Are Nature Based Solutions the bloodline of Africa’s economic future?

After 25 years of rising carbon emissions, its becoming clear to many at the UN climate talks here in Madrid that perhaps the best new technologies to solve the climate crisis are in fact the oldest, nature-based solutions.

This process focuses on working with and around natural systems to deliver real-world benefits. As Valerie Kapos, explained, sometimes these solutions are right outside our doorsteps. “If you want to clean running water, you need to think about managing watersheds in peri-urban areas…and the only way you can do that is through nature-based management. Those connections between the urban and the peri-urban environment are essential.”

As the Head of Climate Change and Biodiversity at the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), she described a range of natural solutions being implemented across Africa, and around the world. These included protecting rivers, forests, marine solutions, and in some cases, managing these systems to benefit local economies in a manner which also “achieves a whole series of co-benefits, which in some cases are the same as you would achieve in engineered solutions, such as jobs, but they also add benefits for biodiversity…we need to be applying that argument to whichever solutions we are choosing.”

Credits: UNFCCC.

While the UN climate talks are celebrating their 25th year, emissions around the world have continued to climb. Today, the Global Carbon Budget report confirmed that carbon emissions rose by an additional 200 million tonnes last year, largely pushed up by a rise in coal and oil use.

However, agricultural and transport emissions remain critical, and for many, that is where natural solutions could play a key role in managing what for many will be a dramatic economic transition.

This is definitely true for the Seychelles, which has been appointed by the African Union to be the champion of the development of the Blue economy across the continent. While the continent is often known for its deserts and jungles, a Blue economic transition will be essential for the 48 coastal states that collectively make up the worlds longest coastline. Here, nature-based solutions will play a key role in the leadership of Seychelles, building on the back of an economic transformation that has already begun.

“To some, Seychelles is a small island country,” explained Ronald Jumeau, Permanent Representative of Seychelles to the UN, but “if we behave as Big Ocean State, we can do 1000s of times more.”

“We have protected 47% of our land, and are moving toward 50%. But our ocean territory is 3000 times bigger than our land territory, and we are on track to protect 30% of that area.”

This was made possible by one of the world’s biggest debt-swap programs. The debt-for-nature deal was made possible through The Nature Conservancy in which the island nation’s $400 million sovereign debt was purchased at a discount, and will be re-invested in nature conservation programs to make its marine conservation sustainable.

“Through this program, we have funded mangrove restoration and climate education programs” explained Angelique Pouponneau, runs a Seychelles-based trust fund focusing on climate adaptation and conservation. “One of the things that our investors are really keen to see is that it is climate-resilient investments”.

Credits: Allan Jay Quesada

But Valerie Kapos highlights that this challenge of proving resilience should also be reversed back onto the engineered industries we currently have.  “If we want to ask a question about the fisheries benefit of a nature-based solution, we need to think about comparing that to a concrete fisheries based solution.”

This is especially true as an investment in nature-based solutions remains much lower than what Valerie Kapos would like to see. “In the private sector you see little glimmers because a lot of nature-based solutions start as corporate social responsibility, but there is a lot of resistance…and then suddenly there is a realisation that there are some great solutions out there.”

This was reiterated by Vanessa Ushie, Policy Analysis Division African Development Bank, who highlighted that “one thing we are looking at is changing the way in which lending is being channelled to Africa, and how natural resources can be calculated in the understanding of wealth within a country.”

However, Ushie also highlighted that while the co-benefits of nature-based solutions are becoming more and more understood, some of the broader impacts on the African resource sector remain limited; “We need capacity building on how the just transition will affect the resource sector”.

For Seychelles, they are still estimating their natural wealth, especially the ecosystem services of some of their biggest carbon sinks.

“What we are aiming to do in our new NDC, is map all the seagrass beds and meadows that we have and use that information, in partnership with IPCC guidelines, to input all our seagrass meadows and beds into our NDCs.” In 2018, an EU Commission report labelled A Clean Planet for All, looked at the world’s best carbon sinks and listed seagrass as the 2nd most efficient carbon sink, well ahead of terrestrial forests.

As such, we may soon see Seychelles reap the carbon sequestration benefits of protecting and restoring their vast, but as yet unquantified carbon sinks.

“The ocean is part of our DNA,” said Jumeau, and it’s clear that it is well understood as the bloodline of the economic future in Seychelles.