The final instalment of our landscape restoration and climate change mini-series is an interview with Megan Critchley who has been working on an ELP Advancing and Applying Knowledge project that investigates the carbon emissions impacts of all of the ELP’s major landscape restoration projects.
Matt Burnett: Megan, thanks for agreeing to this interview, why don’t you tell the readers about yourself?
MC: I am a Programme Officer at UNEP-WCMC, based in Cambridge. My role focusses on ecosystem services and I work across projects and programmes at UNEP-WCMC. A lot of my work aims to understand the positive and negative impacts of habitat degradation, restoration or land-use change on ecosystem services. I have increasingly been focussing on Nature-based Solutions for climate change mitigation and ecosystem restoration. It’s been an exciting time for these areas with increasing interest from across society, so working on this ELP project has been a really great opportunity.
MB: What have you been doing in the natural climate solutions project?
MC: Over the course of the project we have been trying to understand the contribution that landscape level restoration projects in Europe can make to climate change mitigation. In particular, we aim to demonstrate that restoration projects designed for biodiversity conservation outcomes can have large climate change mitigation co-benefits. At the same time, we have been evaluating the suitability of two free-to-use tools to measure the greenhouse gas (GHG) balance of restoration projects.
“restoration projects designed for biodiversity conservation outcomes can have large climate change mitigation co-benefits”
MB: How does your work tie in to COP26?
MC: This work demonstrates the potential for combatting climate change through improving habitats for biodiversity conservation and ecosystem functioning at the landscape level. We hope outputs from this project will advocate for the inclusion of biodiversity conservation and landscape restoration targets in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and improve recognition for their climate change mitigation co-benefits at both the UNFCCC COP26 and CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) COP15. We are also presenting some of the work we did with the Cairngorms Connect project during COP26.
MB: What were some of the challenges you faced?
MC: Although the tools we used were really comprehensive, it was sometimes difficult to capture the various niche habitats found within ELP projects, as these are often very unique and localised and don’t fit more general descriptions. The tools and methodologies available can also sometimes be slightly limited when it comes to quantifying the impact of more natural restoration processes, such as the regeneration of heterogenous native woodlands and shrublands. However, the developers of both tools were great at offering their advice and assistance to help us overcome these issues where possible. Hopefully these methodologies will continue to improve so we can improve estimates over time.
MB: What was the outcome of the work?
MC: The work demonstrates that emissions reductions and improved carbon storage and sequestration can be a significant co-benefit of biodiversity conservation. At the landscape scale, a variety of habitats and management practices can all contribute to reducing emissions and sequestering carbon alongside conserving biodiversity whilst providing socio-economic opportunities for local communities.
The analysis demonstrated that both the restoration activities undertaken to date and the work planned for the future could have substantial positive impacts on the climate, both through reducing emissions and sequestering carbon as a result of land use and management changes.
There are tools available which allow restoration practitioners on the ground to get a good idea of the impact restoration activities have on their projects GHG balance. However, this work demonstrates the need to better understand the role of natural regeneration across different ecosystems in reducing emissions and sequestering carbon.
“At the landscape scale, a variety of habitats and management practices can all contribute to reducing emissions and sequestering carbon alongside conserving biodiversity whilst providing socio-economic opportunities for local communities”
MB: Why did you choose to do this work?
MC: Nature-based Solutions (NbS) are increasingly recognised as having an important role in meeting the goal of the Paris Agreements, however there is a need to raise their profile with climate policy makers and scientists. We hoped this project would be an opportunity to enhance advocacy for large-scale restoration projects by demonstrating their climate change mitigation co-benefits. ELP projects cover really rich and diverse landscapes, so getting to work with them and research the potential for contributing to climate change mitigation goals through them was a fantastic opportunity. Furthermore, it was a privilege to connect with restoration practitioners and learn more about their work.
MB: Are you hopeful about our ability to combat climate change?
MC: Absolutely, working on the Natural Climate Solutions project and with the ELP restoration projects has really brought home the incredible positive impact they can have for the climate. I’m hopeful we will continue to see restoration projects scaling up and continuing to deliver climate benefits.
At a broader level, achieving the goals of the Paris agreement is still possible, and Nature-based Solutions are an important tool for doing so, with the potential to contribute a large amount (up to approximately a third) of the climate change mitigation required.
People are increasingly recognising the need to protect and restore nature, and conservation and restoration projects being driven by local communities, international initiatives and governments are doing really important work across the world. However, realising this potential will require more political will and financial resources to scale up restoration.
It is also important to remember that nature alone cannot supply the full solution: we need to drastically reduce emissions and decarbonise across all sectors of society. Achieving this will require transformative systemic changes and political will, but it is possible.
MB: What can others learn from this project?
MC: A variety of restoration activities can come together at the landscape scale to benefit people, wildlife and the climate. However, there are trade-offs between biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation, and interventions which store the most carbon may not be the most beneficial option for local wildlife. We need to ensure that the multiple benefits of Nature-based Solutions are realised. Therefore, it is crucial we think about potential climate impacts as a co-benefit for these biodiversity focussed projects to ensure they meet their biodiversity conservation goals.
MB: What is one thing readers should take away from your experience?
MC: Biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation are fundamentally connected, and landscape restoration can play a role in addressing both. Conservation driven landscape restoration projects, such as the ELP, can benefit wildlife, local communities and contribute to global climate change mitigation targets.
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