Perspective | February 22, 2022
Decisive climate moments call for bold new tactics
One of the most confounding realities of the climate crisis is that two seemingly contradictory facts are simultaneously true: that humanity has at our fingertips the solutions to fix it at the very same time that global greenhouse gas emissions soar higher than ever. By now the world has a solid understanding of what the solutions to the climate crisis are. Aggregating, communicating, and accelerating the adoption of these solutions is the reason Project Drawdown exists. But as emissions continue to rise, it’s clear that we haven’t nailed the ‘how.’ How do we scale climate solutions across every sector of the economy so comprehensively and decisively that they permanently displace our current systems—systems that we now know to be incompatible with a livable world? Tapping the biggest leverage points we have at our disposal to scale existing climate solutions is now of existential importance. And right now one of these leverage points—federal climate policy, and specifically the climate provisions that were previously housed in the Build Back Better Act— hangs in the balance. And this is why Drawdown Labs, the program I lead at Project Drawdown, recently took out a full-page print ad in The New York Times. Our ad had three key messages. The first one was a reminder to the Times’ 4 million readers that the solutions to the climate crisis already exist today. It’s nearly impossible to build a future we can’t envision, so we wanted to remind a broad swath of the American public that the solutions are already right in front of us. These solutions will not only address climate change but they’ll help us build a healthier, more resilient, and more equitable world. Solutions like shifting electricity production to renewables, supporting indigenous land tenure and forest protection, shifting our means of transportation away from personally-owned vehicles and internal combustion engines, remaking our cities with health, equity, and walkability in mind, addressing food waste and our diets, and so many more. Our second goal was to remind key audiences, namely policymakers and investors, that they are powerful actors in accelerating these solutions. The climate provisions in the Build Back Better Act would provide tax incentives for clean electricity, electric vehicles, clean buildings, advanced energy manufacturing, industrial decarbonization, and more, and would provide millions of good-paying jobs implementing these climate solutions. Whatever final legislative package they come in, these climate provisions have broad Congressional support and are crucial to accelerating needed investment. Our final goal of the ad was to highlight the business community’s widespread support for bold climate policy. Why lift up the business voice? Like it or not, corporations hold a lot of political power, and their support can give legislators the confidence to pass bold climate legislation. The 25 companies we invited to join this ad represent over $64 billion in revenue, employ hundreds of thousands of people across the country, and span economic sectors: energy, transportation, food, tech, manufacturing, e-commerce, entertainment, design, apparel, consumer packaged goods, banking, and financial management. Together, these businesses are sending a powerful message: every sector of the economy wants to see bold climate legislation and Congress and the White House must do their part. This moment of fleeting opportunity for meaningful action calls for us to be bold. And while it may seem unusual for a nonprofit to use their resources to run an advertisement like this, we think that new tactics are crucial to achieving bolder outcomes. As the innovation hub for Project Drawdown, Drawdown Labs exists to experiment with new tactics, especially when so much is on the line. At Project Drawdown, we have considerable access to influential actors across the global economy, and we intend to use this access and network to the fullest extent possible. We have climate solutions at our fingertips. We have key leverage points ready to be tapped. And in this critical moment, we can’t leave anything on the table. This article was originally published by MCJ Climate Voices and is being republished with permission.
News | February 16, 2022
Policy brief: How advancing health and education can help reduce greenhouse gases
Universal education and voluntary family planning are essential human rights that lead to dramatic improvements in gender equality and health. A new policy brief by Drawdown Solutions, a program of Project Drawdown, shows how achieving these basic rights can contribute to reducing the impacts of climate change as well—with greenhouse gas reductions of up to 70 gigatons possible by 2050. “The UN Sustainable Development Goals call for universal access to quality education and sexual and reproductive health-care services,” says Drawdown Solutions senior director Chad Frischmann, who co-authored Drawdown’s Health and Education Solution: The cascading benefits of access to universal education and voluntary family planning with Amrita Namasivayam, Alisha Graves, and Christina Kwauk. “Achieving these goals can dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time at a fraction of the cost of comparable climate solutions, helping to create a healthier planet for future generations at the same time we ensure gender equality and health for the current one.” Project Drawdown has evaluated the potential of more than 80 practices and technologies to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Nearly all focus on reducing sources of greenhouse gases and enhancing carbon sinks. The Health and Education solution is unique in that it substantially cuts greenhouse gas emissions by advancing basic human rights. Among the report’s conclusions: Significantly increasing investment in, and access to, universal education and voluntary family planning is an effective way to ensure inclusive, equitable economic development and boost health outcomes across generations. Improved reproductive health and education have a ripple effect on population over time, which in turn can impact global demand for resources. Adopting Drawdown’s Health and Education solution between now and 2050 could avoid nearly 70 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions. Without critical investments in education and health, other efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals will be less effective, cost more, and take longer to achieve. Enabling the right to education and family planning for all people is central to empowering communities and enabling their participation in other climate solutions. “Solutions like universal access to education and voluntary family planning important climate solutions not only because these are the rights of every person, especially girls and women, on the planet, but also because they advance gender equality,” said Kwauk, an education consultant. “Together, these have the added benefit of helping to improve climate resilience and achieving drawdown.” “Investing in universal education and voluntary family planning services is really a win-win-win, for people, their communities, and the planet,” said Namasivayam, a Project Drawdown research fellow. “We’re talking about the improved overall health of women and their families, economic empowerment, reduced intergenerational poverty, and climate benefits that are positive ripple effects of this increased access and agency." Learn more and download the report here.
News | December 22, 2021
Drawdown Labs year in review: accelerating drawdown
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.
December 14, 2021
Insights from the first Drawdown Lift Advisory Council
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.
Perspective | December 6, 2021
The win-wins of climate and biodiversity solutions
This story was originally published by The Revelator. What’s better for plants and wildlife is better for the climate. But where do we start to accomplish the best results? 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.
Perspective | November 7, 2021
The link between girls’ basic human rights and long-term resilience to climate shocks
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.
Perspective | November 4, 2021
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.
Feature | October 27, 2021
The powerful role of household actions in solving climate change
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:
News | October 13, 2021
Study: Slashing emissions from forests, farming, and consumer behavior
A new study led by Climate Focus environmental scientist Stephanie Roe and including Project Drawdown senior director of Drawdown Solutions Chad Frischmann among its authors provides a comprehensive guide to the greenhouse gas mitigation potential and feasibility of land-based climate solutions for over 200 countries. The study, published October 12 in Global Change Biology, analyzes 20 land-based measures that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. They include the protection, management and restoration of forests and other ecosystems; changes in agricultural practices; soil carbon sequestration in croplands and grasslands; use of bioenergy; and demand-side measures within food systems, such as reducing food waste and shifting to more sustainable and less livestock-dependent diets. "Our analysis shows which and how much nature-based solutions could be prioritized country by country," said Stephanie Roe, an environmental scientist at Climate Focus and the lead author of the study. "Many land-based mitigation activities are unique in that they can be rapidly implemented, provide additional environmental and socio-economic co-benefits, work in tandem with the decarbonization of other sectors—like energy, and are relatively low cost. For many countries, they also provide the largest share of the low-cost mitigation needed to reach net zero emissions by mid-century and deliver on the Paris Agreement targets." The section to which Frischmann primarily contributed focused on consumer measures critical for reducing methane emissions, including plant-rich diets and reducing food loss and waste.
News | September 23, 2021
Project Drawdown launches Climate Solutions at Work
(September 23, 2021) — In the wake of the most recent headline-making IPCC report, the need for sweeping climate transformation has never been more apparent. The private sector, with its vast resources, must play a crucial role in this transformation—and employees can help lead the charge. Drawdown Labs, a program of the nonprofit organization Project Drawdown, aims to help global employees step into their power and shift the private sector beyond “net zero” as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible. Climate Solutions at Work, presented by Project Drawdown, creates a new standard of business climate leadership, driven by employees equipped to take bolder action at work, making every job a climate job. Readers can explore their company’s enormous untapped potential for climate action by finding their inroad—regardless of job function—to moving their company toward the world’s best science-based climate solutions. This free, easy-to-browse guide is available today. “Inside most businesses, only a handful of people with ‘sustainability’ in their title consider climate issues as part of their work day,” says Jamie Beck Alexander, Director of Drawdown Labs. “But the scope and scale of the climate challenge calls on all of us to find our inroad. Climate Solutions at Work is a playbook for employees—no matter what you do or where you work—to help your business take bolder climate action.” Pushing beyond “net zero” In its infancy, “net zero” was meant to embody a long-term climate goal used by entire countries to track Paris Agreement progress—a global goal to reach net zero by 2050 to keep increased warming to 1.5°C. Over the years, “net zero” has shifted from a collective goal to a leadership position from individual companies. This type of vague, long-term target only works if every company makes the same commitment with a shared deadline—a highly unlikely prospect. Today’s definition of business climate leadership centers on companies doing less harm, gradually reducing their emissions—and the damage they cause—over time. Employees can demand a more expansive view, one that taps every company’s leverage points and the passion of every employee to scale climate solutions available right now, dramatically boosting expectations for business climate leadership around the world. Project Drawdown’s research shows the world can reach drawdown by mid-century so long as global interests make the best use of all existing climate solutions. Climate Solutions at Work focuses on the private sector so employees have a better sense of where to start—or intensify—their business climate action. Building a “drawdown-aligned” business For many employees committed to meaningful change, accelerating climate action at work can feel restricted to staff with “sustainability” in their job title. If a business is serious about their climate ambition, then they will welcome all employees to the work of helping them get there and holding them accountable. “Project Drawdown wants employees to have the resources to identify and push for bigger climate ambition in the workplace,” says Alexander. “We’ve outlined a drawdown-aligned business framework that allows anyone, anywhere to make their job a climate job.” This drawdown-aligned business framework zeroes-in on eight key leverage points—and corresponding actions—that businesses must tap to help the world achieve drawdown quickly, safely, and equitably: Emissions reductions Stakeholder engagement and collaboration Products, partnerships, and procurement (the “three Ps”) Investments and financing Climate disclosures Climate policy advocacy Business model transformation Long-term thinking By moving step-by-step through topics primed for transformation, Climate Solutions at Work is a new north star for employees looking to push beyond net zero. Explore how to help build a “drawdown-aligned” business that leverages all of its social, political, financial, and employee power to secure a stable climate and just future for all. About Drawdown Labs Drawdown Labs is Project Drawdown’s private sector testing ground for scaling bold climate solutions quickly, safely, and equitably. This consortium of visionary partners goes beyond “net zero” to scale global climate solutions, within and outside their own operations. Leveraging world-class research and analysis from Project Drawdown—and the cross-industry capabilities of participating organizations, businesses, and funders—Drawdown Labs experiments with collaborative ways to address climate change at unprecedented scale, and offers the world a transformative vision for private sector climate leadership. Drawdown Labs members include Allbirds, Aspiration, Copia, General Mills, Google, Grove Collaborative, IDEO, Impossible Foods, Intuit, Lime, LinkedIn, Netflix, R&DE Stanford Dining, and Trane Technologies. 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. Since the 2017 publication of the New York Times bestseller Drawdown, the organization has emerged as a leading resource for information and insight about climate solutions. We conduct rigorous review and assessment of climate solutions, create compelling and human communication across media, and partner with efforts to accelerate global climate solutions. 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.