M. Sanjayan is a conservation scientist and CEO of Conservation International, a non-profit working with governments and companies to conserve nature, primarily in the Global South. Sanjayan’s skills as a science communicator have helped CI facilitate powerful partnerships for environmental protection. The organization created the Restore Fund in 2021 alongside Apple, which this year pledged $200 million in additional funding to support nature-based carbon removal technologies.
What sustainability effort do you hope will gain popularity with the general public this year, and why?
What we eat and drink is a daily need. Yet much of what we consume and enjoy is threatened by climate change and, often, a leading cause of emissions. This connection between families, farmers, big agriculture, and retail offers an imperative and opportunity to engage everyone. Companies are increasingly linking food production with the protection of nature. For example, some are using conservation to increase fish stocks and putting a percentage of revenue into marine protected areas, or they are working to link palm oil production with rainforest protection. But for these efforts to go mainstream, we need pressure from consumers like you and me.
What is a climate technology that isn’t getting the attention or funding it deserves?There is a carbon capture tool that is well studied, immediately scalable, and boasts a 3.5-billion-year record of success: photosynthesis. We cannot plant and restore our way out of the climate crisis, but we also cannot afford to ignore nature. Around one quarter of emissions come from deforestation and land degradation. Until we cease our war on nature, we have no chance of reaching net zero — yet nature-based work receives a tiny fraction of climate finance. As scientists gain insight into the carbon cycle, we’re discovering new ways to turbocharge nature’s ability to capture and accelerate atmospheric carbon removals while providing many benefits to communities.
Where should climate activism go in the next year?
Climate activism should look south. Rich countries do not have the moral currency nor the financial flexibility to dictate to the Global South. Remember who caused this problem and continues to lead the world in per capita emissions. We cannot craft solutions that may work for us and expect others to follow in a multi-polar, desperate, and crowded world. Take carbon capture technologies, for example. Where do you think the factories or devices will be built? Who do you think will get even richer from these technologies? These innovations are necessary but will not immediately create jobs, wealth, or benefits in the Global South. Similar to the independence movement of the mid-20th century, we are seeing increased agency amongst “developing nations” to demand action on climate change. Solutions must address Global South exigencies. They must be justice-oriented and resilient.
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