December 6, 2021

The win-wins of climate and biodiversity solutions

by  Paul C. West

pexels-ray-bilcliff-2055389.jpg

Photo by Ray Bilcliff from Pexels

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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June 27, 2022
Project Drawdown updates world’s leading set of climate solutions—adding 11 new solutions for addressing the climate crisis
by Mary Hoff
Five years ago Project Drawdown published a collection of “drawdown solutions,” technologies and practices that, if ambitiously implemented together, can achieve 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. A newly released update of this landmark analysis adds 11 new solutions and confirms with even more clarity and conviction that humanity has the solutions needed to reach drawdown quickly, safely, efficiently, and equitably. The update lays the groundwork for Project Drawdown’s next major effort: developing and helping to activate strategies for implementing climate solutions that also benefit human well-being, biodiversity, and more. Businesses, funders, organizations, and individuals are encouraged to use the updated solutions set as a resource for making wise choices as to how to direct their climate solutions efforts. Currently Available, Readily Scalable To assess the possibilities for putting the brakes on climate change, experts in fields from oceanography to mechanical engineering and artificial intelligence modeled the greenhouse gas and economic impacts of adopting currently available and readily scalable technologies and practices under two levels of adoption that roughly correspond to limiting warming to 2°C and 1.5°C, respectively. They updated the existing solutions by incorporating new population growth models and new data for 16 of the solutions (all 13 Transportation sector solutions, Family Planning and Education, Plant-Rich Diets, and Reduced Food Waste). They also added 11 new solutions assessing strategies for reducing greenhouse gases related to ocean resources, methane management, and materials manufacturing and use.  All solutions are based on an extensive analysis of the scientific literature and sophisticated modeling and share six key traits that set them apart from other sets of climate mitigation strategies. They 1) are currently available, 2) are growing in scale, 3) are financially viable, 4) are able to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere, 5) have a net positive impact, and 6) are quantifiable under different scenarios.  New Solutions The 11 new solutions focus on oceans, agriculture, methane, and materials: Seaweed Farming – Seaweed farming is one of the most sustainable types of aquaculture. Expanding seaweed farming enhances carbon sequestration and boosts production of biomass that can be used for biofuel, bioplastic, livestock feed, and human consumption. Macroalgae Protection and Restoration – Macroalgae forests are among the most productive ecosystems on Earth. Protecting and restoring those habitats, enhances carbon sequestration in the deep sea.  Improved Fisheries – Improved fisheries involves reforming and improving the management of wild-capture fisheries to reduce excess effort, overcapitalization, and overfishing. This can reduce fuel usage and rebuild fish populations.  Improved Aquaculture – Aquaculture is one of the fastest-growing animal food sectors. Because some aquaculture systems are highly energy intensive, ensuring that part of the on-site energy consumption is based on renewable resources would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Seafloor Protection – Vast amounts of carbon stored in seafloor sediments risk release by bottom-trawling fishing. Bottom-trawling bans and establishment of Marine Protected Areas can protect this important carbon sink. Improved Cattle Feed – Optimizing cattle feeding strategies can lower the methane emissions produced within the ruminant digestive system. Nutrient-enriched diets of high-quality forages, additives, and supplements aim to improve animal health and productivity. Improved Manure Management – Livestock manure produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Advanced technologies and practices for managing manure can reduce the adverse climate impact of animal agriculture. Methane Leak Management – Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is emitted during the production and transport of oil and natural gas. Managing methane emissions can reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Recycled Metals – Metals are extracted from nonrenewable ores. Recycled metals capitalize on already extracted materials—making it possible to produce goods more efficiently, reduce the need to extract new resources, and cut down on energy and water use.  Recycled Plastics – Recycling plastics requires less energy than producing new materials, saves landfill space, reduces environmental pollution, and decreases demand for fossil-fuel-based raw materials. Reduced Plastics – Plastic production has grown tremendously over the past century, mainly for short-term use. Reducing the amount of plastic used in nondurable goods can significantly reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and plastic waste. Highlights Among the highlights of the update: An initial investment of US$15.6 trillion (Scenario 1) would avoid or sequester more than 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases between 2020 and 2050 and save nearly US$98 trillion in total operating costs over the lifetime of the solution.  Bumping the investment up to US$23.6 trillion (Scenario 2) would avoid or sequester more than 1,600 gigatons of gases and save more than US$140 trillion in lifetime costs.  Under Scenario 1, which aligns roughly with IPCC’s 2°C target, Food, Agriculture, and Land Use sector solutions have the greatest impact on greenhouse gases. Under Scenario 2, which aligns roughly with IPCC’s 1.5°C target, the Electricity sector jumps to the top for atmospheric greenhouse gas reductions.  Updating the Family Planning and Education solution created changes across all solutions, since it replaces the previous projection of 2050 population with a lower number, creating a lower demand for the other solutions. Notably, nearly half (46 percent) of the impact of the lower population projection is attributable to more developed countries because of the higher per-capita contribution. The impact of education is hard to quantify because it affects many things besides reproductive choices (e.g., ability to implement other solutions). In the Electricity and Buildings sectors, lower functional demand due to lower population projections means fewer emissions in the baseline (business as usual) scenario, which means it’s easier to achieve climate goals.  Changes in the Transportation sector are mainly due to newer and better data. We’re seeing more potential for electrification, especially in freight and public transit. Small changes in adoption can result in big impacts due to the large number of passenger miles globally.  There are lots of opportunities for improvement in the Industry sector. Small increases in adoption can make a big difference because of large volumes of materials. Shifting to low-emissions-intensity materials is the source of most of the gain. Some industries (e.g., steel) can show only modest gains in energy efficiency; the biggest opportunities are for switching to new materials instead.  New data on emissions for 88 commodities made a big difference in the Food, Agriculture, and Land Use sector. Plant-Rich Diets and Reduced Food Waste are now at the top of the potential impact list in Scenario 1 and are right after Onshore Wind Turbines and Utility-Scale Solar Photovoltaics in Scenario 2. Even though population estimates declined, new diet and emissions factors more than made up for the savings. Potential reductions are likely even higher than what we’re seeing here. Protecting intact coastal wetlands such as mangroves is the most effective solution in the Coastal and Ocean Sinks sector. Seaweed has high sequestration potential. Protection and restoration have many co-benefits. Fisheries improvements that increase fish stocks mean more fish die in the ocean and so more biomass is sequestered in the deep ocean. Methane reduction is important because it can produce quick, measurable results critical for reaching net zero by 2050. Methane reduction provides big opportunities for greenhouse gas reductions at a relatively low cost. Eliminating leaks from the oil and gas production sector is cost-effective and simple. Landfill methane capture is a clear win. In sum, we confirmed that the practices and technologies implemented to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will more than pay for themselves in lifetime savings. In addition, many of the solutions have bonus benefits for reducing poverty, increasing equity, and protecting endangered animals and ecosystems. So solving the climate crisis is both a life-saving and money-saving move for future generations. Research Team Fellows and staff who played key roles in the updates include Chad Frischmann, Mamta Mehra, Mahmoud Abdelhamid, Zak Accuardi, Mohammad Ahmadi Achachlouei, Raihan Ahmed, Carolyn Alkire, Ryan F. Allard, Jimena Alvarez, Chirjiv Anand, Jay H. Arehart, Senorpe Asem-Hiablie, Jay Barlow, Kevin Bayuk, Renilde Becqué, Erika Boeing, Jvani Cabiness, Johnnie Chamberlin, Delton Chen, Wu Chen, Kristina Colbert, Leonardo Covis, Susan Miller Davis, Tala Daya, Priyanka DeSouza, Barbara Rodriguez Droguett, Stefan Gary, Jai Kumar Gaurav, Anna Goldstein, Miranda R. Gorman, João Pedro Gouveia, Alisha Graves, Martina Grecequet, Karan Gupta, Zhen Han, Zeke Hausfather, Yuill Herbert, Amanda Hong, Ariel Horowitz, Ryan Hottle, Troy Hottle, Sarah Eichler, David Jaber, Marzieh Jafary, Mel De Jager, Dattakiran Jagu, Emilia Jankowska, Heather Jones, Daniel Kane, Kapilnarula, Sumedha Malaviya, Urmila Maldvakar, Ashok Mangotra, Alison Mason, Mihir Mathur, David Mead, Aven Satre-Meloy, Phil Metz, Ruth Metzel, Alex Michelko, Ida Midzic, Karthik Mukkavilli, Sarah Myhre, Amrita Namasivayam, Kapil Narula, Rob Newell, Demetrios Papaioannou, Michelle Pedraza, Robin Pelc, Noorie Rajvanshi, George Randolph, Abby Rubinson, Adrien Salazar, Aven Satre-Meloy, Jon Schroeder, Celina Scott-Buechler, Christine Shearer, David Siap, Kelly Siman, Leena Tähkämö, Ernesto Valero Thomas, Eric Toensmeier, Shahaboddin Sean H. Toroghi, Melanie Valencia, Andrew Wade, Marilyn Waite, Ariani Wartenberg, Charlotte Wheeler, Christopher W. Wright, Liang Yang, Daphne Yin, Abdulmutalib Yussuff, and Kenneth Zame. Other Resources Two of the studies behind the new results have been released in peer-reviewed journals. Emilia Jankowska, Robin Pelc, Jimena Alvarez, Mamta Mehra, and Chad Frischmann published a report on the six new ocean-related solutions in PNAS in June. Miranda Gorman, David Dzombak, and Chad Frischmann published an article on the metals recycling solution in the September 2022 Resources, Conservation and Recycling. In addition to releasing the new solutions and updating existing ones, Project Drawdown put its research models—which help quantify the potential size and economics of different climate solutions—into the public domain. This process is still in the early stages, and many pieces of software are still under development. Interested individuals can check out the ongoing work on Github, where Python and Excel versions of the models are being worked on, along with user interfaces, data management tools, and other software tools. 
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June 22, 2022
Key takeaways from Drawdown Lift’s Climate–Poverty Connections webinar series
by Carissa Patrone Maikuri
Drawdown Lift recently hosted a two-part webinar series in which 10 global experts explored how technologies and practices that mitigate climate change can contribute to boosting human well-being and alleviating poverty as evidenced in the Climate–Poverty Connections report. Check out these key takeaways:​​​ 28 of Project Drawdown’s currently available, financially viable climate solutions not only have proven potential to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but also provide clear co-benefits for human well-being for rural and underserved communities in Africa and South Asia.  This means we have a remarkable opportunity to align strategies, funding, and policies to simultaneously reduce climate threats, alleviate poverty, and boost human well-being.  Investments in low-carbon development must prioritize countries that are first and worst impacted by climate change—particularly low- and middle-income countries.  Human well-being co-benefits from the 28 Project Drawdown climate solutions are particularly strong in the dimensions of Income and Work, Health, Food, Education, Gender Equality, and Energy.  World Bank economists estimate that Improving Agriculture and Agroforestry is 11 times more effective at reducing extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa than investments in other sectors.  Providing Clean Electricity is crucial to improving human well-being: People who live in communities with limited access to electricity also tend to experience high food insecurity, lack access to improved water and sanitation, lack access to income and work, and endure disproportionate health burdens.  Adopting Clean Cooking could prevent more than 22.5 million premature deaths between 2000 and 2100.  Women’s and Indigenous peoples’ secure land tenure are imperative when Protecting and Restoring Ecosystems; more than 1 billion people experiencing extreme poverty depend on forests to meet their basic needs for housing, water, and fuel, as well as their primary source of income.    Fostering Equality, which includes Project Drawdown’s Family Planning and Education solution, encompasses rights-based, voluntary family planning and high-quality education, yields co-benefits for all 12 dimensions in the Drawdown Lift Human Well-being Index, more than any of the other five climate solutions groups analyzed in Drawdown Lift’s new Climate–Poverty Connections report. Family planning—ensuring everyone’s contraceptive needs are met in a way that centers rights and bodily autonomy—is not in itself a climate mitigation strategy. Rather, one outcome of family planning, slower population growth, is a climate solution.     In part one of the webinar series, global experts in climate-smart development, environmental health, clean energy, and natural resource management discussed how climate solutions focused on Improving Agriculture and Agroforestry, Providing Clean Electricity, and Adopting Clean Cooking can contribute to improving human well-being and alleviating poverty and yield substantial socioeconomic, health, equity, and environmental gains. Presenter: Yusuf Jameel, Research Manager, Drawdown Lift, Project Drawdown  Moderator: Yolande Wright, Global Director Child Poverty, Climate and Urban, Save the Children Host: Kristen P. Patterson, Director, Drawdown Lift, Project Drawdown  Panelists: Jill Baumgartner, Associate Professor, Institute for Health And Social Policy & Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill University  Ademola Braimoh, Senior Natural Resources Management Specialist, Agriculture Global Practice, World Bank  Glory Oguegbu, Founder & CEO, Renewable Energy Technology Training Institute (RETTI) and Climate Smart Nigeria Interpreters: Sabrine Bayar and Manel Khammouma     In part two of the webinar series, global experts in cross-sectoral conservation and health initiatives, climate adaptation, girls’ education, and environmental conservation spoke to how climate solutions that Protect and Restore Ecosystems and Foster Equality can contribute to positive socioeconomic, health, equity, and environmental outcomes. Presenter: Kristen P. Patterson, Director, Drawdown Lift, Project Drawdown  Moderator: Cheryl Margoluis, Executive Director, CARE-WWF Alliance    Host:  Carissa Patrone Maikuri, Program Coordinator, Drawdown Lift, Project Drawdown Panelists: Tapas Ranjan Chakraborty, Senior Programme Manager-Climate Change Programme, BRAC- Bangladesh  Portia Kuffuor, Enterprise Development Manager, CAMFED (Campaign for Female Education)  Alice Macharia, Vice-President of Africa Programs, the Jane Goodall Institute   Interpreters: Sabrine Bayar and Manel Khammouma
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March 31, 2022
New Drawdown Lift report: Advancing climate solutions can help alleviate extreme poverty
Addressing climate change and improving the well-being of millions of people experiencing extreme poverty—two grand challenges of the 21st century—can be done together and create critical co-benefits for socially disadvantaged groups in rural areas of low- and middle-income countries, according to a new landmark report released today by Drawdown Lift, a program of the global nonprofit Project Drawdown.  The report, titled Climate–Poverty Connections: Opportunities for synergistic solutions at the intersection of planetary and human well-being, focuses specifically on climate solutions and poverty alleviation in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia—two areas of the world most at risk from the threats of climate change. This first-of-its-kind analysis reveals many ways in which specific technologies and practices that offer proven, substantial benefits for addressing climate change also improve multiple aspects of human well-being—particularly people’s livelihoods, health, food security, education, gender equality, and more. Widespread implementation of these solutions would be transformational in alleviating poverty and increasing resilience to current and future climate change. According to a World Bank report, in the next decade, climate change could push an additional 100 million people into poverty in low- and middle-income countries, setting back decades of progress in poverty alleviation—a situation the pandemic has made even more dire. "We have an opportunity to elevate climate solutions that also boost human well-being and contribute to much-needed socioeconomic development,” said Kristen P. Patterson, director of Drawdown Lift. “Populations experiencing extreme poverty did not cause the climate crisis. It is incumbent upon decisionmakers to strategically invest in climate solutions that help usher in equity and prosperity, and achieve the SDGs.” The report guides leaders and stakeholders—including international and country-level climate and development policymakers, the climate finance community, donors, and NGOs—toward the dual goals of investing in low-carbon development pathways and reducing poverty. "In developing countries globally, efforts to promote climate action will undoubtedly be intertwined with aspirations for economic growth. This report sheds light on policy options and approaches for harnessing this opportunity to deliver human well-being benefits in the race to net-zero," said Mohamed Imam Bakarr, senior environmental specialist at Global Environment Facility and a Drawdown Lift Advisory Council member. The report, which builds on Project Drawdown’s groundbreaking climate solutions research, draws on a review of 450 articles and reports (through 2021) to synthesize the evidence of how climate interventions that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions can also generate substantial co-benefits for human well-being. It was reviewed by a dozen experts in agriculture, gender, international development, education, conservation, climate, health, and other areas. The report’s findings have the potential to improve the lives of millions of people around the world—particularly girls and women—if the recommendations are implemented. "If you’re telling a rural woman to cease using dirty fuels for cooking, know that poverty is the reason she is using them. Climate solutions must be holistic to ensure sustainability. This report presents strategies for solving the climate challenge that address intertwined human needs," said Glory Oguegbu, founder and CEO of the Renewable Energy Technology Training Institute and a Drawdown Lift Advisory Council member. Downloads Download the full report | Download the abbreviated fact sheet Media Contacts Todd Reubold, Director of Marketing and Communications, Project Drawdown Kristen P. Patterson, Director, Drawdown Lift, Project Drawdown About Drawdown Lift Launched in early 2021, Drawdown Lift works to deepen collective understanding of the links between climate change solutions and poverty alleviation, particularly in low- and middle-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The Lift team seeks to help address both extreme poverty and climate change by collaboratively identifying, promoting, and advancing solutions designed to catalyze positive, equitable change. About Project Drawdown Project Drawdown is a nonprofit organization that seeks to help the world reach “drawdown”—the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline. Cities, universities, corporations, philanthropies, policymakers, communities, educators, activists, and more turn to Project Drawdown as they look to advance effective climate action. Project Drawdown aims to support the growing constellation of efforts to move climate solutions forward and move the world toward drawdown—as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Project Drawdown is funded by individual and institutional donations.
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