Blog: How nature-based solutions could accelerate climate action in Africa

09 September 2021


A blog by Sharon Ngetich, Climate Change Officer, Climate Change Section, Economic, Youth & Sustainable Development Directorate, Commonwealth Secretariat

African countries are among some of the world’s most vulnerable to climate impacts, with many regularly experiencing extreme weather events. Climate risk is further exacerbated by poverty and inequality, food insecurity, fragile ecosystems and water scarcity across the continent.

A key challenge for Africa is land degradation – which is when land quality decreases, often due to polluting human activities. It is both a driver and impact of climate change. Today around 46% of Africa’s total land area is made up of

>degraded landscapes.

By 2050, it is estimated that land degradation will result in more than half of Africa’s productive land becoming unusable, which will have serious

>implications for food security. It is critical that the continent finds solutions for and adapts to land degradation, especially in relation to climate change.

Nature-based solutions

One approach is to prioritise nature-based solutions; an overarching concept encompassing a wide range of ecosystem related approaches and actions that address societal and biodiversity challenges, and provide benefits to human well-being and nature.

It is estimated that nature-based solutions could contribute around 30% of the emissions reductions needed by 2030 to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, mainly through agriculture, forestry and land use.

Up to 90% of ‘least developed countries’ have already included nature-based solutions in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – the plans that show how each country will help reach the global climate target.

In 2019, the Nature-Based Solutions for Climate Manifesto was launched, and most recently the Communiques of the 2021 G20 and G7 meetings acknowledged the benefits of nature-based solutions to climate change, biodiversity and human society.

It is also a topic expected to feature prominently at the global COP26 climate talks in November; with one of the key goals identified for the major climate change conference being the protection of communities and natural habitats through the "protection and restoration of ecosystems".

Climate resilient land

Sustainable land management is another important tool that is already being used across Africa to tackle land degradation and promote climate resilient land use. It is an environmentally friendly way to integrate the management of land, water and other natural resources to meet long-term human needs.

This approach complements nature-based solutions because both include a wide array of interventions that can be applied across different ecosystems and scales ranging from natural to modified.

When looking specifically at climate change and land degradation in the three key sectors in the African context – agriculture, forestry and water – these two approaches can be synergistically applied to the management natural resources including vegetation cover, soil and water.

A good example of this is agroforestry, an integral component in sustainable land management, where fruit trees that can be harvested for food are planted. A nature-based solutions lense for agroforestry can be adopted by ensuring that the trees planted are not monocultures or continuously harvested, but are indigenous and non-invasive to increase habitats for biodiversity. The benefits of such an intervention would include improved food security and vegetation cover, which leads to healthier soils and increased carbon capture.

Financing nature-based solutions

Although nature-based solutions have been gaining momentum, uptake is not happening fast enough to deal with the pace of climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss. This is partly down to inadequate funding especially for adaptation.

It is estimated that in 2018 less than 3% of public adaptation financing went to nature-based solutions. Lack of financing is attributed to amongst other factors a lack of awareness and understanding of what nature-based solutions are, the benefits for climate action, and constraints in measuring their effectiveness.

There is also a misconception that such solutions are used for greenwashing proposed interventions that are actually not nature or climate friendly.

Driving action

While nature-based solutions are not the only answer to the climate emergency, they can make an important contribution to tackling interlinked development and conservation challenges. Along with other actions, their implementation must be accelerated and properly financed.

When clearly understood, funded and utilised effectively, nature-based solutions can promote low carbon development pathways and resilience across both natural and human systems.

The current negotiations to establish a post-2020 global biodiversity framework under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, ongoing NDC revisions, and upcoming COP26 climate conference, all provide opportunities to improve mainstream understanding of how powerful nature-based solutions can be.

The Commonwealth Secretariat recognises nature-based solutions as an effective approach for intensified collaboration to meet targets under its initiative to maximise coordinated action across the three Rio Conventions of biodiversity, climate change and desertification.

Under the proposed Commonwealth Call to Action on Living Lands, the Commonwealth Secretariat will support member states to access funding for the scaling up of nature-based solutions in the implementation of NDCs.

This support offers a strong contribution to fight the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, as well as enhance development for communities and countries in Africa — and beyond.

Find out more about the proposed Commonwealth Call to Action on Living Lands by contacting Unnikrishan Nair, Head of Climate Change.