New York Climate Week Round-up: 5 takeaways for nature and climate action
New York Climate Week was back in full swing and busier than ever last week. The week kicked off with a clear call for urgency. More than 90 leaders and experts from business, science, NGO and youth groups released an open letter that urged UNFCCC Parties to deliver on their climate and biodiversity commitments and disclose their implementation plans as part of the Global Stocktake. The letter, titled It’s Time To Take Stock of Nature, followed on the heels of updated research that indicates that more than half (52%) of joint global commitments tracked since 2019 related to nature-based climate action have published little to no evidence of progress in the past six months or more, and a mere 12% of policies worldwide have dedicated budgets for NBS implementation.
From there, attention turned to the Nature Positive Hub, where 49 events brought nature to the forefront of climate action, gathering more than 1,750 visitors to engage in much-needed discussions around the role of nature in tackling both climate and biodiversity crises. A huge thank you to all our partners and sponsors, as well as to all those who participated, for making this such a huge success. For those who weren’t in New York and those who may have missed an event, you can watch many of the recordings here.
Here are our five key takeaways from New York Climate Week:
The tone for the week was set with the launch of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures’ (TNFD) recommendations, which seek to position nature risk alongside financial, operational and climate risk and help to shift capital flows to nature-positive outcomes. This important milestone was accompanied by a range of events and reports, including the two new papers from the UN High-Level Climate Champions that specify recommendations to break financing barriers for restoring nature in emerging markets and developing economies.
One theme that stood out was the importance of collaboration. No single organization has all the tools or expertise to act effectively alone. This was the focus of a breakfast meeting hosted by Nature4Climate that featured speakers from the BTG Pactual Timberland Investment Group, The Nature Conservancy’s NatureVest, Goldman Sachs, Climate Asset Management and SLM, where each focused on how they are forming new kinds of partnerships to deliver impact.
However, there were also important reminders that far too much capital is still flowing into activities that are harming nature, including business-as-usual commodity agriculture. Shifting these financial flows by setting policies, establishing effective due diligence and management, and better understanding the opportunities of nature-positive investment requires building a much bigger tent.
The latest technology developments – such as AI and geospatial mapping – have huge potential to accelerate high-quality nature-based solutions. Unsurprisingly, Nature4Climate’s “Nature tech in action” event gathered crowds as technologies addressing severe environmental challenges, such as climate change and species loss, as well as those accelerating nature-based climate solutions were presented. It was also interesting to see it included similarly or more broadly defined at many events and on many agendas throughout both the Nature Positive hub events and further afield. We also saw the importance of nature tech to aid transparent reporting and monitoring as disclosure regulations consolidate, and many innovations from the Global South that actively respond and cater to the needs of local smallholders.
Spread across many different events, vibrant discussions took place during New York Climate Week about the role of the voluntary carbon market in our collective path to net zero, particularly their potential to deliver urgent action now. Much of the focus was on how the VCM is restructuring and innovating at an amazing pace. There were many different perspectives represented in this dialogue, including voices that offered significant, yet constructive, criticism. The concept of “VCM 2.0” was raised in multiple fora as a way to summarize the collective efforts underway to address issues and overcome barriers. And the phrase “Continuous improvement is a feature, not a bug, of the market,” was heard regularly on the margins of events.
These nuanced and productive discussions contrasted with the ongoing media blitz against the VCM, which intensified last week with an “investigation” that found most credits from the largest project are “junk”, without saying much else. It’s clear that the internal narrative happening within the environmental and climate communities, with all its nuance, has diverged significantly from the broader narrative, including that taking place in mainstream media coverage. Greater effort needs to be made to bridge these two worlds.
Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities
The critical role that Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) play as guardians of our natural ecosystems is now firmly established and beyond question. At New York Climate Week, there was a polite but palpable frustration from IPLCs that climate funds are not reaching them. This massive deficit is increasingly being acknowledged by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous actors, with a wide range of events dedicated to this topic. Analysis by Nature4Climate found that only 11% of the joint nature-related commitments made since 2019 specifically mention IPLCs. There were some bright spots, such as the announcement by the Ford Foundation, which announced that it has already dispersed $87 million of its $100 pledge to support tenure rights and forest guardianship of IPLCs. But much more needs to be done.
When it came to market-related events, two key themes stood out. The first was an emphasis that while urgent climate action is required, it’s critical to take the time to build trust and mutual understanding, including absolute adherence to free, prior and informed consent protocols. This is a vital component for VCM projects and programs for IPLCs to make informed decisions to participate (or not) in carbon markets with transparency, full understanding, and free consent. This approach is necessary and needs dedicated time and effort to perform correctly. The second theme heard during events was the need to move past framing IPLCs as “beneficiaries” of the VCM, and instead seeing them as core partners in their development and implementation. This principle was reflected in market announcements, including the updates from the socio-cultural committee working with ART to develop a new module for the TREES standard, as well as the launches of Equitable Earth, an IPLC-focused coalition to develop a new VCM standard and Level, a new conservation business that creates a direct financial link between those who want to protect and restore our planet and those best placed to do so.
As leaders across the Nature Positive movement joined forces to call for greater transparency and delivery on nature-related commitments, following a recent analysis that over half of the current commitments do not present enough evidence of progress over the last six months, it was clear that forests, nature and land use change have become more central in the climate action discourse, a trend that we have been observing over the past five years. This has largely been made possible by the fact that, despite the diversity of voices and priorities, there is an overall agreement across non-state actors that nature needs to be accounted for as a viable, cost-effective and scalable solution to tackle both the climate and biodiversity crises. Evidence of such alignment was made clear with the launch of the Nature Positive Initiative and the release of an open letter signed by nearly 100 leaders from NGOs, IGOs, businesses and IPLC groups.
Also at the Nature Positive Hub, many companies and sectors were represented at the launch of the sector transitions towards a nature-positive future. Business for Nature, WBCSD and the World Economic Forum launched new guidance that sets out the priority actions businesses across 12 sectors must take to contribute towards a nature-positive future.
On the other hand, while the nature discourse is gathering sway, it is clear that we have much more work to do to break out of the “nature bubble” and reach new audiences, in particular those who control the purse strings in both the public and private sectors. It is not overlooked that, at times, it felt like we were having the same conversations with the same people time and time again. This is a challenge to us all as we head toward COP28.