Carbon dioxide has taken a firm place at the centre stage of discussions on anthropogenic climate change.
It’s often viewed as the cornerstone of climate breakdown. This is understandable; it’s underpinned by an abundance of quantifiable evidence & starkly reflected in human activity. The evidence is clear & near impossible to refute.
What’s more difficult to grasp, however, is the myriad of complex and interconnected climate indicators that go far beyond carbon.
From biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation, soil desertification & declining water quality, these proxies of environmental deterioration have, to a certain extent, been neglected as we overwhelmingly focus our attention on CO².
This phenomenon is what has come to be coined carbon tunnel vision.
WHAT IS CARBON TUNNEL VISION?
Carbon tunnel vision, a phrase coined by Jan Konietzko, reflects a prominent narrative in our pursuit of climate action – the widespread, narrow emphasis on carbon emissions.
There’s no doubt that limiting our carbon emissions is imperative to battling climate breakdown. CO2 is the largest contributor to global warming, and hence limiting emissions is crucial to stay below the 1.5 degrees benchmark.
But as a society, such a narrow conceptualisation runs the risk of failing to address a wider spectrum of environmental & societal implications.
Even if we deployed all the big tech carbon removal solutions at the speed and scale required to reach net-zero, we would still be left with a biodiversity crisis, ecosystem collapse & soil erosion.
Failing to acknowledge these proxies could limit our capacity to deliver meaningful cross-sectional action, create long-term value & tackle multiple socio-environmental challenges simultaneously.
WIDENING PERSPECTIVES TO UNDERSTAND ALL IMPACTS
Tunnel vision is a limited lens through which to view action. Despite good intentions, it can result in partial solutions to complex problems.
Just as climate change goes far beyond carbon, so too should our approach to combating it. We need to widen the lens through which we view sustainability to consider other indicators needing urgent attention.
The time is ripe to shift our mindset from one of carbon tunnel vision to one of holistic thinking.
WHY BUSINESSES SHOULD INCORPORATE SYSTEMIC THINKING INTO THEIR SUSTAINABILITY STRATEGIES
To deliver a more widespread, tangible impact, we need to further engage the private sector in implementing holistic sustainability strategies.
Much of the GHG emissions & environmental degradation associated with climate breakdown is attributable to business-driven economic activity. At the same time, however, businesses can significantly contribute to innovative solutions that prevent, mitigate and adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.
Biodiversity loss & ecosystem degradation should be material considerations for all investment decisions. Such motivations shouldn’t be in the interest of scoring PR brownie points but rather the realisation that they underpin the long-term viability of business in a resource-constrained world.
The full potential of climate action investment decisions is a realm that’s yet to be universally realised. By thinking beyond carbon, businesses can showcase climate leadership, ensure long-term business viability & deliver meaningful impact for both people and planet.
HOW, THEN, CAN BUSINESSES MAKE SUCH A STRATEGY ACTIONABLE?
Moving beyond carbon tunnel vision requires a holistic approach to sustainable management. For businesses, this increases complexity, which in turn can only be managed with an improved data strategy.
As demonstrated by the Future of Sustainable Data Alliance, there remains a deep ESG data hole in biodiversity and ecosystems.
By harnessing the power of a sound data strategy, businesses have a compelling starting point for embracing the complexity of holistic action.
Companies should distinguish interlinked environmental indicators within their realm of business, investment & action to access the full range of value. By doing so, they can identify interventions that generate co-benefits, combat multiple indicators simultaneously and ensure a more comprehensive approach to sustainable management.
REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE’S CAPACITY TO GO BEYOND CARBON
Regenerative agriculture’s carbon sequestration capacity is equally extensive as it is impressive – but its benefits go far beyond carbon. By incentivising the transition to regenerative management, we can tackle a wider spectrum of environmental indicators & deliver on a myriad of fronts.
Improves soil health
Soil is so much more than dirt beneath our feet – it’s the basis for all life on earth & one of our planet’s most underutilised carbon sinks. Healthy people depend on healthy soils. Through regenerative management, European soils can sequester up to 70 megatons CO2/eq per year, restore biodiversity & feed the masses for years to come.
Water retention, quality & availability
With extreme weather events increasing in frequency, climate breakdown will adversely affect our water cycle. The immense water retention capacity of regenerative land paired with fertiliser-free techniques stabilises water supply & quality, absorbing rain through floods & releasing it slowly in times of drought.
Protects and restores natural ecosystems
Across much of the world, precious ecosystems are being cleared, destroyed & degraded to make way for business-driven activity. We can work in harmony with nature through regenerative agriculture, preserving and restoring crucial habitats to ensure the long-term viability of crucial ecosystem services.
Transforms our food system
As the global demand for agricultural commodities increases, we need to increase production while simultaneously reducing our impact. To deliver on both fronts, we need to transform our food system to one that restores the land rather than simply does less damage. The time is ripe for a regenerative system.
In a world driven by infinite growth on a finite planet, there’s an implicit need to restore these deteriorating ecosystem services & ensure they’re thriving for future generations.
The need to go beyond carbon is by no means to downplay the value of reducing our CO2 emissions, but rather to take action in a way that delivers more comprehensive, cross-sectional and holistic impact.
Just as climate change is multi-faceted, so should our approach to combating it. It’s not a case of either/or – we need to drastically reduce emissions AND deliver on other often neglected but no-less significant climate indicators.