Oxford Study Says Nature-Based Solutions Crucial in Fight Against Climate Change

A Boreal Toad Restoration Site in Colorado. Image: USFWS/Flickr

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

A new study from the University of Oxford published Wednesday has found that nature-based solutions (NbS) land management and ecosystem restoration will play a key role in limiting global temperature rise.

  • If implemented properly, these practices could remove gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere in the next century.
  • Currently, only a tiny fraction of climate mitigation funding goes toward NbS, but experts say that the world will need to increase those investments to meet its emissions goals.

The study sheds light on the ways shifting priorities can impact generations to come.

Why This Matters: Experts say that NbS are a win-win-win for the environment. The world is facing a biodiversity crisis, oceans are acidifying rapidly, and deforestation rose in 2020 despite COVID-19. Solutions that preserve and restore the natural world won’t only remove CO2 from the atmosphere, but also protect wildlife and ecosystems while providing much-needed climate adaptation for vulnerable communities.

  • In Louisiana, a project to divert freshwater to rebuild damaged wetlands is underway. The restoration will provide the state with an extended floodplain, protecting communities from flooding while also restoring key ecosystems.
  • Protecting coral reefs, which are deteriorating globally, will preserve historic fisheries and buffer communities against extreme storms.

Protecting 30% of the world’s lands and water by 2030 is a start, but in order to harness their full potential, countries will have to move to prioritize and fund such solutions in addition to green energy and emissions reduction.


Three Degrees: The Paris Climate Agreement aims to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, but current projections show the world reaching 3 degrees Celsius by 2100.

The Oxford study evaluated NbS that “are cost-effective (costing less than US$100 per tonne of CO2 equivalent); ensure adequate global production of food and wood-based products; and involve sufficient biodiversity conservation.”

  • It found that these plans could result in the removal of 10 gigatons of CO2 per year, more than all global transportation emissions, and create a ripple effect that mitigates other GHGs as well.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds; removing that carbon would require preventing 270 million hectares of deforestation, restoring 678 million hectares of ecosystems (double the size of India), and improving the management of 2.5 billion hectares of land by 2050.

But even if the nations of the world commit to such plans, there is a very delicate timeframe for the effectiveness of NbS. On a trajectory to limit emissions by 1.5 degrees by 2050, NbS can accomplish 0.1 degrees of mitigation. On a limit trajectory of 2 degrees by 2085, it can contribute 0.3 degrees of mitigation. While this total is much smaller than decarbonizing the economy, experts say that the longevity of these solutions will preserve ecosystems, carbon sinks, and natural resources necessary to sustain the future green economy.

The lead author of the study, Cécile A. J. Girardin, explained,

the world must invest now in nature-based solutions that are ecologically sound, socially equitable, and designed to deliver multiple benefits to society over a century or more. Properly managed, the protection, restoration and sustainable management of our working lands could benefit many generations to come.”

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