The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report on Monday, which focuses on the myriad forms of climate mitigation. 

Researchers and lead authors sifted through more than 18,000 sources and distilled 43 primary ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. All of these solutions are eminently possible, the authors write.

Not only that, enacting them would also address many crises beyond climate change, including public health, food access, and social equity, according to Bronson Griscom, senior director of natural climate solutions at Conservation International, whose science was cited in the IPCC report.

That’s because climate action is intersectional in nature. Investments in renewable energy, for instance, not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also improve water and air quality. Investments in regenerative agriculture not only create healthier food systems, but also sequester huge amounts of carbon dioxide. The economic benefits of investing in climate action — reducing poverty, achieving prosperity — far exceed business-as-usual policies. 

“It’s really profound to me to think about the opportunity side of the coin and the extent to which we’re not just talking about solving a problem, we’re talking about this scenario of leaping forward to a greener world, a cleaner world, a healthier world,” Griscom said.

“To me, the report lays the groundwork for a level of integration of social and civic efforts that span different parts of our society in a pretty exciting way,” he said.

Nothing in the latest report is especially groundbreaking, with most of the recommendations having been urged by scientists for years, including the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies and investments, ramping up renewable energy production, and championing nature-based solutions. What’s new is the growing evidence of the transformative potential of climate action.

Alongside this positive scenario is the bleaker possibility of business as usual. In fact, the authors note how the science, financial resources, and technological capacity needed to avert the worst aspects of the climate crisis are readily available and can be deployed today, but countries are overwhelmingly failing to take this action, instead propping up the industries that are destroying the planet. 

Griscom spoke to Global Citizen about the crossroads of climate action, the potential of nature-based solutions, and how protecting the environment has many societal benefits. 

Global Citizen: What are the main takeaways from the latest report for you?

Griscom: The first thing that struck me is just the contrast in the report between the problem and the solution set, and I think it came across more in the challenge side of that contrast. We’re not on track and I would imagine that will be one of the bigger interpretations from many media outlets. 

But I found the report uplifting. I thought it was positive, because I’ve been in the space long enough, and I’ve read these prior reports. It’s grim, and it’s grimmer, because time has passed. What else is new?

There’s both a warning siren going off and a clarification and set of scientific rationale for all of these large solutions. The level of clarity, and the level of information about the powerful positive reasons that we’re not just solving a problem but we’d be moving toward a set of positives, was really striking to me.

And that contrast, what I would call a double-or-nothing bet, is what came across as most powerful to me. 

In what ways do we stand to benefit from these actions?

Starting with the costs, if we do strongly invest in the full range of solutions, GDP will improve, we will be better off in terms of basic economic metrics. It's a cost-savings on net when we look forward to the costs and benefits.

So economically, it’s a no-brainer to do these large sets of solutions. And then in terms of so-called SDGs [the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, or Global Goals], other things we value — social equity, whether it's biodiversity, clean air, clean water — there are some of these solutions that are particularly win-win, where we’re solving this problem and creating benefits. 

Not only is it an economic no-brainer, but if we do it right, there are certain trade-offs and we’d be lunging into a better world. It’s not just a dark story, it’s a story of solving a set of problems that we’ve had for a long time. This could be the moment where we solve a lot of things at once.

This report confronts us with the notion that there’s no scenario where we aren’t going to have radical change. Radical change is coming. We could sit back and the radical change could be levels of climate change that are horrifying. Some of that is already baked in, but we’re talking about how this is just the tip of the iceberg, and there’s more serious, harrowing stuff.

We could let that change happen, or we could take action and avoid that dark scenario, which means transforming urban planning, it means transforming the ways in which we steward our lands. If we can confront that change, that positive change, we’re sort of leaping into a world where we solve not just climate but a number of other problems that we have. That's very positive. 

What’s an example of this either-or, radical change?

The natural climate solutions are one of the most positive examples, and also this double-or-nothing bet. 

One of the concerns people have about restoring natural ecosystems is the fear of tipping points being dramatized in the news. You hear reports about the forests that are burning, but not about the forests that are growing, 

The systems at most risk are a limited subset. We understated the resilience of these ecosystems on the one hand, but if we do pass thresholds, that's a very dark world, and there’s three to four times more carbon in ecosystems than into the atmosphere. That’s a hot house, dark place.

But if we restore and protect ecosystems in ways that improve their resilience, we’re looking at a place where we’re at a much more stable climate.

How are nature-based solutions discussed in the report more broadly?

One of the things that jumped out to me was all the ways in which we can protect, restore, and better manage lands to avoid emissions and enhance carbon removals.

The report sort of breaks solutions down across six sectors into 43 solutions. What I hadn’t seen is that when you put all those nature-based solutions against the other sectors, they’re at the top for the largest cost-rational benefits. Natural climate solutions are three of the top five. 

The most effective solution was solar energy, I don't think that's any surprise — we need to crank out solar panels. What might be a surprise is that the second largest of all of these solutions is reduced conversion of natural ecosystems, avoiding deforestation, and avoiding the loss of wetlands. 

Number three is wind energy; we need more windmills coming out.

Number four is carbon sequestration in agriculture. What does that mean? In a technical sense, it's actually a couple of different things. One of them being cover crops. Cover crops are where you put in a winter season crop that covers the land. Plants are half carbon, half of their dry mass, so that pulls carbon in and some of that carbon gets into the soils, which also improves the fertility of the soil. That’s something that improves yields.

Another big chunk of that is integrating trees into agricultural landscapes. If you do it the right way, it can actually improve crop yields, while restoring soil, and removing carbon. In the tropics, it’s also reducing heat stress, which improves the ability of people to work and be healthy. 

Colleagues of mine have done interviews asking this question — what is the No. 1 value of putting trees into agriculture? And the No. 1 answer from communities is the shade. So that’s win-win-wins.

Number five is restoration and reforestation, essentially rewilding areas. 

How well are countries taking advantage of these solutions?

In the national climate solution space, there’s very little climate investment. We need 10 to 29 times more investment to do the rational economic thing. 

So the bad news is there’s very little investment in natural solutions, but there's a huge investment opportunity and this is going to help countries both economically and for all these other values that we care about.

There’s a huge investment opportunity 

What happens if ecosystems that need to be conserved and restored — like the Amazon rainforest — cross tipping points and begin to collapse?

Thresholds are really complex things. They’re very difficult to anticipate when they will happen and what the implications of what those shifts mean. I will say this: It's usually not an all-or-nothing thing. I don’t think we would see it as the Amazon rainforest one day, and then the next day it’s grasslands. Today there are natural grasslands in the Amazon, there are some areas that are much more moist and are less likely to transition, and then there are some areas that are on that transition. 

If they do transition from forest to grassland, I don't think we can count on them transitioning back in our lifetime or our grandkids' lifetimes. That is a threshold that we do not want to mess with.

We’ll see some of that transition no matter what, but if you get to really large-scale transitions, if we pass those thresholds, it really gets scary, because the amount of carbon in these ecosystems is massive. Then the problem is you get past this transition and you dump all this CO2 into the atmosphere, then it gets even harder to solve climate change and you get more shifts, and it's a runaway train. 

We do not want to go there. If we go there, to a really large-scale ecosystem shift, that’s a really scary world, and we have to avoid that at all costs.

What’s one thing you want to emphasize about the report?

There's a whole section in the report on the links between climate solutions and SDGs, which is really a big range of things. The SDGs cover a lot of territory in terms of the values we have — life on land and in the ocean — and I would just say that I think it’s really profound to me to think about the challenges and opportunity sides of the coin and the extent to which we’re not just talking about solving a problem, we’re talking about this scenario of leaping forward to a greener world, a cleaner world, a healthier world. A world where you have rural economies that are often disadvantaged that are much better economically.

This is a call to action across sectors of society that are not currently well-aligned, from social justice to environmental issues to urban systems and rural systems.

To me it lays the groundwork for a level of integration of social and civic efforts that span different parts of our society in a pretty exciting way.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

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