Natural Climate Solutions: The Doorway to Climate Restoration

Felix Kramer and Anna Michel of ClimateChangesEverything.org are working to tell the stories of people working to restore the climate to its pre-industrial CO2 levels. 

“Climate restorers” are increasingly gaining attention as they raise the possibility that humanity can actually fix our climate. Climate restoration may still be an unfamiliar concept to most people who talk about and work on climate solutions — but the rapidly growing attention to carbon dioxide removal (CDR) is gaining support as a method to restore the atmosphere to what our grandparents knew.

Climate restoration is the process of eliminating carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, removing more than one trillion tons of excess CO2 already in our atmosphere, and restoring Arctic sea ice. This past month, we gained two new powerful tools for awareness and action on behalf of climate restoration.

Hundreds of advocates, activists, and opinion leaders attended or watched the first Global Climate Restoration Forum at the UN just before Climate Week. They read the white paper, Solutions to the Greatest Threat Facing Humanity and Nature Today. The Foundation for Climate Restoration (F4CR) produced both reports.

Momentum With Many CDR Tools

Since the publication of Paul Hawken’s Drawdown, talk about carbon dioxide removal has been popping up all over. People are most intrigued by familiar, safe, natural, and land-based solutions that return massive amounts of carbon to our soil. Putting multiple approaches under the name “regenerative agriculture” (RA) is increasingly popular. We’re hearing about it even from multiple presidential candidates.

During “Climate September,” two strong endorsements for RA arrived:

1. Greta Thunberg spoke for the Natural Climate Solutions project.

In a moving and compelling four-minute video, Thunberg, the climate movement’s most inspiring figure, alongside respected British climate activist-writer George Monbiot, urges us to protect, restore, and fund natural climate solutions:

Many people have already begun using natural climate solutions. We need to do it on a massive scale … All around the world, there are amazing movements fighting for nature. Join them.” — Greta Thunberg

2. Al Gore says, “The climate crisis is the battle of our time, and we can win.”

His cover op-ed in the New York Times focuses mostly on urgency and decarbonization. Then he emphasizes that “we have the tools”:

A farmer-led regenerative agriculture revolution also underway avoids plowing and focuses on building soil health by sequestering carbon dioxide in the ground, making the land more fertile. The farmers are using rotational grazing and planting trees and diverse cover crops to enrich the soil and protect against erosion … And so far, the best available technology for pulling carbon dioxide from the air is something called a tree.” — Al Gore

All scenarios for achieving the Paris goals (to keep additional warming under 2 degrees Celsius, or if possible, under 1.5 C) involve removing over 100 billion tons of CO2 from Earth’s atmosphere. That fact is a driving force for RA. So far, most quantitative studies project that RA solutions can remove one to 10 billion tons of CO2 per year. And at that scale, RA will help preserve farmlands and protect species. In March 2019, the UN General Assembly declared 2021-30 the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. Our planet certainly needs that!

The Regenerative Agriculture Movement

Now, we hear talk all over about planting a trillion trees. Can that save us? Estimates of their sequestration potential range from 200 billion to 800 billion tons of CO2 over many decades. However, concerns remain about monoculture and whether we can count on tree health in a burning world. And just as the transition to RA will require buy-in from our world’s more than 500 million farmers to adopt methods with the co-benefit of improving crop yields, planting vast new forests will entail global cooperation and support from indigenous populations.

It’s encouraging that discussions of CDR and RA are prompting many climate leaders to think beyond fossil-free goals and remediation steps. By looking at “carbon farming,” they don’t worry about what the American Geophysical Union calls “climate intervention.” As they allow themselves to imagine removing massive amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere, they become open to trillion-ton restoration goals. Meanwhile, every ton of CO2 removed is a step in the right direction, for which we can thank our partners working everywhere on climate solutions of all types.

F4CR’s climate restoration white paper identifies a small set of restoration-scale solutions, some market-based, that can each remove over 25 billion tons of CO2 per year. Many use technically enhanced biomimicry or geomimicry, combining biological and geological principles with technology. As those now looking only at natural climate solutions aim for removing billions of tons of CO2, they’re becoming enthusiastic about large-scale CDR. As they continue to realize how urgently we need to remove carbon, their ambitions can grow.

The emerging Global Coalition for Climate Restoration aims to begin a “Decade of Climate Restoration” to identify and deploy the most effective solutions. From 2031 to 2050, the coalition will work to scale those solutions to remove 50 billion tons of CO2 per year. That can bring atmospheric CO2 levels from today’s 415 parts per million back under 300 ppm — the pre-industrial level at which humans and other species evolved and flourish. Imagine restoring that safe and healthy climate!

About the Authors

Felix Kramer is an ex-entrepreneur and a full-time volunteer on awareness and solutions to our climate crisis. He founded ClimateChangesEverything.org to tell the stories of people whose goals are to reverse global warming and restore our climate, and how they learn, talk, and act about climate change.

Anna Michel is the first personal climate associate at ClimateChangesEverything.org. A recent UC Berkeley graduate, she is a trained climate communicator with nearly a decade of public engagement experience in the environmental movement. Through storytelling and network-building, she aims to spread the hopeful message of game-changer solutions to restore our climate, for a world where all can thrive.

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