Warning - this is a long post with lots of links!
Environmentalists tend these days to focus either on climate change and its impact on humanity or on nature and wild landscapes. Most tend to focus on climate change alone and very few tend to focus on both.
Human activities have caused a 40 percent increase
in carbon dioxide in the air since the industrial revolution. This has lead rightly to present concerns about climate change, which focus on changing the way we generate energy. Renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean transport
together receive nearly 30 times the amount of public
investment than do nature based solutions to climate change.
It is, of course, vital that we address how we generate our energy. However, human impacts not directly related to energy generation (including deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices) make a significant contribution to climate change (see this article on the Nature website).
According to a recent study published in the US based Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences natural actions, such as planting trees, could prove as effective in combating climate change as immediately ceasing to burn oil. Their results (also discussed in the previously mentioned Nature article) show that if implemented within the next 15 years, investment in twenty selected natural activities could cost-effectively reduce emissions by 11.3 billion tonnes of CO2
per year. This would account for 37 percent of
the emissions reductions required to keep global warming below 2 degrees
Celsius by 2030 — the benchmark outlined in the 2010 Paris Agreement.
Healthy forests and peatlands are particularly important as they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Forests also help
prevent soil erosion and regulate the water cycle. A recent study (see this article) led by researchers from Leipzig University and the German
Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), shows that
many of these ecosystem functions perform better in forests with a larger number of different tree species. Their research shows that trees in more biodiverse forests grow faster, store more carbon and are more
resistant to pests and diseases than trees in forests with fewer species of trees.
Healthy oceans too are vital as up to 90% of earth's CO2 is stored in and cycled through the oceans (see this report).
The UK Government Environment Agency has published papers on natural flood management, which you can read about here. Natural flood management includes such processes as restoring
bends in rivers, changing the way land is managed so soil can absorb
more water and creating saltmarshes on the coast to absorb wave energy.
The US Nature Conservancy Global Solutions website has an interesting section on natural climate solutions which you can read here.
Many of these solutions would fall under the umbrella of natural capital as described by Tony Juniper in his book What Nature Does for Britain (which I review here). There's also the much more (to me) controversial version of natural capital which defines nature purely in terms of its financial value, which is critiqued very well here.