human rights, the environment, and sustainable development—all issues at the front lines of the climate crisis. Rising global temperatures and their effects on our natural and economic systems exacerbate preexisting challenges and create new ones. Thus, it is no surprise that climate change does, and will continue to do, disproportionately harm to economically disadvantaged communities, Indigenous peoples, women and girls, people of color, and the Earth’s unique biodiversity. Yet, there is another side to the story. A growing body of research has demonstrated that climate solutions—technologies and practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions—can help reduce, if not eradicate, hunger, poverty, inequality, and many other deep-seated issues that grip our world. In fact, as my colleagues and I outlined in a recent paper, the 82 climate solutions we evaluated at Project Drawdown as a “system of solutions” to stop global warming have 2,647 beneficial links to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These cascading co-benefits include ensuring future food security, providing abundant access to clean energy, preserving and restoring life on land and in the oceans, improving gender equality, and ensuring inclusive economic growth for all. When we add in the potential of $80–115 trillion of economic savings from this system of solutions by 2050, the way forward is pretty obvious. Take, for example, the way humanity produces and consumes food. About 24 percent of global annual emissions are generated from the Food, Agriculture, and Land Use sector. Land conversion for food production is the largest contributor to deforestation. Modern agriculture degrades soil productivity and turns land into a net emitter of greenhouse gases. We demand increasing amounts of animal proteins to the point of vastly overconsuming this high-emitting, resource-intensive commodity, particularly in the richer parts of the world. Yet up to 40 percent of all food produced is lost or wasted across the supply chain, resulting in an additional 8-10 percent of global greenhouse gases from all energy and resources used to produce that waste. All the while, 800 million people around the world are going hungry. There is an alternative, simpler story to tell. Research shows that by (1) implementing regenerative agriculture, which restores soil productivity and sequesters carbon; (2) adopting a resource-, and emissions-efficient, plant-rich diet; and (3) cutting food loss and waste by at least half, we could not only put a 300- to 420-gigaton dent in atmospheric greenhouse gases in 30 years, but also produce enough food to feed the world’s growing population a healthy, nutrient-rich diet without shortage on current farmland. That means there would be no need to cut down forests for farms and pastures. This is what I mean by cascading benefits: the solutions to climate change are the same as the solutions to food security, public health, ecosystem and biodiversity preservation, and improved livelihoods. Climate change aside, these are the things we need to do to create a society that serves and respects all people. So perhaps it’s time to stop calling them “climate solutions” and call them what they really are: human solutions. Toward a regenerative future for humanity This is why I believe that climate change offers perhaps the greatest opportunity humanity has ever had: the opportunity to create a future that benefits all. We can shift the way we do business from an inherently exploitative, extractive system to a new normal that is by nature restorative and regenerative. The science is clear. This “regenerative future” is within reach with today’s technology and expertise. What we need is the wherewithal to get it done. And that requires that we change the narrative around many of the world’s most difficult problems from one of fear and apathy to one of solutions and possibility. Doing so will bring the financial capital, political will, and public interest to move forward with the speed necessary to avert disaster. Actually, there’s one more thing we need: Partnership. Climate solutions inform and reinforce each other in myriad and complex ways. Only by approaching them as an integrated system and implementing them in parallel around the world can we unlock their true potential to create a future that benefits humanity and the planet.. This “system of solutions” can only be realized through broad-based, effective local, regional, and international collaboration that connects governments, businesses, financial institutions, communities, and individuals. By building inclusive coalitions that foster participatory engagement, and by actively embedding equity and social justice principles in the implementation of all climate solutions, we can help achieve all 17 SDGs and address today’s deep, systemic inequalities—all while halting global warming and preventing the worst effects of climate change. This is the regenerative future I dream of; this is the power and the enormous potential of the cascading benefits of climate solutions.
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October 27, 2021
The Powerful Role of Household Actions in Solving Climate Change
by Chad Frischmann and Crystal Chissell
Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects. – The Dalai Lama Everyone can play a role in solving climate change. There are real actions we all can take, starting today, to get us on a pathway to real system change that benefits humanity and the planet. The magnitude of the challenge we are collectively facing requires action from all levels—from our governments, businesses and institutions, communities, and every one of us in our personal lives and homes. So where do we start? According to the most recent global surveys by Yale University on international public opinion on climate change, the majority or vast majority in all 31 surveyed countries say that they: think climate change is happening are “very” or “somewhat” worried about it think it will harm them personally either “a great deal” or a “moderate amount” need at least a little more information about it  High-income countries in North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region are home to a minority of the world’s population but have contributed the most climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions. Appropriately, citizens in those countries are more concerned than ever about their personal impact on climate change and are willing to change how they live and work, according to a September 2021 survey by the Pew Research Center. One challenge is that most of us are understandably unsure which actions are most impactful in solving climate change. Even individuals who believe they understand which actions are most impactful are often incorrect. As you join the climate action that is already underway, it’s important to understand which of your personal actions can have an impact. Fortunately, there is a science-backed, data-driven list of solutions that can guide you. Drawdown Solutions, the solutions research arm of Project Drawdown, has led years of data collection and analysis by scholars around the world to identify and characterize more than 90 currently available technologies and practices that have a direct impact on greenhouse gases, are scientifically validated, and are economically viable. Results of this work were initially published in the New York Times best-selling book Drawdown and have influenced university curricula, city climate plans, commitments by businesses, community action, philanthropic strategy, and more. The foundation of Project Drawdown’s analysis is extensive and complex mathematical modeling that uses data from thousands of scientific sources to predict the potential of identified climate solutions to reach drawdown—the point when atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases begin to decline. This analysis and modeling tell us the impact these solutions have on the atmosphere, their bottom-line financial implications, their global applicability, and what beneficial co-benefits they offer to society and the environment. Indeed, the Drawdown Solutions analysis reveals that individual and household actions have the potential to produce roughly 25–30 percent of the total emissions reductions needed to avoid dangerous climate change (>1.5°C rise). That is a lot higher than most people realize. It’s because we as individuals and households are a part of a broader economic system currently reliant on fossil fuels, from the food we buy, to the electricity we use, to the buildings we live in. While the vast majority of global emissions (70–75 percent) can be reduced directly by the decisions of those who run businesses, utilities, buildings, and governments, our choices as consumers, energy users, tenants, and voters have direct impact in their own right and can affect those decisions by sending signals across the system. So rather than being laden with blame and guilt, we should be owning our power to make change. From the more than 90 specific, definitive, science-backed solutions Project Drawdown has identified, we have distilled a list of 20 high-impact climate actions that individuals and households in high-income countries can take and that together could reduce up to 25 percent of future greenhouse gases:
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