Nations around the world are working to reduce emissions and adapt to a changing climate. Shyla Raghav, who leads Conservation International’s climate strategy team, is in Aspen Friday to discuss how she’s looking to nature for solutions to the climate crisis. She spoke with Aspen Journalism’s Elizabeth Stewart-Severy by phone.

Aspen Journalism: What kinds of nature-based solutions give you hope in your work on climate change?

Shyla Raghav: I would say that the most important thing that we could do is ultimately stop deforestation, not just because of the amount of carbon they store, but also because of all of the important services that we get from forests. There’s so much value and so much benefit that we get from healthy, intact ecosystems. 

The second most-important pathway is restoration or reforestation. The only technology that we have to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at scale, at the global level, is a tree.

AJ: Those solutions sound rather simple, but, of course, economics, politics and social concerns get in the way. What are some of the key strategies that you have to implement those two ideas?

SR: Ultimately, we need to make forests more valuable standing than cut down. Right now, that’s not the case. There’s a number of different innovative solutions that are being implemented and tested around the world, like carbon credits. It’s about putting a price on the carbon in those forests. 

There’s also demand-side measures. One of the largest drivers of deforestation is the consumption of beef, for example. So, reducing the demand for beef is also a solution. 

Another type of solution that we also look at is certification of commodities. The largest driver of deforestation in Southeast Asia is the expansion of palm oil. One of the solutions that’s being promoted in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia is to certify that the palm oil that’s on the market doesn’t come with a deforestation footprint.

AJ: You’ve also worked in developing countries. How has working with developing countries affected your view of or your attitude toward climate change?

SR: I think working in developing countries has really influenced and informed my career. I’m originally from India, but I’ve had the opportunity to work in Thailand and in the Caribbean. Those experiences taught me to understand the human impact of climate change. 

Working with and interacting with people who are literally on the front lines of climate change —  that are at risk of losing their homes or already have lost their homes — is something that’s really instilled within me the urgency of acting on climate change, but also the moral responsibility that we have to do whatever we can as soon as possible to avoid and prevent the worst impacts of climate change, which are increasingly becoming inevitable, whether it’s sea-level rise or increased intensity of storms.

AJ: As you mentioned, quite a few of the consequences of climate change might, at this point, be unavoidable. What is the balance of working toward solutions to the climate crisis and adapting to this new reality?

SR: It’s a matter of urgently accelerating both mitigation and adaptation. 

The decisions that we’re making right now are going to impact the next hundred years. The effects of climate change that we’re experiencing today are a result of the past hundred years of emissions. 

We’re really at a point of no return. Change is our new normal, but we can prevent climate change from causing irreparable harm to our planet. 

I would say that it’s really important that we think both about how we reduce our emissions, but also think about how we develop in a smarter, more resilient way as well.

Aspen Journalism collaborates with Aspen Public Radio and The Aspen Times on coverage of environmental issues. This interview aired on APR on Feb. 21, and a version of the story appeared in the Feb. 21 edition of The Aspen Times. 

Elizabeth Stewart-Severy is a freelance journalist based in Snowmass Village. She grew up in Aspen and has worked as an editor at Aspen Journalism, reporter at Aspen Public Radio and an English and journalism...