2021: a Nature Positive year

2021 is coming to an end — and while the global compass is still pointing toward a worrisome future on the nature and climate frontier, we reach the final days of the year with reasons for hope. Large commitments to end deforestation, better schemes to protect Indigenous Peoples’ rights and involve them in decision making, and a turning point on much debated and anticipated negotiations on carbon markets. 2021 has seen nature no longer as the forgotten solution but actually at the heart of a wide range of announcements that signal a systemic shift to address unsustainable land use and accelerate a transition to a low carbon, nature-positive and climate-resilient future. 

Here are some of the most significant moments for nature this year:

Closer and closer to a tipping point

2021 got off to a tough start. While most of the population was struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, new studies and reports showed that the planet was ever closer to tipping points that called for urgent action on a global scale. Massive gaps in finance flows, far too little ambition on nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and large rates of deforestation were – and still are-  amongst the major challenges the world is facing. However, as predicted in our inaugural “State of NBS” report, this year has brought on long-anticipated and very real momentum for nature in the climate agenda. 

To start, the IPPC’s sixth assessment report put to rest any doubts of the critical importance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and the enormous global effort it will take to achieve this, alerting us to the fact that global temperatures are currently rising faster than any time in at least the last 2000 years and the window for action is closing fast. The report also surfaced important discussions on the interconnectivity of the climate crisis with others related to biodiversity and food systems, adding an even greater sense of urgency for protecting, sustainably managing and restoring our natural ecosystems.

2021 also saw greater ambition in climate action from governments and non-state actors alike, especially in referencing nature’s mitigation potential in land use in NDCs and integrating high integrity nature positive solutions into their core business activities. But there is clearly much more to be done on this front. 

Global assessments launched in 2021 such as the latest UNEP Emissions Gap Report found that the world is still a long way from achieving 1.5 – in fact, new and updated NDCs would put the world on track for a temperature rise this century of at least 2.7°C. This year´s State of Finance report also showed that investments in nature-based solutions need to triple by 2030 and to increase four-fold by 2050 from the current level. 

The good news is that the needle seems to be finally moving, starting with this year’s G7 leaders’ statement that “our world must not only become net-zero but also nature positive.” Unprecedented pledges made at COP26 by world leaders, financial institutions and companies surpassed USD 20 billion to both protect and restore forests. This includes a declaration signed by  141 leaders committing to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030, which would offer up to 3.5Gt pa mitigation potential. 

One voice for nature

For years we in the climate movement have been speaking of a need for truly radical collaboration, bringing diverse perspectives and voices to the table. This need is greater than ever, but anyone at COP 26 witnessed a strong sense of cohesion through diversity around nature. The youth movement has for the first time released a statement on nature-based solutions, Indigenous Peoples were further recognised in their role as stewards of nature and are increasingly mentioned in climate policy and financial flows.  The need for protecting, restoring and sustainably managing natural ecosystems, also known as nature-based solutions, made its way into the final decision text agreed by 197 Parties, and COP 26 is now referenced as Nature’s COP.

As radical collaboration is still an abstract concept, Nature4Climate has been part of an emerging narrative about the need for a nature-positive recovery, working closely with like-minded groups to ensure that public funding decisions taken were both nature-positive and climate-friendly. During COP26, the Nature+ campaign grew to bring together over 60 organisations under the same trees in Glasgow, putting nature at the heart of the climate conversation. Word of nature-based solutions increased almost three-fold on Twitter compared to 2020 and mentions of nature corresponded to over 10% of all COP 26 media coverage.

The Nature+ Zone was also the home of the Nature’s Newsroom, a central hub for the nature and climate conversation at COP 26, with interviews streaming daily to the main broadcasters around the planet. 

The deal we’ve all been waiting for

As expected, the nature and climate agenda also engaged in some heated discussions in 2021. As Article 6 negotiations came to a close, with countries finally agreeing on foundations for carbon markets, debates on the risks of offsetting often led to screams of ‘greenwashing’. N4C director James Lloyd joined the conversation, arguing why the term is increasingly being used in a lazy way, to reduce a complex and dynamic space into a simple talking point.

High integrity carbon markets were also the theme of the most-watched panel in our Nature+ programme, a productive discussion that brought together financial institutions, governments, indigenous peoples and the youth to discuss if and how the deal could direct new finance streams for forest and wetland protection, as well as accelerate global climate.

NatureTech

Earlier this year, N4C’s Chair Lucy Almond outlined five reasons why you should listen out for NatureTech in 2021. We believe there’s huge potential in bridging the worlds of nature and technology, and were encouraged by the momentum seen at COP26, bringing together leading scientists and entrepreneurs to discuss how technology advances and other forms of innovation – whether that’s satellite monitoring, drone technology, AI, genomic sequencing, blockchain and new business models – can help to unlock the potential of nature-based solutions and move us towards a nature-positive future. 

We’ve discussed how tech for nature can help enable high-integrity NBS, engaging with a broad range of tech start-ups and major tech companies and the incubation and spin-off of the ‘Nature Tech Nexus’ – a start-up to increase the flow of financial capital towards ‘nature tech’ companies that can accelerate NBS.  

The N4C NBS Policy Tracker is a great example of how innovative thinking and technology can help governments and investors to make smarter decisions and ensure meaningful action on the ground. The tool is the first of its kind that uses AI and machine learning to identify legislation and investment plans for NBS to assess their effectiveness and will serve as the world’s largest global database of public policies to support nature.

The start of a decade of delivery

Pledges are great, but the world is eager for action. From international organizations to national governments and local communities, people are already deploying good practices and addressing lessons learned in every region of the planet. 

Our new Case Study map is a crowdsourcing endeavour that provides a first glance at projects that consider protection, restoration, and improved land management actions that increase carbon storage or avoid greenhouse gas emissions in different ecosystems in more than 80 countries around the world. The data is promising, though it’s true that many projects still lack scale. As we head towards 2022 and beyond,  TNC details some key positive trends for the future. The world now looks to Egypt who will be hosting COP27 in November 2022, shifting perspectives to the Global South’s leadership role and looking more deeply into adaptation gaps, and a much-anticipated treaty to collectively protect and manage the ocean, a key natural climate solution, outside of national waters could be on the way. But more of this to come.

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