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With the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris right around the corner, we are at an important crossroads for the global health and sustainability of our oceans.

You cannot have a conversation about climate change without talking about sea level rise, increasingly severe coastal storms, damaged natural systems and other impacts to our oceans and coastal communities.

What excites me, however, is that the size of this global challenge presents us with an enormous opportunity to create positive change for oceans and people. And this opportunity has an important through-line: transforming our relationship with nature.

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With the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris right around the corner, we are at an important crossroads for the global health and sustainability of our oceans.

You cannot have a conversation about climate change without talking about sea level rise, increasingly severe coastal storms, damaged natural systems and other impacts to our oceans and coastal communities.

What excites me, however, is that the size of this global challenge presents us with an enormous opportunity to create positive change for oceans and people. And this opportunity has an important through-line: transforming our relationship with nature.

Nature-Based Solutions

One area of climate action that is beginning to garner the attention it deserves is nature-based climate solutions. They are cost-effective, flexible, and offer significant co-benefits to the health and security of communities and to biodiversity.

The financial sector will play a crucial role in moving us more quickly to implementation of these solutions. But the longer we wait to act on climate change, the more severe the impacts and the costs.

The price tag, specifically, covers both sides of the climate change coin—the potential market impacts of mitigating carbon pollution as well as the costs of protecting against and responding to climate-related disasters.

In a speech delivered at Lloyds of London recently, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney issued stark warnings about the potential economic destabilization of both sides of the issue:
first discussing the potential crippling costs of future disasters, then touching on the risk to markets of the ballooning cost of carbon-intensive energy assets if companies don’t begin accurately reflecting their carbon impact.

At nearly the same time, SwissRe’s Chief Executive Officer Michel Lies called on global leaders to reach agreement at COP21 in December. SwissRe’s data shows that natural disasters have cost on average $180 billion in damage per year over the last decade. Seventy percent of that cost was uninsured. And these costs can affect country credit ratings.

These concerns reinforce the opportunity presented by natural climate solutions – and marine ecosystems specifically—to both mitigate and protect us against climate change.

In just the last year, there are emerging examples of innovation and progress.

A Climate Insurance Premium for Nature

Through our Mapping Ocean Wealth initiative, The Nature Conservancy and cross-sector partners are taking a comprehensive, location-based accounting of the full value to people of the ocean’s natural systems.

And we are focusing on new ways to invest in the protective services of that natural infrastructure —such as coral and oyster reefs, mangroves,
and salt marshes — to increase the climate and disaster resilience of vulnerable coastal communities around the world.

One key way we are approaching this work is through collaboration with SwissRe and other reinsurers to bring nature’s risk reduction benefits into their risk modeling. We are finding potential for natural infrastructure to reduce premium costs as well as the price tag of disaster response.

Together we’re also asking the question: can we bring to market insurance vehicles to conserve the natural systems themselves for their climate protective value? If so, this could be a significant financing breakthrough for natural infrastructure solutions.
I believe this will become a reality.

Innovative Debt Finance for Country Action

Another exciting development this year is a first-of-its-kind debt-for-nature swap that the Government of Seychelles announced with the Conservancy’s impact investing unit NatureVest and the country’s creditors — the Paris Club.

The deal will allow the country to redirect $30 million of its debt to invest in a comprehensive approach to ocean conservation and bolster its resilience to climate change.

This is the first conservation debt swap completed with the support of impact capital — serving as a new financing model with potential replicability for other nations that are on the front lines of climate change.

Maximizing Natural Carbon Storage

And as we look to nature to aid in reducing risk and increasing resilience, we are also finding significant cost-saving mechanisms in nature that reduce carbon pollution and mitigate climate change.

The Conservancy estimates that conserving and better managing the world’s tropical forests and other natural systems including wetlands and grasslands has the carbon storage potential of roughly 25 percent of total global carbon emissions per year.

While estimates for carbon capture and storage (CCS) at coal plants and other stationary sources typically run north of $100 per ton, the cost of improving land use is often less than $20 per ton.

And protecting, restoring and sustainably managing these natural places has significant co-benefits for local economies, communities and biodiversity that engineered CCS could never boast.

TNC has been working on preserving the carbon in tropical forests for over a decade. More recently, we are applying that knowledge and experience to explore the “blue carbon” potential of wetlands and mangroves in an effort to maximize the carbon storage power of all natural systems.

At COP21, and beyond, nature deserves to be at the table as a key cost-effective strategy for climate action as well as ocean sustainability. The financial sector has a crucial role to play in helping ensure these nature-based solutions reach the scale of their global potential.

Maria Damanaki is Global Managing Director for Oceans at The Nature Conservancy. She leads a global team focused on transforming how the world manages its oceans, including sustainable fisheries management, large-scale protection and restoration of coral reefs and other ecosystems, coastal resilience, and a first-of-its-kind mapping and quantification of the full value of the world’s oceans to people.

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