President's Letter: Keeping forests intact and making agriculture sustainable

Carter Roberts headshot

Carter Roberts
President & CEO, WWF

An increasing number of scientists characterize the 20th and 21st centuries as part of the Anthropocene—a geological era in which human activity is the dominant influence on climate and the environment. One of the era’s most obvious impacts, a changing climate, increases average temperatures and makes more frequent the occurrence of natural disasters with massive implications for life on Earth, including our own.

Science tells us that we can only stave off the most catastrophic effects of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

Only eight short years remain to begin the transformation needed to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, reimagine our food- and land-use systems, and protect and enhance nature. If this sounds like reinvention on an epic scale, that’s because it is.

We do have one advantage, though: the technologies to create a low-carbon economy exist. We just need to deploy them at a speed and scale that far exceed what we’ve done in the past.

Each country is different. When people think of US climate change solutions, their thoughts turn to transportation and energy—because those two sectors, respectively, comprise 29% and 25% of our country’s greenhouse gas emissions. In many parts of the rest of the world, the picture differs. For some nations, such as Indonesia, Brazil, or India, land use generates the majority of emissions—so much so that deforestation and agriculture make up roughly 25% of greenhouse gas emissions on a global basis.

“Climate solutions are far from just black and white; there are many gray areas of opportunity in between.”

Carter Roberts

For decades, WWF has built programs to keep forests intact and to put agriculture on a sustainable path. It’s now equally important to strengthen the climate benefits of those solutions and find ways to launch, finance, and sustain them over the decades—and centuries—to come.

I left the UN climate change conference in Glasgow last year having had more than a dozen meetings with various business and government leaders interested in creating programs to deliver on their climate commitments—including commitments to nature conservation and sustainable agriculture.

In the pursuit of emissions reductions, one interesting twist is this: As many corporations move to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in alignment with science-based targets, it has become clear that it will take time to reach those goals throughout their supply chains. With the pressure to meet net-zero commitments, companies are increasingly looking for opportunities to contribute to solutions outside of their own operations. For example, investing in nature-based solutions and agricultural innovations brings emissions down in other realms and in other countries and can contribute to overall emissions reductions.

Some say those kinds of solutions represent an easy out for companies, offering them inexpensive offsets to avoid making necessary, often very costly, changes in their own operations. And yet we know the situation is more complex than that. Climate solutions are far from just black and white; there are many gray areas of opportunity in between. We’ve been hard at work creating partnerships to build integrity—on both the demand and supply sides—so that companies can be held accountable for reductions in their own operations, while at the same time supporting and facilitating real emissions reductions through avoiding deforestation and financing sustainable agriculture.

The pages of this issue provide examples of high-integrity solutions of both kinds, keeping the pressure on to reduce our emissions here in the US through renewable energy, sustainable supply chains, energy efficiency, and more. All the while, we must continue building bridges—scientific, technological, financial, and policy—to help other countries deliver on commitments of their own.

Carter Roberts

President & CEO

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