Time to Stop Solving Climate in Silos

February 27, 2024
Dr. Shobha Maharaj
Science Director

Recent news that average global warming over the last 12 months crossed 1.5°C in early February brings fresh urgency to the inadequacy of global efforts toward addressing climate change. Despite most nations agreeing to the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement in 2015, our already small window for achieving these goals — and for securing a livable future — continues to close at an alarming rate.

The science is very clear that sustained breaching of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels of warming will exacerbate adverse conditions for ecosystems and peoples across the world. First in line include fragile ecosystems, such as those found on small islands and in high-altitude forests, as well as the most vulnerable peoples, who suffer from the highest levels of poverty, inequity, and other forms of resource limitations.

Few would agree that this is an acceptable state of affairs, or believe — in our globalized world, with its supply chains heavily dependent on nature and its ecosystems — that their own lives will be insulated from the impacts of climate change. But then, how did we get here?

Trying to solve complex problems with siloed solutions

Even as both global temperatures and our sense of urgency continue to rise, our response largely fails to account for the interconnectedness of our world — including the powerful triple nexus of climate, biodiversity, and human quality of life.

A graphic showing a circular flow with climate change, human quality of life, and biodiversity being interdependent.

We are attempting to solve highly complex and interlinked problems in silos — trying to connect only a few pieces of the puzzle in isolation, instead of addressing or even acknowledging the intersectionality of the full picture. The reality is that climate, biodiversity, and human quality of life are not separate systems — they are all in fact components of the same system. We cannot successfully improve upon one of these in isolation without addressing the other two in parallel. 

Because people are at the center of much of the change impacting this planet, any solution that seeks to improve climate and/or biodiversity but harms human quality of life will not be sustainable. Likewise, we cannot continue to pursue greater and greater comfort at the expense of our climate and the biodiversity of our planet — as there cannot be any “quality of life” on a planet that has become too hot to be habitable. 

With deforestation, it’s easy to see the interconnectedness of the elements within this triple nexus. For short-term gains in quality of life, forests continue to be cut down for timber, settlements, or industry. This gives rise to a domino effect where resulting biodiversity loss often leads to issues such as increases in crop-destroying pests or changes in microclimate that dry up local streams. This, in turn, reduces our quality of life — with local people, often women and girls, having to travel farther to obtain water, food, and fuel. 

On a larger scale, this deforestation also adds to climate impacts by reducing the carbon sequestration potential of the forest that was removed while also adding to global GHG emission levels — both from the trees that have been cut down and the soil that has become exposed. 

More and more, such choices are being driven by increasingly harsh climate conditions, which are exacerbating already existing states of vulnerability such as poverty, food and water insecurity, and a lack of education. 

Yet such narrow, siloed problem-solving is just as often seen at the global level, among delegations and working groups with high levels of education and resources. These groups, while capable of addressing the big picture, continue to address single aspects of the problem as if it existed in isolation.

Addressing the imbalance — honestly

Examples of this siloed approach to problem-solving are all around us. Internationally, global finance allocations for both climate mitigation and adaptation continue to fall short of what is necessary. And while there is an ongoing need for even more funding toward climate mitigation, the much smaller and grossly inadequate allocation of resources for climate adaptation remains a major problem. 

Because human quality of life is part of the triple nexus, the inability of communities to adapt to changing climate conditions is resulting in more short-sighted actions. For example, community members will need to go deeper into already depleted forests to extract basic necessities like food and fuel — which leads to further biodiversity loss and, in parallel, increases GHG emissions.

Climate justice is a key part of any solution

The fact that the most adversely affected peoples and nations are most often in the Global South brings a climate justice element that cannot be ignored. Global South nations and populations, especially Indigenous and other native peoples, have historically, and in some cases even today, been exploited by Global North entities. These entities have too often depleted natural and other resources from these regions before moving away, often leaving in their wake a trail of destruction of both the ecosystems and the people.


Many of these peoples and nations continue to struggle with exploitative colonial histories that have resulted in very high levels of poverty, inequity, and other resource limitations. They often lack the economic resources required to adapt to the changing climate conditions that have been brought about, for the most part, by continued high GHG emissions from Global North nations and entities (e.g., multinational corporations such as oil and gas companies).

The resulting disproportionate impacts on these peoples and nations will likely increase as the climate and biodiversity loss crises continue to unfold. As solutions are developed, it is not enough to simply seek the greater involvement of these peoples. 

What is needed are responses that break free from relict (often well-meaning) neo-colonial mindsets, and instead co-create with them as at least equal partners, for reasons least of which include their unequaled ability to conserve and restore the lands that keep our planet habitable.

Equitable partnership with local communities is vital 

At a very minimum, the knowledge, stewardship, and equitable partnership of local communities are absolutely essential for successful forest restoration, conservation, and any sustained carbon sequestration that may result. Yet all too often, at the project level, little attention or support is directed at the adaptive and resilience capacities of these communities. 

This undermines reforestation and conservation projects from the very beginning, with a narrow focus on the value of the carbon that could be sequestered and not on the people whom the project will directly affect. As the changing climate destabilizes the availability of resources such as food, fuel, and potable water, failing to adequately account for the needs of forest-dependent communities becomes especially shortsighted. 

And given that regions with the highest potential for carbon drawdown are most often in the Global South, the colonial context of history cannot be ignored. Carbon-centric reforestation and avoided deforestation projects, if done using a siloed approach that focuses on carbon drawdown over adaptation and resilience building for the people who live there, risk continuing past colonial patterns of exploitation. 

Replace siloed solutions with holistic, balanced approaches

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Native, biodiverse forest restoration and conservation projects have all the ingredients necessary to maximize benefits for all components of the climate/biodiversity/human quality of life nexus. These projects are game-changing opportunities to balance the scales with adaptation and resilience building. 

Planting a native, biodiverse forest, co-created with and stewarded by local communities, promotes the sustainable recovery of biodiversity and ecosystem health. This, in turn, increases quality of life within local communities, through livelihoods as well as food and water security, and stabilization of local microclimatic conditions. Unlike projects that focus narrowly on carbon, such a harmonious relationship between people and forests will yield greater potential for sustained carbon drawdown. 

But this requires replacing siloed solutions with sustainable, holistic, and balanced approaches that facilitate at least an equitable flow of resources and revenue from these projects to the local stewards of the land — returning the rights of these peoples to not only adapt and survive, but to thrive within the place they have called home for generations.

Dr. Shobha Maharaj
Science Director
Translates nuanced scientific knowledge and evaluates climate impacts on forest biodiversity worldwide to develop applicable solutions.
About the
Who Will Speak For The Trees?

At a time when human economic development is prioritized over the needs of nature, the Who Will Speak for the Trees? series features top reforestation leaders with a broad range of restoration expertise, including climate tech, monitoring, science, finance, media, and more. These diverse voices offer expert viewpoints to instill confidence in how humanity can support nature to deliver a forested future for all living things on Earth. Join us for this ongoing series to learn more about the science of reforestation and how restoring ecosystems is part of a comprehensive climate solution.

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