Musing from inside the blue zone on nature’s place in the race – COP 26 week one round up (warning, there is a lot)

Major announcements, pledges, commitments and action for a NetZero #NaturePositive world

By James Lloyd, Nature4Climate Coalition Lead

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We are one week into the UN Climate Change Conference COP 26 and we find ourselves celebrating Nature day and not without reason. The first seven days of a long anticipated global gathering to advocate for the climate is finally getting up to speed with realising the pivotal role our natural ecosystems can play in tackling two global crises at once – regulating global temperatures and preserving our biodiversity. As the negotiators prepare to engage next week with some complex – and much needed – discussions on the Paris Agreement, such as Article 6 and the regulations for carbon markets, let us look back to the past seven days and reflect on the progress, pledges and assessment achieved so far towards building #NaturePositive climate action all around the planet.

The ultimate pledge for the world’s forests

The World Leaders Summit kicked off the climate conversations in Glasgow with a huge win for forests around the world, as the largest ever financial incentives for protecting forests and global commitments to halt deforestation were announced. This includes a declaration signed by  134 leaders committing to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 through the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use. This declaration would cover over 90% of global forests, offering 3.5Gt pa mitigation potential. 

Also, 33 leading financial institutions, collectively with over US$ 8.7 trillion in assets under management have committed to tackle agricultural commodity-driven deforestation as part of broader efforts to drive the global shift towards sustainable production and nature-based solutions. Another $12 billion were included in the Global Forest Finance Pledge (GFFP), signed by 12 countries aiming to support activities including strengthening forest governance, supporting smallholder farmers to restore degraded land, strengthening land tenure systems, and mobilising private sector investment. 

An alliance of governments and private funders has further committed to provide $1.7 billion to support indigenous people advance their land rights by 2025, in recognition of their critical role in conserving forests.

That’s not all. Eleven donor countries and the Bezos Earth Fund launched a Joint Statement on supporting the Congo Basin forests including an initial pledge of at least $1.5 billion (£1.1 billion) of financial support. President Biden pledged to work with Congress to set aside $9 billion to conserve and restore forests, including support for the Plan to Conserve Global Forests: Critical Carbon Sinks, while President Bolsonaro, of Brazil, committed to end illegal deforestation by 2028 and to a significant 50% GHG reduction by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2050. 

Commitments such as these were most welcomed, though not without caution, especially when recent estimates show that investment in nature-based solutions needs to triple by 2030 if the world is to meet its climate change, biodiversity and land degradation targets and the world has seen failures when it comes to implementation. The Finance & Deforestation Advisory Group, in which I have been an active member of, has launched its new Finance Sector Roadmap aims to address such concerns by laying out guidelines to help investors on how to turn their pledges into action. The roadmap recommends the key steps needed for financial institutions to eliminate commodity-driven deforestation, conversion, and associated human rights abuses from their portfolio by 2025. 

Speaking of laying out next steps, 28 governments representing 75% of global trade in key commodities that can threaten forests – such as palm oil, cocoa and soya – have come together through the Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade (FACT) Roadmap which was created at COP26 to deliver sustainable trade and reduce pressure on forests, including support for smallholder farmers and improving the transparency of supply chains.

Understanding the climate finance gap is key to realising such ambitious goals. Currently, there is a 40x disparity between existing funding initiatives that accelerate deforestation and those that promote a sustainable use of the world’s lands and protect our forests. 

Ocean for Climate

Nature-based solutions in the oceans and coastal areas are a vital part of strategies to strengthen livelihoods, ensure food security, and protect lives.  On Tuesday, the leaders of Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama launched a new marine protected area to be called the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor (CMAR), which extends 60,000 km2 from the current 133,000 km2 of the Galápagos Marine Reserve. The majority of the addition will be established across the Cocos Ridge, an underwater mountain range on the northeastern side of the Galápagos Islands that forms an important migration highway known as the Cocos-Galápagos Swimway. In one part of the new reserve, all fishing activity will be banned, while another part will only prohibit longline fishing. The High Level Climate Champions also offered some good news with the signing of the Ocean for Climate Declaration: a call to governments and non-state actors to scale up ocean-based climate solutions and action.

It’s time to enhance ambition: understanding nature’s place in the the NDCs

Nationally determined contributions (NDCs) are a key vehicle for Parties to the Paris Agreement to communicate their climate plans and are critical to the achievement of its 1.5°C goals. In 2015, only one-third of countries included language related to land-use, land-use change and forestry in their NDCs, indicating a significant opportunity to increase the ambition of NDCs through high-quality nature-based solutions. Over the past couple of years however, countries have been submitting new or updated NDCs over the past two years. 

The latest UNEP Emissions Gap Report found that the new and updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) submitted only take 7.5% off predicted 2030 emissions, which would put the world on track for a temperature rise this century of at least 2.7°C. At least 55% emissions reduction is needed to meet the 1.5°C Paris goal. The grimson news however is balanced by an assessment that indicates that net-zero pledges could make a big difference if implemented with more robust plans.

The just released 4th edition of WWF’s report NDCs: a Force for Nature? provides some useful insights on how nature is reflected in the climate pledges and can make a significant difference on whether and how fast we can achieve such targets. Their assessment finds that 105 out of the 114 updated NDCs clearly reference nature-based solutions in their mitigation and/or adaptation measures,  a 12% increase compared to previous versions. Most of these additions refer to the role of nature-based solutions in mitigation efforts, with increased numerical targets related to the forest sector and in the mentions of  wetlands, mangroves and marine ecosystems. Another great news reads that the  number of NDCs explicitly referring to Indigenous peoples and other local communities grew by no less than 88%, with 30 NDCs explicitly referring to the Indigenous peoples and local communities in relation to the development and implementation of NbS. 

FOLU’s NDC assessment report assesses how action-oriented the NDCs of countries in the G20 are in terms of transforming the food and land sector, what specific policy measures they propose and where policy gaps and opportunities are. The study however finds that commitments for the sector need to be further enhanced as there are insufficient actions in their NDCs to reduce emissions and increase carbon sinks. 

The science behind NbS mitigation

From wetlands and oceans to forests and mangroves, nature works as a carbon sink at the same time as it provides a place for biodiversity to flourish and improve livelihoods of people everywhere in the world. A new report by UNEP and IUCN, finds that Nature-based Solutions (NbS) can deliver emission reductions and removals of at least 5 gigatons of CO2 per year by 2030, and at least 10 gigatons by 2050 on a conservative basis.

FOLU’s ‘Why nature? Why now? explains in detail the relationship between greenhouse effects, mitigation efforts and the role of different ecosystems to act as carbon sinks. For example, forests are the largest terrestrial sink – globally, their net removal of 09 carbon is equivalent to 5.7 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2) a year. This represents 45% of carbon dioxide sequestration from the land sink. The report also lists  the co-benefits of natural climate solutions for climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience, as points the way forward.

This is backed by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) 6th assessment report, which came out in the months ahead of COP 26 and added an unprecedented sense of urgency to put into action the commitments made since the Paris Agreement. Scientists involved in Working Group 1 highlighted the importance of the forest and land use sector in both contributing to and helping fight climate change, as it finds that AFOLU activities are major contributors to emissions of the three main gasses that contribute to global warming — carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. As the temperature and emissions increase, ocean and land carbon sinks are expected to be less effective, leaving a larger percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere, and such changes will have particular impacts on agriculture and forestry. 

Nature-based solutions can help address this challenge by providing up to one third of the mitigation targets while still helping countries adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change. 

The N4C’s World Atlas displays the estimated potential of nature-based solutions for every country, according to 20 pathways. 

Another great tool to understand the science behind nature-based solutions and the climate is the 10 New Insights in Climate Science, a synthesis of the most robust climate-related research findings available today, was released by the WMO co-sponsored World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), Future Earth and the Earth League. The report is based on an assessment made by more than 60 world-leading academic experts, with a scoping process that reaches several thousands of scientists working on fields related to climate change. 

TNC’s NCS for NDCs Handbook is also useful as it outlines a step-by-step action plan for assessing nature-based mitigation opportunities in countries and hard-won lessons learned by the scientists and conservation practitioners who have tackled these analyses.

A deeper look into the policy landscape

Moving beyond NDC assessments, understanding the policy landscape at national and subnational level can lead to smarter decision making in regards to effective allocation of funds and overall implementation. Climate policies should be relevant globally but also appropriate to local context and always considerate of intersectionality between nature, climate, the economy and people’s livelihoods.

Launched by Nature4Climate and Metabolic, the Nature-Based Solutions Policy Tracker is the first to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify legislation and investment plans for nature-based solutions (NBS), and to assess their effectiveness. The tool is designed to serve as the world’s largest global database of public policies to support nature, helping governments and investors increase ambition and awareness of nature’s potential to tackle the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis more effectively. It’s analysis of over 220 policies across 80 countries found that 90% of policies recognised the importance of involving stakeholders across society – including local communities, businesses and government, while 48% recognised and mentioned Indigenous Peoples and local communities, whose support and site-specific knowledge is critical to the success of policies.

Highlighting action on the ground

Once we’ve looked into the NDCs and the policy landscape, it’s time to see how all of this translates into action. From international organizations to national governments and local communities, people are deploying good practices and addressing lessons learned in every region of the planet. N4C’s new Case Studies Map provides a first glance at 80+ projects that consider protection, restoration, and improved land management actions that increase carbon storage or avoid greenhouse gas emissions in forests, wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural lands, while delivering a range of other benefits for the people and the planet. 

A global message from the youth

Nature Day has also seen the first ever global statement from the youth movement on how nature can address the climate and biodiversity crises. After consulting with over  1,000 youth leaders from 118 countries, Youth4Climate, Youngo and the Global Biodiversity Youth Network shared their views in a Global Youth Position Statement on NbS. Though concerns are raised regarding offsetting schemes that if not not managed properly could allow for corporations to ‘greenwash’, the statement reads that the youth is “excited about the potential of NbS discussions to lead to bold and true action to address the twin climate and biodiversity crises” and that “all NbS discussions to be rooted in justice, and for strong safeguards that prioritize biodiversity and human rights, including the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities to their territories.” 

What to expect for week two

This week’s event on delivering high-integrity, inclusive carbon markets, held Wednesday at the Nature Zone, was perhaps a sneak peek on what to expect for the second week of COP 26. As negotiations continue, Article 6 of the Paris agreement should get quite a bit of attention inside and outside the negotiation rooms. From what we’ve seen this week, provoking quite a range of reactions regarding how can “high-integrity” tropical forest credits look like is critical to mobilizing finance to protect forests at a large scale, reduce emissions to the level the world needs, and support the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.