The world needs to find a range of ways to reduce carbon emissions while also addressing growing energy demand. One approach is to protect and restore natural ecosystems that can absorb carbon dioxide, such as forests, grasslands and wetlands. This is known as nature-based solutions.
The vegetation that covers around a third of the world’s surface is vital to sustaining the planet's natural balance. It supports wildlife systems and helps maintain a healthy atmosphere by taking in carbon dioxide (CO2) and releasing oxygen.
Yet it is under threat: from human activities, such as clearing woodland for farming and illegal logging, as well as from climate change.
Nature-based solutions, or natural climate solutions, are projects which protect, transform or restore these natural ecosystems so that nature can absorb more CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.
Nature-based solutions activities can also lead to the creation of ‘carbon credits’ where each credit represents the avoidance or removal of greenhouse gases equivalent to one tonne of CO2. These carbon credits can then be marketed, traded and bought as a way to help compensate for emissions.
But these projects can also have extra benefits such as offering alternative sources of income to local communities, improving soil productivity, cleaning air and water, and maintaining biodiversity.
Shell's approach to nature-based solutions
Shell recognises the need to limit global carbon dioxide emissions. Our response includes improving the energy efficiency of our own operations, generating electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind, selling more, cleaner-burning natural gas instead of oil or coal and providing lower-carbon fuel options such as hydrogen or electric-vehicle charging points.
Shell also recognise the role that nature-based solutions can play in the future of our planet and, between 2019 and 2021, we plan to invest up to $300 million in nature-based solutions projects across the globe.
We are investing in a mixture of projects, some of which generate carbon credits today, some of which will generate carbon credits in the future and some of which will not generate carbon credits at all but will enable carbon storage.
In the UK, Shell sources carbon credits from a number of places, including the Overkirkhope Project in the Scottish borders and the Longwood Project in Cumbria, both woodland creation projects verified to the UK Woodland Carbon Code. Shell has also recently partnered with Forestry and Land Scotland.
No single solution
Nature-based solutions sometimes get a bit of bad press: aren’t they just encouraging people to carry on producing carbon dioxide or to drive guilt free?
At Shell, we are clear that offsetting CO2 emissions through the right nature-based solutions projects has a legitimate role to play in tackling climate change. Our aim is that the schemes we invest in meet stringent quality standards, meaning they are genuinely benefitting the environment as well as local communities.
But we are also clear that offsetting in this way is only part of the solution to reducing CO2 emissions. Where possible, we all need to avoid producing CO2 emissions altogether or choose solutions that help us to reduce them.
For example, Shell already offers drivers a range of ways to lower their emissions: from providing charging for electric vehicles, to offering hydrogen as a fuel at Shell service stations, to providing guidance on efficient driving.
Where emissions cannot be avoided, nature-based solutions are an option that can be used to compensate for them.
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