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How to fast-track climate change actions by using nature to reduce greenhouse gases

May 17, 2023

By using Nature-based Solutions and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, you can tackle climate change with more efficient actions and solutions

As designers, engineers, and scientists, we know climate change has been here for some time.

We also know there is a real urgency for solutions.

Why? We are not on track to keep warming at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius. In fact, we are headed toward 2.1 to 2.8 degrees Celsius. That will cause us to pass multiple climate tipping points across the globe. These are tipping points in which we will see more severe and possibly irreversible impacts to ecosystems, human health, food supplies, and economies.

More needs to be done more quickly by everyone, everywhere. We must maximize the positive impact of our climate solutions in the shortest possible time.

Robinson Preserve in Florida was formerly disturbed farmland but was restored into high-functioning coastal wetland. The project improved water quality and made it more resilient to climate change.

Easier said than done? It turns out we can do that by designing and implementing solutions that multiply the benefits of our specific actions.

Nature-based Solutions are key to efficient change

Climate solutions differ in their effectiveness, scalability, or breadth of benefits.

But when it comes to climate change adaptation and mitigation solutions, our best strategy is to lean on natural systems. That’s the power of Nature-based solutions (NbS). NbS and its multiple benefits allows us to check many boxes at the same time.

NbS is a proven approach. It uses the positive benefits of natural systems, often in conjunction with traditional engineered solutions. NbS incorporates natural features and processes into the design of our solution.

The governments of Australia, UK, US, EU, and Canada, and many companies, have seen the multiple benefits of using nature-based climate solutions. They are ever more seeing NbS as a solution for projects involving coastal and infrastructure resilience, community and human health, social justice, and climate mitigation.

Clifton Wastewater Treatment Works in the United Kingdom was transformed into an integrated constructed wetland, using 25 species of plants to provide nutrient uptake.

A great example of this trend is our partnership with the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) through its Engineering With Nature® (EWN) initiative. The EWN initiative is a group of researchers, practitioners, and educators. They are working to apply the EWN concept to real-world applications and to work with industry partners to advance it.

Meeting sustainability goals and Natural Capital Valuation

NbS play a vital role in helping our communities and natural systems adapt to future climate conditions. These include extreme temperatures, sea level rise, coastal erosion, droughts, floods, fires, and loss of biodiversity. NbS can also add significant value in helping companies meet their net zero and Sustainable Development Goal commitments through ecosystem restoration.

Through the natural capital valuation process, we can quantify these ancillary benefits to water and air quality, biodiversity, increased carbon sequestration, human well-being, and economic well-being. In some cases, it can translate into financial benefits for our clients.

How do we measure the economics of NbS?

There is no doubt that NbS plays a critical role in our path forward. However, as in all things, we must consider the economics of implementing NbS in our projects. We are making progress on this front already.

Several US federal agencies are working to standardize processes that allow for NbS to be included in a benefit-cost analysis (BCA). This effort will allow NbS to be equally considered as an alternative to, or element of, a project during the design, funding, and approval phases. Stantec is working with USACE and the EWN to support this effort.

Across the globe, many governments and organizations are supporting the development of BCA to further bring NbS into the fold of project alternatives.

Green Park in Reading, United Kingdom, is one of Europe’s largest business parks. Our ecological team used Nature-based Solutions to enhance the park’s biodiversity and enjoyment by users.

Getting our arms around GHG quickly

Reducing current and future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is essential. Our climate solutions need to integrate tactical actions that develop, support, and implement ways to reduce GHG.

We can track GHG emissions and concentrations globally and by country. Nationally determined contributions are at the heart of the Paris Agreement. We should examine them to see how national goals are being implemented.

Knowing where emissions are coming from, at any scale or for any operation, is the first step in reducing emissions. Our team can conduct GHG inventories that allow our clients to determine their emission footprints across all their operations, including supply chains. Inventories are the first step to developing a tailored and targeted plan to reduce emissions and achieve carbon neutral or net zero emission targets.

When it comes to climate change adaptation and mitigation solutions, our best strategy is to lean on natural systems. That’s the power of Nature-based solutions.

After an inventory, a strategy for a company’s path to net zero becomes a key guidance document. It should include specific intermediate actions and targets.

Some actions may include more renewable energy use, the use of more sustainable materials, a reduction in water use, and other energy-demanding resources. We can go further by looking at basic changes in supply chains, creating more circular economy concepts, and examining and investing in decarbonizing our buildings and increasing carbon sequestration potential of land. That is also where NbS can come in.

One place NbS is helping is in restoring or creating coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, tidal salt marshes, and seagrasses. NbS can deliver carbon reductions through a process called biological carbon sequestration—the capture and storage of carbon in vegetation and soils. 

The Cowichan River on Vancouver Island in British Columbia was the site of a new larger fish weir that incorporated NbS to store more water at a lake to offset the risk of late-summer drought.

Addressing climate solutions around the world

Stantec is a leader in implementing NbS as part of our Climate Solutions. Our rapidly growing team is providing these services across all geographies.

Working on projects around the world, our designers, engineers, and planners build or restore a variety of natural systems. These include beaches and dunes, salt marshes, freshwater wetlands, fluvial flood plains, seagrass beds, oyster reefs, barrier islands, and forests.

Sometimes on their own, or combined with conventional solutions, we can create better overall systems where nature supports engineering and engineering supports nature. And that’s the power of Nature-based Solutions. 

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