COP28 Wrap-Up: Nature at the Core of Climate and Biodiversity Solutions
Briefing Room 13.12.23
Climate COPs are an assault on all the senses and it can be nigh-on impossible to keep track of all developments during that time. Alongside our daily briefings and video wrap-ups during COP, Nature4Climate has now summarized most of the major developments as they relate to nature. It should only take 10 minutes of your time to get the low-down from the full two weeks, starting with our last daily wrap-up video:
TOP TEN TAKEAWAYS
1. NO EXCUSES: FOSSIL FUEL TRANSITION AND NATURE PROTECTION BOTH NEEDED
Since Nature4Climate launched in 2017, the coalition’s main message has revolved around some version of ‘there is no net zero without nature’. Over the past few years, the UN Climate Summit has increasingly focused attention on nature, and COP28 was no different, dedicating a whole day to nature, and, for the first time, another day to food and agriculture. The message that nature-based solutions (NbS) are critical to climate action has well and truly broken through. However, it is equally true that NbS are not a silver bullet that can excuse delayed action on decarbonization. In fact, for NbS to deliver their full potential, they must be deployed alongside fossil fuel phaseout. The two must go hand-in-hand. Because the science is clear that in many instances, the warming climate has negative impacts on nature’s ability to serve as a carbon sink.
Therefore, a reference to the transition away from all fossil fuels in the final COP decision, alongside the inclusion of the Global Biodiversity Framework and the call to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030 in the Global Stocktake, is a step in the right direction, but still far short of what was pushed for by many. Let us hope that this momentum can continue next year when the COP moves to Azerbaijan, where fossil fuels pervade the air – in places quite literally.
“COP28 showed that nature is now a fully-fledged part of our collective efforts to address climate challenges, as well as being rightly recognised as a precious resource to protect and conserve from the negative effects of climate change and market forces. Nature has to be an essential complement but must not be portrayed as a substitute for reducing fossil fuel use and associated emissions.” Simon Zadek, Executive Director, NatureFinance
Our top read on this topic: Fossil fuel phase-out will ‘not avert climate breakdown without protections for nature’
2. MONEY, MONEY, MONEY: WHEN WILL FINANCE FLOW FOR NATURE?
Rarely does the first day of a COP generate tangible announcements like this year’s loss and damage one, when five countries and the EU pledged more than $420 million – a much-needed boost to trust levels in the climate finance flows conversation. Elsewhere news was more depressing, although there were a few bright spots. For example, the latest Global Forest Finance Pledge report for 2022 shows that in the first two years of the 5-year pledge, USD 5.7 billion or 47% of the USD 12 billion pledge has already been directed towards forest-related programmes in developing countries. In the Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership announcements, Colombia, Ghana, Papua New Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo announced national packages totaling $242 million for forests backed by finance from public, private and civil society partners. And, amidst a range of other finance announcements that apparently totted up to $186 million of new money for nature, the world’s top multilateral development banks and other international organizations signed a joint declaration and launched a global “task force” to boost sustainability-linked sovereign financing for nature and climate at COP28.
But it is hard to escape the findings of the latest State of Finance for Nature from UNEP, which reports that close to $7 trillion is invested globally each year in activities that have a direct negative impact on nature from both public and private sector sources – equivalent to roughly 7% of GDP. The report finds that in 2022, investments in nature-based solutions totaled approximately $200 billion, but finance flows to activities directly harming nature were more than 30 times larger.
“COP28 represented a watershed moment for mobilising climate action and investment in nature and the Global South. A wide range of actors, from developing country governments and Indigenous leaders to financial institutions, acknowledged that there is no path to addressing the climate crisis without investing in and restoring nature. The COP advanced several important financing tools that are proven and ready to scale, including debt for nature swaps and high-integrity carbon markets.” Alexia Kelly, High Tide Foundation
Our top read on this topic: COP28 Looks to Nature for Help Against Climate Change
3. CREDIT WHERE CREDIT’S DUE: ARE CARBON MARKETS RISING FROM THE ASHES?
Given the funding gap for both nature and climate, both Parties and non-state actors recognized the critical role that carbon markets can and must play in global climate action. It certainly wasn’t all good news for markets, with countries failing to adopt key texts for international compliance carbon markets under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. This is a disappointment for those looking for strong international rules – now effectively stalled for another year.
This makes the work being done on standardization and reform in the voluntary carbon market all that more important. And there was certainly much brighter news coming out of COP on this front. COP28 saw strong statements of support from an enormous range of actors, including the head of the World Bank, all reaffirming the role and importance of markets in delivering on Paris Agreement goals. There were hundreds of events on the VCM, which together with a number of announcements, demonstrated more coherence and alignment than ever before between standards and integrity initiatives that should enhance confidence heading into a new year. Despite the disappointing news around Article 6, renewed optimism and work on the VCM offers a small but vital bright spot for how the international climate movement can, in the words of Winrock’s Mary Grady, return climate action to the “Art of the Possible.”
“While nature continues to feature prominently at COP, there is still not enough being done to expedite the implementation of NbS at the rate and scale necessary. What is crucial is the formulation of an actionable and realistic pathway to achieve the protection and restoration of nature at scale, and the commitment of the necessary financing. After 30 years of climate negotiations, the global community should not tolerate a single tonne of greenhouse gas emissions that is not mitigated, abated, or compensated with a high-integrity emissions reduction credit, preferably from a nature-based source. If this became the norm, this level of compensation could unlock the scale of financing required to protect, conserve and restore nature to meet the urgency of the challenge.” Eron Bloomgarden, CEO, Emergent
Our top read on this topic: Saving the world’s forests through carbon markets isn’t just ‘greenwashing’
4. HOT TOPIC: FINANCE FLOWS FOR INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
The need to move away from the concept and language of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPs and LCs) as “beneficiaries” of NbS projects, including those financed through the Voluntary Carbon Market, was clearly heard at COP28. So too was the call for direct engagement with Indigenous communities to hear their perspectives directly. While IP and LC advocacy groups have an important role to play, there is no substitute for direct, free, prior and informed consent with communities. This point was emphasized by Toshao Derrick Johns, the Toshao of Moraikobai who was elected chairman of the National Toshaos Council (NTC) in Guyana. He spoke passionately about the subject during an event at the Nature Positive Pavilion.
But, perhaps more than anything else, finance was the hot topic, mirroring broader COP discussions. The second Forest Tenure Funders Group (FTFG) annual report, published in November, analyzed progress against the five-year, $1.7 billion commitment to the tenure rights and forest guardianship of IPs and LCs in tropical forest countries announced at COP26. In the 2022 calendar year, FTFG members provided $494 million in pledge-aligned funding, a $172 million increase over 2021 funding. Total spending to date exceeds $815 million—almost half of the pledge total. However, the report found that only $8.1 million directly reached IP and LC organizations in 2022 – representing just 2.1% of the funding delivered. The new Platform to Support IPs and LCs group, established by FCLP countries, is designed to link the $1.7 billion pledge to tropical forest countries with representation by IPs and LCs.
“Nature-based solutions are not just about forests and biodiversity. What about us? What about people? If you want to make value – or similar monetary concepts for nature – we should be at the center of the discussion.” Juan Carlos Jintiach Arcos, Executive Secretary, Global Alliance of Territorial Communities
Our top read on this topic: Despite progress, small share of climate pledge went to Indigenous groups: report
5. TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN: WHEN BIODIVERSITY AND CLIMATE MEET
An interesting policy outcome was the joint statement between the COP28 Presidency and the People’s Republic of China, as President of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15). It signaled a new commitment for countries to coordinate and simultaneously implement their nature and climate strategies. It means that nations are actively integrating commitments made at COP15, including Indigenous safeguards, into the upcoming round of NDCs. The next biodiversity COP (COP16) was also announced, to be hosted by Colombia next year. In addition to the GST, every country needs to publish an action plan on nature by COP16 which helps both conventions. Meanwhile, the role of wildlife in climate change isn’t particularly well known, but the International Fund for Animal Welfare published a report highlighting the overlooked role of wildlife conservation and ecosystem protection in addressing the climate crisis.
“Nearly one year since the adoption of the historic Global Biodiversity Framework in Montreal by 196 governments, the urgency to align the climate and nature agendas has never been greater. Nature gained unprecedented attention at this year’s climate COP, but we cannot be complacent. The destructive financing of nature must cease, businesses must accelerate corporate action to address nature loss and governments need to put in place legislation to reward nature-positive outcomes. We thank Colombia for stepping up to host the UN Biodiversity Summit and look forward to working together to implement the GBF.” Eva Zabey, CEO, Business for Nature
Our top read on this topic: Nature’s key role in climate action in the spotlight at COP28
6. TWO YEARS FROM GLASGOW: WHAT’S NEW FOR FORESTS?
With deforestation still on the rise, the pressure remains on all the forest-related commitments announced in Glasgow. The Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership reported on global and national actions that represent a significant step towards meeting the 2030 target to halt and reverse forest loss. Those with a critical eye will point out that the day was light on new announcements – with quite a bit of repackaging – and perhaps lighter on demonstrations of concrete action, with many announcements in the realm of commitments, pledges, roadmaps, etc. But others point out that the announcements demonstrated political will, enhanced alignment, and new collaborations that can help chart a course toward halting and reversing biodiversity loss by 2030 and mobilizing nature-based solutions to provide one third of the mitigation required.
COP28 also saw significant signs of progress for jurisdictional REDD+, which, after years in the making, is rapidly picking up momentum because of how it answers questions around both integrity and scale. Emergent announced two landmark deals with Costa Rica and Ghana – together worth roughly $60 million – to sell jurisdictional carbon credits to LEAF Coalition buyers. This was followed by signing a term sheet with the Brazilian state of Acre. Separately, Mato Grosso has submitted a concept note to the JREDD ART-TREES standard, making it the 19th jurisdiction to do so. Finally, a new Jurisdictional REDD+ Technical Assistance Partnership (JTAP) was announced to address the challenges forest countries face in navigating standards, market requirements, and technical barriers.
Building on the Agriculture Sector Roadmap to 1.5°C that was pledged at COP26 and delivered at COP27, 14 of the world’s largest agri-commodity traders have made progress to implement actions in their supply chains and scale up technical assistance and incentives to support the transition to sustainable soy, cattle and palm oil production. Read more about individual corporate progress including recently updated no-conversion commitments by two of the world’s largest agri-commodity traders. Elsewhere Santander announced that the Innovative Finance for the Amazon, Cerrado & Chaco (IFACC) initiative now comprises 16 signatories with $4.6 billion in commitments. Over USD 220 million has already been disbursed through 11 financial products in 2022 and 2023. The European Union (EU), Germany, the Netherlands, and France, launched a global Team Europe Initiative (TEI) on Deforestation-free Value Chains.
“Ambitious individual corporate commitments underpin sector-wide progress. There has been a collective effort on the part of civil society, governments and downstream supply chain actors to encourage companies to recognize their role and to make credible science-based commitments. This collective effort has paid off, but with less than 800 days until the end of 2025, we need rapid implementation if we are to meet our climate and nature goals.” Jack Hurd, Executive Director, Tropical Forest Alliance, World Economic Forum
Our top read on this topic: Commodities traders pledge at COP28 to protect South American grasslands
7. OCEAN AND MANGROVES: NO PARIS WITHOUT THE OCEAN
Another frequently heard refrain is that there can be “no Paris without the ocean”, as set out by Peter Thomson, UN Secretary-General’s Ocean Envoy and Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Friends of Ocean Action. Twenty-one countries joined the Mangrove Breakthrough – an effort to restore and protect 15 million hectares of mangroves globally by 2030. Separately, Indonesia launched a mangrove research center that will be supported by the UAE [watch event here] and the Philippines joined the World Economic Forum’s Blue Carbon Action Partnership to safeguard crucial coastline ecosystems in South-East Asia. The need for a range of innovative solutions to boost ocean health was highlighted with the announcement of new partnerships. The goal of all countries achieving 100% sustainable ocean management was emphasized as a key waymarker in the journey towards nature positive and net zero, with Ocean Breakthroughs highlighting necessary action across maritime sectors from shipping and food to tourism. An additional key ocean thread was that those most affected by climate change are often underrepresented during these conversations – and that this tropical majority must be more adequately represented.
“Mangroves are a trifecta: they are great for biodiversity, for adaptation and mitigation – and for the people in the communities that live around them. When it comes to carbon dioxide removal, mangrove ecosystems can do more than 5 to 9 times more than the tropical rainforest on a per hectare basis. At COP28, we’re experiencing a ‘mangrove moment’ – with the launch of the Global Mangrove Alliance for Climate – where $4 billion has been committed by 2030 to safeguard 15 million hectares of mangroves. They are finally receiving the attention they deserve.” Emily Landis, Climate and Ocean Lead, The Nature Conservancy
Our top read on this topic: The Ocean Is Our Best Chance to Survive Climate Change
8. FOOD FOR THOUGHT: AGRICULTURE APPEARS BUT WHERE ARE THE FARMERS?
Food systems transformation has been a core agenda item at COP28 – for the very first time. Indeed, more than 200 events took place examining the shift to sustainable, just, resilient, net-zero-aligned and nature-positive food systems; the need to scale up finance for smallholder farmers and other frontline communities; and the importance of addressing food systems, biodiversity, climate and health in a holistic manner. Developments include the COP28 Action Agenda on Regenerative Landscapes, the launch of an Alliance of Champions for Food Systems Transformation, the FAO Roadmap and the World Economic Forum’s First Movers Coalition for Food. Although ‘agriculture’ and ‘food’ have appeared in the Global Stocktake text, the language is still far from being ambitious enough, and it is insufficient to elevate food systems transformation as a key lever for climate mitigation and adaptation.
“If you give farmers the opportunity, I think the world will be astonished at what we will achieve – to bring harmony between nature and culture, and to make sure that people have got enough to eat.” Barend Petrus Vys, Southern African Agri Initiative (SAAI)
Our top read on this topic: Climate Fight Takes Aim at Food in First Ever Net-Zero Plan
9. THE URBAN JUNGLE: CAN WE BOOST NATURE IN OUR CITIES?
The relationship between the natural world and the built environment was featured prominently at COP28. While this is a discussion that is sometimes overlooked in the broader NbS debate, under the auspices of the FCLP, a coalition of 17 countries committed to advancing policies and approaches that support low carbon construction and increase the use of wood from sustainably managed forests in the built environment. With concrete and steel responsible for perhaps 8% of global GHG emissions and building floor space expected to double by 2060, expect this to be a topic to receive more attention at COPs in the coming years.
Another development announced at COP28 by the Science-Based Targets Network (SBTN) is to develop city-focused science-based targets that include nature and biodiversity. The Cities’ Science-Based Targets for Nature program is designed to help municipalities manage land and water, protect biodiversity and bolster climate resilience. These targets for companies and cities are essential for guiding efforts in line with Safe and Just Earth System Boundaries released by the Earth Commission in May this year.
“Increased use of wood in construction offers not just a means to decarbonize the world’s built environment and transform our cities into carbon sinks, but also an opportunity to strengthen safeguards in the trade of sustainably produced forest products, direct more finance to sustainable landscape management and to rural and indigenous communities, and incentivize forest reforestation and encourage restoration.” Mark Wishnie, Chief Sustainability Officer, BTG Pactual Timberland Investment Group
“The SBTN initiative announced at COP28 comes as a crucial addition to ongoing efforts in understanding the intricate relationship between cities, climate goals, and the burgeoning realm of nature-related objectives. It builds on the existing work of SBTN and will help equip cities to do their part to halt and reverse nature loss.” Patrick Frick, Founder of the Global Commons Alliance
Our top read on this topic: Why we must talk about nature-positive cities this COP28
10. CLARION CALL: NATURE POSITIVE GETS ITS OWN BREAKTHROUGH MOMENT
We would say this wouldn’t we, but it feels like the nature-positive movement has gone mainstream. From the UK’s King Charles III to Planetary Guardian Mary Robinson, the clarion call to ‘halt and reverse nature loss by 2030’ was almost as prevalent as at the biodiversity COP. The Nature Positive Initiative is going from strength to strength and hosted a packed session on measuring nature positive outcomes during COP28.
In the Nature Positive Pavilion – despite being as far away as you could get – there were more than 60 events with some 360 speakers. In total, more than 30 partners collaborated to create a vibrant and constructive home to progress our collective action agenda on nature and climate. Our Nature Positive Delegation – of 30 Indigenous and youth leaders from all over the world – were a particular highlight this year – bringing their leadership and stories to a broad audience all over COP.
If you missed anything, you can find daily wrap-up videos from Nature’s Newsroom that summarized key developments day-by-day; our daily email briefing service helped orient people to what had happened and what was coming next; our always-on communications team worked tirelessly with the world’s media and delivered a staggering array of content for social media too.
Throughout this article below, we feature quotes from nature leaders from all over the world. The Nature Positive Pavilion was unusual at COP in that we were honored to be joined by an in-residence toddler, Zágtxo. Her parents, Carl Nduzi Gakran and Isabel Prestes da Fonseca, are Brazilian Indigenous leaders representing the Zág Institute and the Nature Positive Delegation. Perhaps it is fitting that we give the last word to the next generation – via her mother. “My daughter came here with us to learn, from an early age, how to defend the Indigenous people’s rights and be active in the fight against climate change. She will not be learning this at school. This is a life lesson.”
“The science is crystal clear that preserving nature’s ability to sequester and store carbon is as essential as achieving net zero emissions. Carbon neutral and nature positive, net zero emissions and net positive biodiversity; these are the two crucial and interdependent global goals.” Marco Lambertini, Nature Positive Initiative Convenor
Thank you to everyone who helped contribute to this article, including all those listed in quotes; all the Nature4Climate partners; NatureFinance; Emergent; Global Commons Alliance; Business for Nature; Nature Positive Initiative; Institute of Climate and Society, Brazil; the Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership; and the World Economic Forum.
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“If you give farmers the opportunity, I think the world will be astonished at what we will achieve – to bring harmony between nature and culture, and to make sure that people have got enough to eat.”
Barend Petrus Vys, Southern African Agri Initiative (SAAI)