scorecardOPINION: Time to scale-up nature-based solutions to forge a low-carbon and climate-resilient future for India
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OPINION: Time to scale-up nature-based solutions to forge a low-carbon and climate-resilient future for India

OPINION: Time to scale-up nature-based solutions to forge a low-carbon and climate-resilient future for India
SustainabilitySustainability7 min read
Representative image (Bilal Bahadur / BCCL, Srinagar)
Driving through Tehri district in Dev Bhoomi Uttarakhand this summer, the sight of smoke billowing from the pine forest dotted the cloud line. Locals informed that the blaze started in the first week of April and spread quickly due to high temperatures and strong winds, devouring local biodiversity and charring numerous birds and animals to death. In April 2022 alone, Uttarakhand recorded over 1,500 incidents of forest fires scorching over 2,891 hectares of forest land.
A report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) demonstrates that biodiversity and climate are deeply connected. The recent IPCC AR6 report also highlights that protecting and restoring nature is a critical strategy for addressing climate impacts, surging extremes, and biodiversity collapse.

Nature-based solutions

Nature-based solutions (NbS) find manifestations through several ecosystem-based adaptations (EbA) that enhance the capacity of local communities to safeguard local resources like water, soil, health, and livelihoods while enhancing biodiversity and ensuring societal wellbeing. In India, NbS are shaping up in small pockets across diverse ecosystems, from the forests to coasts to dry lands to the mountains.
Avani Bio Energy, a social enterprise located in the remote Himalayan district of Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand, shines a spotlight on one such solution. Avani attempts to address major societal issues, including climate change, harnessing nature's power to boost natural ecosystems, biodiversity, and human well-being. The enterprise has generated clean energy from the destructive pine needles for local livelihoods, demonstrating the value of a local resource-centric place-based solution. Such approaches can skill the local community, create green jobs, empower women, revive lost native oaks, mitigate forest fires, and play a critical role in building up the degrading ecosystems.
The Baitarani Initiative in Odisha is one such example that established a participatory and gender-focused, medicinal plant-based micro-enterprise integrated with regenerative and sustainable harvesting practices woven together with primary processing systems and forward market linkages. This has increased the forest cover and quality, improved livelihoods, and up skilled about 4000 households across six districts in Odisha.
On a much smaller scale, a fair-trade certified coffee brand works with 650 smallholder farmers who grow ‘biodiversity-friendly coffee’ by inculcating practices like including shade trees and managing pest behaviour that builds soil health and biodiversity. The FPO (Farmer producing organisations) model and supply chain provide farmers with 56% prices higher than the prevailing market price.
These examples show the value of NbS as defined by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural and modified ecosystems in ways that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, to provide both human well-being and biodiversity benefits”. The benefits include soil health, water security, income, improved pollination and other ecosystem services.

Need to scale-up NbS efforts

These efforts need to be scaled up and scaled out to meet the needs of 98 million small and marginal farmers in the country and address 98.5 million hectares of degraded land (2.5 times the size of Rajasthan). The Government of India, in many ways, is playing a lead role through NbS-aligned missions and programs such Green India Mission (GIM), National Afforestation Program, National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture, Submission on Agroforestry and National Bamboo Mission, but these need to be now taken up on the scale.
For example, GIM aims to increase the area of forest and covers by 5 million hectares and improve the quality of the existing forest and its cover over the additional 5 million hectares of non-forest land; however, it is currently short by 30% of its target. Also, just about 8% of the land is under agroforestry which has the potential to increase biomass and develop carbon sinks.
If implemented effectively, such solutions may even help India accelerate towards meeting its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the forestry sector that aims to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

Solutions lie with land-based NbS

Along with meeting NDC forestry and tree cover targets, the NbS can help in achieving land-related goals of Bonn challenge of restoring 26 million hectares of degraded land, achieving land degradation neutrality (LDN) of United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), preventing biodiversity collapse of its hotspots, and ensuring nature and ecosystem health amidst expanding RE targets are some of the areas where NbS can create immense impact.
There is consensus that NbS are cost-effective and reliable. For instance, estimates suggest that every dollar (INR 80) invested in forest landscape restoration generates $7-30 (INR 560-2400) in benefits, many of which flow to local communities. Additionally, NbS can help achieve 37% of globally pledged carbon emission reduction by 2030. In a scenario with an increasing focus on carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies and their unforeseen downsides, NbS offers a strong case in policy and practice.
However, investments in this area have been abysmally poor, receiving less than 3% of global climate finance. The UNEP’s State of Finance for Nature report (2021) highlighted that investments in NbS need to triple by 2030 and increase fourfold by 2050 from the current level of $133 billion per year.

So, what is needed for NbS to work in India?

A report from India Climate Collaborative points out critical social, institutional, technical, and financial gaps in scaling NbS. These include knowledge asymmetry, NbS taxonomy, effective NbS project design, demand side engagement, standards, and measurable metrics. Complete knowledge of specific NbS across climate zones is also unavailable. These gaps need to be filled up by the stakeholders of the NbS ecosystem.
  • The private sector, especially FMCG groups whose business depends on nature and biodiversity, could make their supply chain more sustainable through green procurement, green transportation, and carbon management, building transparency through Indian Business and Biodiversity Initiative (IBBI) disclosure framework.
  • Financial institutions like banks, development financing institutions, microfinance institutions, etc., can play a leading role in NbS via their lending, embedding climate and nature-related risks into their decision-making, and providing innovative green or transition finance solutions.
  • Philanthropic resources in NbS are extremely critical considering the long gestation period of such projects — where public resources are limited, and private investors won’t (yet) go. Philanthropies could invest catalytically in areas aligned with public goods, such as research on NbS prototypes across ecosystems and climatic zones, new Nbs practices, technological/digital enablement. They could aim to support a ‘fit for purpose’ blended financing facility to match long-term project periods to strengthen the NbS arena. Philanthropic monies have the potential to ‘de-risk’ NbS investment proposition for private investors by providing the initial ‘first-loss’ concessional, patient catalytic capital to allow other private investors to engage and co-invest.
  • The Indian govt, as an ecosystem enabler, could accelerate the NbS opportunity by showing the convergence of NbS across sectors schemes and programs such as RE development, MNREGS, disaster management, job creation and green recovery. A centre of excellence for NbS that could serve as a ‘go-to’ centre for all players of the NbS arena could provide a fillip to scaling NbS.
As India updates its NDC for upcoming CoP 27 at Egypt, tagged as adaptation CoP, it is time for nature-based solutions (NbS) to be prioritised as part of India’s adaptation and resilience strategy. Going beyond the net zero targets post-CoP 26, thinking and action around NbS should consciously be undertaken to ensure resilience. To begin, accounting and disclosing overall nature and biodiversity dependence and impacts for achieving India’s non-fossil fuel capacity target by 2030 could be a starting point. The assessment will potentially invigorate the NbS arena actors to mainstream NbS in India’s climate trajectory anchored around net zero and nature positive, translating the vision of LiFE, i.e. Lifestyle For Environment - lifestyle that is in tune with nature.

Dr Ajita Tiwari Padhi manages the Land Use program at India Climate Collaborative. Sunil Kumar Nandamudi is the former Head of Sustainable Banking, Natwest Group India.

This column is part of an editorial collaboration of Business Insider with the India Climate Collaborative. It is part of a year-long (2022-23) campaign on the theme “Only One Earth: Sustaining People, Planet and Prosperity” by Business Insider India’s Sustainability Insider.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the author/interviewee do not necessarily reflect the views of Business Insider India. The article has been partly edited for length and clarity

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