November 4, 2021

Cascading benefits: How today’s system of climate solutions can help bring about a regenerative future for all

by  Chad Frischmann, senior director, Drawdown Solutions

Cascading

Skradinski Buk waterfall, Krka National Park, Lozovac, Croatia

Joe Green

Making a difference in climate is all about building coalitions and working collaboratively. Bringing together as many and as wide a variety of stakeholders as possible to work hand in hand is the best—perhaps the only—way to truly move the needle on a problem of this magnitude. This is a Race to Zero, and we must link arms to get on track and achieve the 1.5°C climate target.

Of course, that is easier said than done. Getting everyone into the same room is hard enough; getting them to agree on a plan and move collectively at scale has proven nearly impossible to date. Climate change is an existential threat the likes of which we’ve never faced before, and it has been politicized to such a degree that even mentioning it can shut down dialogue with many of the people, industries, and institutions that contribute to it most.

To bring everyone on board, we need to stop focusing so much on the cascade of destruction that climate change may create and start talking about something else: the cascading benefits that climate solutions can bring to human and planetary well-being.

The cascading benefits of climate solutions

In 2008, I took a sabbatical from my doctoral research on institutional change to backpack through sub-Saharan Africa. There, I experienced firsthand the intimate relationship between people and the planet. The rich biodiversity and vibrant cultures I encountered filled me with a new sense of joy and passion for the world I lived in. But I also witnessed extreme poverty, malnutrition, and the degradation of precious ecosystems—an all-too-powerful reminder that environmental devastation and human inequality go together, both products of a long history of exploitation and an economic system that benefits few at the expense of many.

Since then, I’ve dedicated my life and research to working at the nexus of human rights, the environment, and sustainable development—all issues at the front lines of the climate crisis. Rising global temperatures and their effects on our natural and economic systems exacerbate preexisting challenges and create new ones. Thus, it is no surprise that climate change does, and will continue to do, disproportionately harm to economically disadvantaged communities, Indigenous peoples, women and girls, people of color, and the Earth’s unique biodiversity.

Yet, there is another side to the story. A growing body of research has demonstrated that climate solutions—technologies and practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions—can help reduce, if not eradicate, hunger, poverty, inequality, and many other deep-seated issues that grip our world. In fact, as my colleagues and I outlined in a recent paper, the 82 climate solutions we evaluated at Project Drawdown as a “system of solutions” to stop global warming have 2,647 beneficial links to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These cascading co-benefits include ensuring future food security, providing abundant access to clean energy, preserving and restoring life on land and in the oceans, improving gender equality, and ensuring inclusive economic growth for all. When we add in the potential of $80–115 trillion of economic savings from this system of solutions by 2050, the way forward is pretty obvious.

Take, for example, the way humanity produces and consumes food. About 24 percent of global annual emissions are generated from the Food, Agriculture, and Land Use sector. Land conversion for food production is the largest contributor to deforestation. Modern agriculture degrades soil productivity and turns land into a net emitter of greenhouse gases. We demand increasing amounts of animal proteins to the point of vastly overconsuming this high-emitting, resource-intensive commodity, particularly in the richer parts of the world. Yet up to 40 percent of all food produced is lost or wasted across the supply chain, resulting in an additional 8-10 percent of global greenhouse gases from all energy and resources used to produce that waste. All the while, 800 million people around the world are going hungry.

There is an alternative, simpler story to tell. Research shows that by (1) implementing regenerative agriculture, which restores soil productivity and sequesters carbon; (2) adopting a resource-, and emissions-efficient, plant-rich diet; and (3) cutting food loss and waste by at least half, we could not only put a 300- to 420-gigaton dent in atmospheric greenhouse gases in 30 years, but also produce enough food to feed the world’s growing population a healthy, nutrient-rich diet without shortage on current farmland. That means there would be no need to cut down forests for farms and pastures.

This is what I mean by cascading benefits: the solutions to climate change are the same as the solutions to food security, public health, ecosystem and biodiversity preservation, and improved livelihoods. Climate change aside, these are the things we need to do to create a society that serves and respects all people. So perhaps it’s time to stop calling them “climate solutions” and call them what they really are: human solutions.

Toward a regenerative future for humanity

This is why I believe that climate change offers perhaps the greatest opportunity humanity has ever had: the opportunity to create a future that benefits all. We can shift the way we do business from an inherently exploitative, extractive system to a new normal that is by nature restorative and regenerative.

The science is clear. This “regenerative future” is within reach with today’s technology and expertise. What we need is the wherewithal to get it done. And that requires that we change the narrative around many of the world’s most difficult problems from one of fear and apathy to one of solutions and possibility. Doing so will bring the financial capital, political will, and public interest to move forward with the speed necessary to avert disaster.

Actually, there’s one more thing we need: Partnership. Climate solutions inform and reinforce each other in myriad and complex ways. Only by approaching them as an integrated system and implementing them in parallel around the world can we unlock their true potential to create a future that benefits humanity and the planet.. This “system of solutions” can only be realized through broad-based, effective local, regional, and international collaboration that connects governments, businesses, financial institutions, communities, and individuals. By building inclusive coalitions that foster participatory engagement, and by actively embedding equity and social justice principles in the implementation of all climate solutions, we can help achieve all 17 SDGs and address today’s deep, systemic inequalities—all while halting global warming and preventing the worst effects of climate change.

This is the regenerative future I dream of; this is the power and the enormous potential of the cascading benefits of climate solutions.

More Insights

March 31, 2022
New Drawdown Lift report: Advancing climate solutions can help alleviate extreme poverty
Addressing climate change and improving the well-being of millions of people experiencing extreme poverty—two grand challenges of the 21st century—can be done together and create critical co-benefits for socially disadvantaged groups in rural areas of low- and middle-income countries, according to a new landmark report released today by Drawdown Lift, a program of the global nonprofit Project Drawdown.  The report, titled Climate–Poverty Connections: Opportunities for synergistic solutions at the intersection of planetary and human well-being, focuses specifically on climate solutions and poverty alleviation in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia—two areas of the world most at risk from the threats of climate change. This first-of-its-kind analysis reveals many ways in which specific technologies and practices that offer proven, substantial benefits for addressing climate change also improve multiple aspects of human well-being—particularly people’s livelihoods, health, food security, education, gender equality, and more. Widespread implementation of these solutions would be transformational in alleviating poverty and increasing resilience to current and future climate change. According to a World Bank report, in the next decade, climate change could push an additional 100 million people into poverty in low- and middle-income countries, setting back decades of progress in poverty alleviation—a situation the pandemic has made even more dire. "We have an opportunity to elevate climate solutions that also boost human well-being and contribute to much-needed socioeconomic development,” said Kristen P. Patterson, director of Drawdown Lift. “Populations experiencing extreme poverty did not cause the climate crisis. It is incumbent upon decisionmakers to strategically invest in climate solutions that help usher in equity and prosperity, and achieve the SDGs.” The report guides leaders and stakeholders—including international and country-level climate and development policymakers, the climate finance community, donors, and NGOs—toward the dual goals of investing in low-carbon development pathways and reducing poverty. "In developing countries globally, efforts to promote climate action will undoubtedly be intertwined with aspirations for economic growth. This report sheds light on policy options and approaches for harnessing this opportunity to deliver human well-being benefits in the race to net-zero," said Mohamed Imam Bakarr, senior environmental specialist at Global Environment Facility and a Drawdown Lift Advisory Council member. The report, which builds on Project Drawdown’s groundbreaking climate solutions research, draws on a review of 450 articles and reports (through 2021) to synthesize the evidence of how climate interventions that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions can also generate substantial co-benefits for human well-being. It was reviewed by a dozen experts in agriculture, gender, international development, education, conservation, climate, health, and other areas. The report’s findings have the potential to improve the lives of millions of people around the world—particularly girls and women—if the recommendations are implemented. "If you’re telling a rural woman to cease using dirty fuels for cooking, know that poverty is the reason she is using them. Climate solutions must be holistic to ensure sustainability. This report presents strategies for solving the climate challenge that address intertwined human needs," said Glory Oguegbu, founder and CEO of the Renewable Energy Technology Training Institute and a Drawdown Lift Advisory Council member. Downloads Download the full report | Download the abbreviated fact sheet Media Contacts Todd Reubold, Director of Marketing and Communications, Project Drawdown Kristen P. Patterson, Director, Drawdown Lift, Project Drawdown About Drawdown Lift Launched in early 2021, Drawdown Lift works to deepen collective understanding of the links between climate change solutions and poverty alleviation, particularly in low- and middle-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The Lift team seeks to help address both extreme poverty and climate change by collaboratively identifying, promoting, and advancing solutions designed to catalyze positive, equitable change. About Project Drawdown Project Drawdown is a nonprofit organization that seeks to help the world reach “drawdown”—the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline. Cities, universities, corporations, philanthropies, policymakers, communities, educators, activists, and more turn to Project Drawdown as they look to advance effective climate action. Project Drawdown aims to support the growing constellation of efforts to move climate solutions forward and move the world toward drawdown—as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Project Drawdown is funded by individual and institutional donations.
Read more
March 15, 2022
Project Drawdown launches “Drawdown’s Neighborhood”
Across the United States, individuals are working each and every day to reduce the threat of climate change in their cities and communities. Drawdown Stories, a new initiative of Project Drawdown, aims to showcase their work and inspire others by passing the mic to the climate problem-solvers whose voices and stories often go unheard. Launching today, Drawdown’s Neighborhood is a new short documentary series featuring the stories of climate solutions heroes, city-by-city. The series is rooted in the guiding principle of “Climate Solutions in Color,” Project Drawdown’s commitment to “pass the mic” to the climate stories that often go unheard. The first season features individuals, most of whom are from underrepresented groups, mobilizing electric vehicle fleets, retrofitting buildings, and advancing other climate solutions in Pittsburgh, a city with a deep history in coal and steel. In the spirit of Pittsburgh native Mister Rogers, this series showcases the diverse “neighborhood” of people working to help the world reach drawdown, the future point when greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere start to steadily decline. Drawdown’s Neighborhood: Pittsburgh features 11 stories of how people from all over the city are mobilizing to fuel a green future—leveraging Pittsburgh’s innovative spirit for much-needed change. The stories center the voices of women, Black people, people of color, immigrants, and others who are often not represented in the climate dialogue and yet are commonly most immediately and severely vulnerable to the impacts of climate catastrophe.The series features: Clara Kitongo, Program Coordinator at Tree Pittsburgh Sarah Olexsak, Manager of Transportation Electrification at Duquesne Light Company Erica Cochran Hameen, Assistant Professor & Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture Richard Tumushime, Head Electrician at Energy Independent Solutions Angie Martinez, Senior Right-of-Way Manager at the City of Pittsburgh Tom Mulholland, Senior Project Manager at Grounded Strategies Brandon Walton, Fleet Manager with the City of Pittsburgh Alexis Cromer, Food Operations Director at 412 Food Rescue Paige Anderson, Project Manager at the City of Pittsburgh, Department of Mobility and Infrastructure Shawn Taylor, Crew Leader at Landforce Veni Mittal, Former Energy Audits Associate at Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh; Community Service Chair at the Green Building Alliance Drawdown’s Neighborhood is hosted by Matt Scott, manager of storytelling and engagement at Project Drawdown. Scott is also the creator and host of Let’s Care, where he has interviewed and learned from 100+ unlikely or underrepresented changemakers since 2017. “I want people to see themselves and their power. As a young, Black, queer person who’s also a storyteller, I’ve been acutely aware of how the climate conversation traditionally hasn’t centered underrepresented voices,” said Scott. “This is not only a problem because Black communities, Indigenous communities, communities of color, and other marginalized groups are often the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, but also because these communities are the most underutilized in surfacing solutions. Representation matters everywhere, including the climate space, and if we want to tap into our full power to address climate change, we need to center those whose power has often been underrepresented and underestimated.” In addition to the featured videos, the Drawdown’s Neighborhood site includes discussion prompts to engage classrooms or communities in dialogue around each episode. And there are resource links to help individuals and others take action to address climate change. Future Drawdown’s Neighborhood cities will be announced later this year. To learn more and stay up to date, please visit drawdown.org/neighborhood. About Drawdown Stories Drawdown Stories identifies and produces multimedia stories as a bridge between the science-based solutions of Project Drawdown and the people looking for their own roles in the climate solutions space. This work provides an entry point for a diverse range of people through tangible examples of climate solutions being implemented today. Our work showcases the various people in climate careers that help make drawdown possible. The guiding principle of Drawdown Stories is “Climate Solutions in Color.” Through Climate Solutions in Color, we work to “pass the mic” to the climate heroes who often go unheard. About Project Drawdown Project Drawdown is a nonprofit organization that seeks to help the world reach “drawdown”—the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline. Cities, universities, corporations, philanthropies, policymakers, communities, educators, activists, and more turn to Project Drawdown as they look to advance effective climate action. We aim to support the growing constellation of efforts to move climate solutions forward and move the world toward drawdown—as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Project Drawdown is funded by individual and institutional donations.
Read more
February 22, 2022
Decisive Climate Moments Call for Bold New Tactics
One of the most confounding realities of the climate crisis is that two seemingly contradictory facts are simultaneously true: that humanity has at our fingertips the solutions to fix it at the very same time that global greenhouse gas emissions soar higher than ever.  By now the world has a solid understanding of what the solutions to the climate crisis are. Aggregating, communicating, and accelerating the adoption of these solutions is the reason Project Drawdown exists. But as emissions continue to rise, it’s clear that we haven’t nailed the ‘how.’ How do we scale climate solutions across every sector of the economy so comprehensively and decisively that they permanently displace our current systems—systems that we now know to be incompatible with a livable world?  Tapping the biggest leverage points we have at our disposal to scale existing climate solutions is now of existential importance. And right now one of these leverage points—federal climate policy, and specifically the climate provisions that were previously housed in the Build Back Better Act— hangs in the balance. And this is why Drawdown Labs, the program I lead at Project Drawdown, recently took out a full-page print ad in The New York Times.  Our ad had three key messages. The first one was a reminder to the Times’ 4 million readers that the solutions to the climate crisis already exist today. It’s nearly impossible to build a future we can’t envision, so we wanted to remind a broad swath of the American public that the solutions are already right in front of us. These solutions will not only address climate change but they’ll help us build a healthier, more resilient, and more equitable world. Solutions like shifting electricity production to renewables, supporting indigenous land tenure and forest protection, shifting our means of transportation away from personally-owned vehicles and internal combustion engines, remaking our cities with health, equity, and walkability in mind, addressing food waste and our diets, and so many more.  Our second goal was to remind key audiences, namely policymakers and investors, that they are powerful actors in accelerating these solutions. The climate provisions in the Build Back Better Act would provide tax incentives for clean electricity, electric vehicles, clean buildings, advanced energy manufacturing, industrial decarbonization, and more, and would provide millions of good-paying jobs implementing these climate solutions. Whatever final legislative package they come in, these climate provisions have broad Congressional support and are crucial to accelerating needed investment.  Our final goal of the ad was to highlight the business community’s widespread support for bold climate policy. Why lift up the business voice? Like it or not, corporations hold a lot of political power, and their support can give legislators the confidence to pass bold climate legislation. The 25 companies we invited to join this ad represent over $64 billion in revenue, employ hundreds of thousands of people across the country, and span economic sectors: energy, transportation, food, tech, manufacturing, e-commerce, entertainment, design, apparel, consumer packaged goods, banking, and financial management. Together, these businesses are sending a powerful message: every sector of the economy wants to see bold climate legislation and Congress and the White House must do their part. This moment of fleeting opportunity for meaningful action calls for us to be bold. And while it may seem unusual for a nonprofit to use their resources to run an advertisement like this, we think that new tactics are crucial to achieving bolder outcomes. As the innovation hub for Project Drawdown, Drawdown Labs exists to experiment with new tactics, especially when so much is on the line. At Project Drawdown, we have considerable access to influential actors across the global economy, and we intend to use this access and network to the fullest extent possible.  We have climate solutions at our fingertips. We have key leverage points ready to be tapped. And in this critical moment, we can’t leave anything on the table. This article was originally published by MCJ Climate Voices and is being republished with permission.
Read more