As the world inches closer to 2030, the deadline scientists have identified as the last chance to prevent catastrophic climate change, world leaders have signed the major Glasgow Climate Pact to help decarbonise economies and rewild the world.
Rewilding land is key
The Glasgow Climate Pact “emphasises the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring nature” in keeping global temperatures below 1.5°C. In other words there is no pathway to tackle climate change without changing how we use land to harness the power of nature to act as carbon sinks, protect biodiversity and mitigate the impacts of climate change on communities and the environment.
Evidence suggests nature-based climate solutions could provide over a third of the greenhouse gas mitigation required globally between now and 2030. Indeed, the UK and many other countries recognise this. “Taking carbon out of the atmosphere to be stored in ecosystems, including woods, peatlands and saltmarshes, is a vital part of the journey to net zero,” Tony Juniper, Chairman of Natural England, the government’s nature protection agency has said.
These are not empty declarations. It is estimated that peatlands across the nation store more carbon than all the forests in the UK, France and Germany combined. That’s a colossal 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon locked in the ground. But a decades-long programme of intensive burning and draining has left only 4% of England’s upland peatlands in favourable condition, causing many to convert from carbon stores into carbon emitters.
In recent years there has been a concerted effort to protect and restore peatlands, but if we are to honour the Glasgow Climate Pact the message is clear: we need to scale up peatland restoration by rolling out landscape-scale projects, like the kind seen on Holcombe Moor, across Britain’s uplands. And we need to immediately end the outdated, intensive and environmentally-damaging burning of peatlands—performed to provide younger, more nutritious heather to feed grouse being reared for shooting—which is the largest driver of poor habitat condition.
But it’s not only peat bogs which need our focus. Early on in COP26 over 100 global leaders agreed that forests must be protected and restored. In truth, Britain’s uplands are able to host many more native trees as part of the mosaic of health habitats. But as it stands there is more woodland cover in London than the Yorkshire Dales National Park. This needs to change to increase native tree cover across the uplands and improve the natural environment.
Act now, not later
There are now few sceptical that nature’s recovery is the backbone of the worldwide effort to limit global warming to 1.5°C. But as the Glasgow Climate Pact recognises now is the time to scale up with a programme of “accelerated action in this critical decade” to ensure “rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions.”
One promising complement to this work is the growing number of companies buying or better using land for climate solutions such as carbon offsetting and biodiversity net gain. Overarchingly, these landowners—which real estate firms Knight Frank, Savills and Galbraith have described as a new, climate-conscious type of landowner—acknowledge that what helps recovery of the natural environment is good for delivering carbon storage, flood mitigation and water quality.
Another is the growing appetite for community buyouts. The community of Langholm is showing what can be achieved when local people with a bold vision pull together.
Scaling up protection and restoration of the uplands requires involvement from all stakeholders, which is why Wild Moors is committed to blending private and public policy reforms to modernise upland management in favour of climate solutions. As Sir David Attenborough said in his opening day speech to world leaders: “If working apart we are a force powerful enough to destabilise the world, surely working together we are powerful enough to save it.”
It should be noted that this is not an objective to make moorland estates obsolete, but to offer a better alternative to grouse moor management, which is why it should be considered as systemic innovation. It’s about an innovation that operates on a systems basis that connects all the stakeholders together to re-think better land management for future generations, whilst getting back into balance with nature.
But of course, no single solution addresses all the urgent and complex needs of the climate crisis. There are, as they say, no silver bullets — and that’s especially true with something as complex as restoring land for nature, climate and people. That means accepting that we don’t need a small number of landowners who practice rewilding perfectly, we need a large number who practice it imperfectly.
Green finance is set to grow further
Implementing nature-friendly moorland management which lives up to the aspirations of landowners has always presented environmentalists with a conundrum. Now, the growth of green finance provides an opportunity to solve that challenge.
Ambitions to green the economy by increasing private sector alignment around climate solutions and net zero was a key theme to emerge from COP26. To this effect the Glasgow Climate Pact has ratified “the urgency of enhancing understanding and action to make financial flows consistent with pathways towards lower greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.”
Within this framework businesses can increasingly use impact investing to drive positive outcomes for nature through strategic financing of companies, communities and funds which embrace eco-entrepreneurialism. Whilst the Glasgow Pact focuses minds on achieving the task ahead, in truth the climate has been a hot topic among investors for some time now. A recent survey by Coller Capital found that over three-quarters of limited partners surveyed ranked climate change and sustainability as the most influential mega-trend that will affect where they invest in the next five years.
In other words there is a pathway for investors to buy up or finance the restoration of land by companies, communities, governments and individuals as an opportunity to demonstrate a net-zero transition. The world’s largest energy trader Vitol has said that it expects carbon offsets, through habitat restoration, may be the biggest growth area of the burgeoning climate solutions industry: these land initiatives are already the largest section of the market in economic terms.
While funding for climate solutions remains a tiny drop in the bucket of what companies and governments are capable of, the recent moves by the private and public sector demonstrate the scope of interest among officials, which has the potential to position the British uplands at the forefront of the green industrial revolution.
More critically, though, to support the growth of green finance for climate solutions we need land restoration projects to operate under open access research and development principles. Not only will this give confidence to the burgeoning climate solutions market by providing the data to underpin business decisions, but also uphold the Glasgow Climate Pact’s important principle of recognising “the importance of the best available science for effective climate action and policy making.”
Now is the time to begin managing climate risks, and do so in a way that will ensure a transition to a sustainable, secure and just land management system. Wild Moors stands ready to assist companies, communities, governments and individuals with transforming Britain’s uplands for nature, climate and people.