New global targets for protecting and restoring nature can help tackle climate change


IIASA researchers contributed to a recent report published by the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) calling for coordinated action on climate change and nature loss.

The report: Strengthening Synergies: Climate Change Mitigation Benefits from Achieving Global Biodiversity Targets will inform negotiations at the upcoming COP15 Biodiversity Conference (7-19 December 2022) by presenting analysis on biodiversity, carbon stocks, and carbon sequestration combined with modeling of land use change. The study calculated the carbon dioxide emissions that countries could save if they conserved and restored ecosystems on land in line with proposed international targets for nature conservation.

“Nature is a key part of the solution to the climate crisis and understanding how much carbon can be saved through conservation and restoration of terrestrial ecosystems is critically important for governmental and non-governmental decision makers,” says Matthew Lewis, a researcher in the IIASA Biodiversity, Ecology, and Conservation Research Group. “Our estimates give guidance on the magnitude and distribution of these nature-climate synergies, while also highlighting how much further we need to go in cutting emissions through concerted societal change.”

Aligning with new goals and targets expected to be adopted at the end of 2022 as part of the UN’s post-2020 global biodiversity framework, the study found that carefully targeted efforts to conserve 30% of the Earth’s ecosystems on land by 2030, alongside restoring 15% of converted landscapes, could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least three gigatons a year.

The research team wanted to show how meeting “area-based targets” could affect carbon dioxide emissions through conserving ecosystems instead of converting land for farming or other uses, and by restoring ecosystems on already converted land. They built on previous IIASA-led research on spatial planning approaches that identify areas of global importance for carbon storage and biodiversity with powerful global land use models that project future emissions from land conversion over the coming decades.

They found that Africa holds the greatest potential to avoid future emissions: increasing conservation efforts on the continent in line with the proposed global area targets would save one gigaton of carbon dioxide per year from 2030 onwards. Meanwhile, Asia has the greatest potential for increasing carbon dioxide sequestration specifically from restoring converted lands, saving 0.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year if the proposed global targets are met at regional scale.

“The report shows that with a targeted approach, it is possible to deliver the mitigation potential from managing lands sustainably while addressing climate change,” notes IIASA Biodiversity, Ecology, and Conservation Research Group Leader Piero Visconti. “However, as the areas of global importance for biodiversity and carbon are not distributed evenly across the globe, international support is necessary to help developing countries contribute towards these goals.”

Adapted from a press release prepared by UNEP-WCMC. Read the original press release here.


United Nations Environment Programme (2022). Strengthening Synergies: Climate change mitigation benefits from achieving global biodiversity targets. United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge

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