As the urgent call for ambitious climate action rings, companies are beginning to grasp the enormous potential of natural climate solutions (NCS) to strengthen their carbon strategies and provide a biological bridge to a resilient future. The recently released Accounting for Natural Climate Solutions Guidance empowers sustainability teams to assess and track their land-based GHG impacts and reduction opportunities and focus their efforts where they matter most. To demystify the process and put your company on the right path, we’ve outlined five things businesses need to know to activate natural climate solutions and transform their production systems into models that are sustainable and regenerative.
The synergy is clear: Aligning a company’s forest and land targets with a bold climate strategy gives forest and climate teams the opportunity to work together, to capture the climate value of forest initiatives already in place, and to focus efforts where the impact is greatest.
1+ Natural climate solutions harness the power of nature to tackle climate change.
Nature itself is a powerful resource for reducing emissions, removing carbon from the atmosphere, and storing it in natural ecosystems. Natural climate solutions are conservation, restoration and land management activities that increase carbon storage and/or avoid greenhouse gas emissions across global forests, wetlands, grasslands and agricultural lands. These solutions are increasingly recognized as key levers in mitigating the negative impacts of climate change and supporting ecosystem resilience. Indeed, NCS could address up to 37% global GHG emissions reductions needed by 2030 to stabilize the climate (see Grisom et al.).
What are Natural Climate Solutions? Source: The Nature Conservancy
2+ Natural climate solutions are not only about preventing deforestation, but also improving soil health through regenerative agriculture and land management practices.
Tackling deforestation is absolutely key for addressing climate change, since up to 15% of global GHG emissions are caused by deforestation (see CDP’s Global Forests Report 2017). At the same time, the world loses 24 billion tons of fertile soil every year. Soil health plays a critical role in regulating climate as it is directly connected to soil’s ability to sequester carbon. Leading businesses are increasingly recognizing this opportunity and tapping into the many benefits of digging into soil health.
Regenerative agriculture — a set of farming practices that improve soil health and sequester carbon — has become an integral part of many leading companies’ climate strategies, General Mills prominent among them. The company has pledged to drive the conversion of 1 million acres of its largely grain-based supply chain to regenerative practices by 2030. In a recent project at White Oaks Pastures, a supplier of General Mills’ EPIC Provisions brand, Quantis worked with General Mills to assess the impact of soil carbon on the overall footprint of the farm and its beef products. Using the methodology laid out in the Accounting for Natural Climate Solutions Guidance, General Mills was able to capture the soil carbon value of these regenerative practices. The results revealed just how significant soil carbon sequestration can be in production models designed with soil carbon stocks in mind. As General Mills’ Applied Sustainability Manager Jeff Hanratty mentioned in a 2018 Quantis-Greenbiz webinar on The Science of Setting Credible, Courageous Sustainability Goals, the company’s climate strategy is “betting the farm on the farm.”
3+ Businesses are increasingly recognizing the massive opportunity of embedding natural climate solutions in their carbon strategies.
Many businesses dependant on land have made commitments and invested in sustainability initiatives to address environmental issues such as deforestation and land degradation. At the same time, many of these same companies are making increasingly bold carbon emissions reduction commitments and setting science-based targets to address the urgent issue of climate change. For agriculture-based industries, such as food, textiles and, to some extent, cosmetics, land-related carbon emissions (including those from land use and land use change) often comprise the largest portion of a company’s carbon footprint. The synergy is clear: Aligning a company’s forest and land management targets with a bold climate strategy gives forest and climate teams the opportunity to work together, to capture the climate value of land initiatives already in place, and to focus efforts where the impact is greatest.
4+ Using the NCS Guidance, companies now have a consistent way to assess, measure, and track their land-related carbon impacts and opportunities in their supply chain — even if they have incomplete data.
Many companies track their deforestation risks through platforms such as Global Forest Watch but have struggled to put a carbon number on this data because the accounting and modeling practices have been inconsistent. To solve this challenge, Quantis convened more than 40 corporate, academic, and non-profit organizations to collectively produce a robust accounting methodology — Accounting for Natural Climate Solutions: Guidance For Measuring GHG Emissions From Land, Forests, and Soils Across the Supply Chain, or the NCS Guidance. This set of 12 recommendations allows companies to assess their impacts, identify their greatest risks and opportunities, and track progress on their land-based climate efforts — supporting sustainability teams throughout their Forest + Climate Journey.
Incomplete supply chain data is not a barrier to beginning the Forest + Climate Journey. Companies can start assessing their impacts and reduction potentials using readily available national-level generic data to set climate targets. Then, as they hone in on areas of highest impact, they can identify where more granular data and farm-level assessments are needed to track on-the-ground progress toward their goals.
5+ Accounting for GHG impacts from land will become standard practice and will lead companies to redesign their production systems around a regenerative model.
It’s no secret that most global agricultural systems will need to be deeply transformed to become sustainable. Accounting for land-related impacts is the first step to accelerating this transition. Senior Associate at Greenhouse Gas Protocol, David Rich, confirmed that the GHG Protocol will “move forward to develop new guidance on how companies and organizations should account for greenhouse gas emissions and carbon removals from land use, land use change, bioenergy, and related topics in GHG inventories, building on the Corporate Standard and Scope 3 Standard.”
The accounting methodology laid out in the NCS Guidance is expected to contribute to this standardization process. Companies will be equipped with robust data that supports better decision making and ensures actions are focused on the most relevant issues on their journey to sustainable and regenerative production.
If you’re looking to assess your land-related carbon impacts and focus your efforts where they matter most, let Michèle Zollinger guide your Forest + Climate Journey.
Sustainability Consultant + NCS Lead