Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) are emerging as a powerful, integrated approach for mitigating and adapting to climate change while protecting biodiversity and promoting the well-being of people, particularly those living in vulnerable communities. There is growing evidence that NBS have the potential to capture over one-third of the carbon needed to keep the earth’s temperature growth at below 2 degrees Celsius, in addition to being able to support ecosystem services worth an estimated $125 trillion annually to the global economy.
We heard often in the run-up to COP 26 and again and again throughout the event that the greatest challenges to scaling NBS are the interconnected needs for better data and more investment. Better methods for measuring, aggregating, comparing and sharing impact data leads to modifications in methods and ultimately better results which inspires confidence amongst investors, partners and donors.
As NBS practitioners experiment with different frameworks for improving data, Nature For Justice (N4J) is focused on measuring the impact of its work in three broad categories: livelihoods, nature, and carbon. Even before an N4J project is launched, project managers, technical experts, community stakeholders and investors collaborate to define key performance indicators or the ‘metrics for measuring impact’ and the means for measuring them. So too, are the methods for transparently reporting progress against the metrics clearly defined and communicated to investors, donors, peers and any network or party with an interest.
Nature For Justice was founded in 2020 to bring justice to the communities most impacted by climate change. The changing conditions under which these communities are being forced to live are undermining their quality of life and wellbeing — from the security of their income generating activities to their health to their ability to stay in place. The sharp rise in mass migrations in many parts of the world is directly attributable to the impact climate change is having on the communities from which migrants are fleeing.
In a recent blog (Investing in Nature to Reduce Human Migration), N4J discussed the opportunity to substantially reduce the human and economic cost of mass migration by investing in nature locally. For example, $1 of investment in nature can save $4 of migration costs. Investments that help local communities both mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change can preserve as well as create new income generating activities, improve health and wellbeing and remove the need to migrate.
Nature For Justice is measuring the relationship between investments in nature and if and how people thrive by staying in place. Under livelihoods, what exactly will N4J measure? Whether family structures are maintained, the gender balance in responsibilities and benefits, and whether the youth of a community are able to stay and thrive. Resilience to economic shocks driven by climate disruptions can be measured through the stability of incomes and whether adequate savings can help a community get through the tough times.
Finally, N4J will evaluate the trust the local community has with its on-the-ground partners. N4J chooses partners based on the trusted relationships they already have with a local community. Assessing the strength and resilience of the partnership is core to the community’s receptivity to building new capacity, adapting new nature-based practices, and to N4J’s long-term success.
Nature For Justice uses the ‘nature’ category to measure several different but related variables. One is biodiversity — and the variety and abundance of species. In some places where N4J works, such as southern Africa, the presence and number of keystone species is a core indicator (and relatedly, wildlife/human interaction.) Healthy ecosystems are dependent on the availability, quantity, and durability of sources of water, so in some places measuring water is a core indicator of progress. The Global Safety Net has identified the most important wildlife corridors in the world and one of N4J’s most ambitious goals is to protect and conserve the 100 most important corridors for people and planet. In these cases, the ‘nature’ metrics N4J measures are tailored to the needs of restoring, conserving, and protecting wildlife corridors.
Similarly, N4J uses the ‘carbon’ category to capture a complex cross section of metrics to measure progress. In its most elemental form, N4J measures how much carbon is being sequestered using NBS to promote: forest protection, landscape management and restoration. For any single project N4J uses a mix of nature-based solutions so attribution becomes a necessary addition. In other cases, N4J measures the effectiveness of removing invasive species such as Black Wattle, and the net carbon benefit of doing so.
N4J is learning through its experience just how complex, challenging and costly it is to model carbon capture. Achieving better data will be dependent on driving down the cost of measuring what is captured, and N4J is actively looking for ways to do that.
The focus must remain on capturing data that enables practitioners and organizations like Nature For Justice to measure and aggregate results across countries, through peer-to-peer networks, so practitioners and communities can compare results and modify local practices for ever better outcomes. This is the only way to create momentum at scale, demonstrate results and inspire the confidence of investors, partners and donors.
We will only be successful mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change if we act in concert and learn from one another. And to do that, we must be able to measure the impact of what we are doing, and transparently share it with everyone who express an interest.