By: Justin van der Horn, Environmental Strategy Officer at Crowther Lab
The Crowther Lab aims to be a hub of ecological information to help understand and address the global threats of biodiversity loss and climate change. Accordingly, collaboration and outreach are core to what we do. We work with a network of leading scientists. We endeavor to make our research findings approachable to the general public. We partner with restoration groups and NGOs to understand their needs and to put our science into action. Of course, international and governmental organizations are key stakeholders as well. As such, I was honored to represent the lab last month at G20 working group meetings. But it was also a bit surreal. My path in life to such a diplomatic meeting was not straightforward, but in some ways, I’d been planning for it longer than I knew. Much longer…
Imagine little Justin on his 7th birthday. Soccer enthusiast? Hardly. I was gleefully hosting an “Earth Day Birthday” and cajoling my friends into making bird feeders. I perhaps should have known then that I was destined for an environmental career. But, as I began university, my plan was to become a diplomat. I loved cross-cultural exchange, I believed in the power of collaboration, and above all, I wanted to make a positive impact. Ultimately, I chose a non-governmental path which applied those same principles and my passion for the environment. So, it was both odd and prophetic to find myself at the G20.
We were invited to speak at two working group meetings: one on Climate Stewardship and the other on Land Degradation and Habitat loss. Although the two groups focused on the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss separately, our message about the scale and potential of responsible ecosystem restoration rang strong and true at each meeting. It was an incredible opportunity to engage foreign policy representatives and ministers of climate, environment and land from 20 of the largest economies in the world.
As I arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, I couldn’t help but think about the juxtaposition of talking about forest and soil restoration potential in the middle of a desert in a country so strongly associated with its fossil fuel production. Then again, what better place to discuss desertification and applying restoration approaches appropriate for each biome – whether desert, grassland, or forest?
I was pleased to hear speaker after speaker reinforce the power of Nature-Based Solutions to help address social, economic and environmental goals. Clearly the wave of evidence from science and practice is gaining momentum!
It was exciting to address policymakers and share our message – especially a message of potential and opportunity. There are up to 0.9 billion hectares of degraded land outside of existing forest, urban or agricultural land that could support added tree cover. In combination, that’s an area larger than Brazil and nearly the size of the United States. I’d like to think that comparison was extra relevant with representatives from both countries in the room!
I also emphasized four principles to help guide responsible restoration and climate action. These include cutting emissions; conserving and protecting existing ecosystems; practicing social responsibility; and exercising responsible ecology. Our partners at 1T.org and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration shared similar messages. Together, I believe we made the case that nature is a foundation for healthy societies and strong economies. And, I believe the message was heard.
I think it’s important to speak science to power, to engage and collaborate with governments for mutual learning and benefit, and to help ensure that our science informs more meaningful action. ….Perhaps it’s also important to be careful what you wish for when you blow out your Earth Day Birthday candles…you might just end up at the G20.