‘They are actions that involve working with nature for societal good,’ she says.
They involve community-led restoration and protection of mangroves, kelp forests, wetlands, grasslands and forests, bringing trees into working lands and nature into cities and much more.
It is now accepted that such actions can bring multiple benefits from storing carbon and protecting us from extreme events, to supporting biodiversity and providing jobs and livelihoods.
Critics sometimes argue that the potential contribution of nature to arresting climate change is tiny, compared with stopping fossil fuel use. But she insists, ‘Our work shows that nature has a role to play...and although new technology [to address climate change] might not be fully scalable until the end of the century, nature is here now, ready to be revitalised and can make a significant contribution to cooling this century.’
This is not mere dewy-eyed affection, although Professor Seddon clearly takes loss of biodiversity very personally.
‘Nature motivates, calms and grounds me,’ she says. But, she maintains, ‘We need nature because it is our life support system, because we are a part of it, not separate from it. There is huge value in the natural world, economically and ecologically, and huge risks of ignoring it...we have built our economies as if nature has no value; climate change and pandemics are showing us this not sustainable and that it is now time to repay our vast debt to nature.’
It is not just politicians, though, who have heard the call for nature – businesses too have made bold pledges. Everyone has heard about tree planting as an NbS. But this has not always been a positive move and some have planted trees to ‘offset’ their continued use of fossil fuels.
'There is huge value in the natural world, economically and ecologically, and huge risks of ignoring it...we have built our economies as if nature has no value; climate change and pandemics are showing us this not sustainable and that it is now time to repay our vast debt to nature.'
Professor Seddon is concerned so-called ‘greenwashing is a really big issue’. She adds, ‘We need wood, and commercial planting can sometimes take the pressure off biodiverse native forests...also, in some parts of the world, where the land is badly degraded, tree plantations can help bring back soil health and are a step towards natural regeneration.’
But she warns, ‘Plantations are really bad news when they replace native habitats and violate human rights, and when they delay or distract from the urgent need to decarbonise.'
Professor Seddon is emphatic, 'Tree planting is not alternative to keeping fossil fuels in the ground...if we don’t, the resultant warming will undermine nature’s capacity to support us.'
She insists we cannot afford to ignore the harm we do to nature, ‘Covid shone a light on the risks of continued disrespect of the natural world. It also showed us that we cannot continue to travel and consume as much without paying severe consequences.’
But Professor Seddon has high hopes of the climate summit this year, where nature is a key theme.
‘For the UK,’ she says. ‘This is a real opportunity to show leadership. But to do that that, we need to get our own house in order and to shine light on good practice on nature-based solutions in our own country to inspire action globally.
‘We also need to end all the harmful subsidies that encourage land degradation and over-fishing and instead properly incentivise the careful stewardship of nature.’
“We need to get our own house in order and shine light on good practice in our own country to inspire action globally...we also need to end all the harmful subsidies that encourage land degradation and over-fishing.”
Professor Seddon acknowledges the enormous role the great polluters need to play in reducing carbon emissions, but she sees considerable room for personal action, although it will mean substantial change for individuals, starting with moving, if possible, to a plant-based diet.
And, says the former globe-trotter, she could not quite bring herself to get on a plane again, unless there were a very good and urgent reason. And she says, ‘Scientists need to work with businesses and government to help them set realistic and robust evidence-based targets for climate and nature, and advise on how to reach those targets without compromising other goals for food security or economic recovery.’
Treading the corridors of power is a new path for Professor Seddon. But climate concerns have brought together scientists, looking for solutions, doing the hard-science to inform policy. She says, ‘There is a lot of really exciting fundamental research to be done to shore up the evidence around the value of working with nature in a warming world.’
She adds, ‘At Oxford, to address these knowledge gaps and meet policy needs, we’ve gone up a gear, we are working together more.’
And Professor Seddon is very much engaged in university life - delivering lectures, as Admissions Coordinator for Biology, interviewing candidates and working with young researchers and students. She says, 'Young people come asking what they should study to be part of it – to help. It’s our job to show them there is much they can learn and do, that they have real agency in their futures.'
At Oxford, to address these knowledge gaps and meet policy needs, we’ve gone up a gear, we are working together
She adds, ‘I am excited to be getting back into the science and to be working with colleagues from across the University and country to address fundamental questions about how we scale-up NbS...
'The next 10 to 20 years are going to be critical...Now is when the world needs us all to collaborate to enable transformational change.’
She concludes with hope for the future, ‘There is such a lot of good work going on around the world. Thousands of communities across the globe are implementing nature-based solutions to deal with climate change impacts, protect nature and support livelihoods. It is really inspiring. We all have a say in our futures...and as we work with nature we will heal ourselves.’
See latest research here. And a talk on NbS here: Evaluating and investing in Nature-based Solutions with Nathalie Seddon & Cameron Hepburn - YouTube