The most senior scientific advisor to the UK government, Sir Patrick Vallance, has said harnessing the benefits of the natural world is a “critical” part of hitting net zero by 2050, and must sit alongside innovation in science and technology to tackle the climate crisis.
Speaking as scientific advisers to governments around the world made the case for “urgent, sustained action” to stop average global temperatures from rising 1.5C above the pre-industrial era, Sir Patrick warned against relying on “magic new technology” to solve environmental problems.
“This has to be viewed as an ‘all-systems approach’,” he said in response to a question from The Independent on the role the natural world can play in tackling the climate crisis.
“You can’t pick off one bit at a time and say ‘I’ve solved that bit’, as the various bits are interdependent,” he said.
“One of the areas which is highly interdependent is land use. How you approach overall land use is critical in the net-zero argument.”
Asked if ahead of the conference the role of unproven technologies such as carbon capture and storage had been given undue prominence, Sir Patrick told The Independent: “Nature-based solutions are important – achieving net-zero whilst also really looking after the biodiversity problem we have facing us with extinction of species along the way, is really integral to this.
“Land use is one of those areas that’s intersectional. It requires a whole-systems approach, governments need to set up systems maps to be able to do this and understand where the trade offs are across the different areas. It does need a real focus.”
He added: “The biodiversity angle of this does need to be taken very seriously and it’s something that needs to be looked at across the globe.”
Nature-based solutions to the climate crisis include expanding forests and woodlands to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, allowing soils and peatlands to recover and store carbon, and improving the health of ocean ecosystems.
Scientists have said this approach is not only among the most powerful tools to tackle the climate crisis, but have also set out how it can deal with other related issues, including the biodiversity crisis, water security and pollution, food security, human health and wellbeing, and disaster risk management.
Technological efforts to tackle the climate crisis will therefore need to work alongside this natural approach, the scientists suggested.
Many of the technologies required to keep emissions down were already “visible”, Sir Patrick said, but warned against governments and businesses setting out their plans with an in-built dependency on untested solutions to emissions.
In the letter, signed by almost 40 scientists who work with governments, they wrote: “The scientific case for urgent climate action is unequivocal.
“Sea levels are rising, while weather extremes and their impacts such as heatwaves, excess rainfall, wildfires, flooding and droughts are more intense and more frequent. Climate modelling indicates that with every fractional increase in warming, these effects will get worse with all countries vulnerable.”
But they said we could yet prevent worse impacts by limiting warming to 1.5C by the end of the century through a “steep reduction in global emissions by 2030”, to put the planet on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050.
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