Nature takes center stage during UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit and Climate Week

Nature took center stage in New York this week during the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit and the surrounding Climate Week. Supported by the calls of millions of young people around the world for more urgent action, a growing movement of governments, businesses, indigenous peoples, civil society groups, scientists, educators and concerned people emerged calling for nature to be integrated in all decision-making processes, at all levels, in all parts of life.

This marks a significant step forward. However, we note, more broadly, the summit did not deliver the sea change in political will that many had hoped. Although 69 countries signaled their intent to increase the ambition of their national climate targets, none of the major emitters stepped forward with new pledges, disappointing many of those calling for political leaders to unite behind the science.

Indeed, the release of the IPCC Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere, following on the heels of the IPCC Land Report, confirmed what we already know to be true: that we are facing a planetary emergency. If we continue business as usual, the damage caused to our climate, our development priorities, our oceans, our biodiversity and our global food systems will be catastrophic. However, the opportunities offered by resetting our relationship with nature have never been more apparent. By protecting and restoring our natural ecosystems, we have the ability to make a major contribution to the fight against climate change, as well as deliver a range of other benefits, from protecting biodiversity to creating jobs, building resilience and strengthening a wide range of ecological services.

Progress Made at Climate Summit and Climate Week

Over the course of the past week, more than 30 countries – together with a broad array of other stakeholders – have joined a call to action from China and New Zealand to increase support for nature-based solutions.

China’s leadership on this front has been particularly noteworthy. As co-lead of the Climate Summit’s nature-based solutions action area, China is calling for a deeper understanding of the relationship between human beings and nature. It is not only making important strides at home, but also by recruiting other nations to step up their support for nature.

Beyond these diplomatic efforts, there were a number of important new partnerships announced on the margins of the Summit. These included:

  • We saw the launch of the Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance, whose members – responsible for directing more than US$ 2.4 trillion in investments – committed to carbon-neutral investment portfolios by 2050;
  • new alliance for forestswas announced by President Macron along with Colombia’s Ivan Duque and Chile’s Sebastian Piñera, to protect the Amazon and other tropical forests with support from Germany, Norway, Peru and Conservation International. The plan includes aid by international donors, such as $100 million (90.7 million euros) from the French government and $20 million from Conservation International;
  • The World Bank and Germany announced the launch of PROGREEN, a new global partnership to boost efforts to stop deforestation. Germany is contributing 200 million Euros to kickstart the program;
  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank announced, along with several governments, financial commitments of $790 million and assistance to enhance resilience of more than 300 million small-scale food producers in the face of mounting climate impacts;
  • Through the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), Norway will pay $150 million to Gabon for  successfully reducing greenhouse gas emissions by preventing deforestation. This makes Gabon the first African country to be paid to preserve its rainforest with international funds; and
  • The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and Emmanuel Faber (CEO of Danone) announced a new coalition – called the One Planet Business for Biodiversity, or OP2B – of 19 global companies focused on agriculture and committed to biodiversity.

Full overview of the week’s nature-related announcements

A number of countries also stepped forward to make individual announcements, many of which centered on reforestation efforts that add up to billions of new trees around the world.

The growing movement for people and nature was also in evidence on the ground in New York. More than a third of the 300+ events of Climate Week focused on nature-based solutions, showcasing the full range of global, national and local initiatives already taking place around the world. There was particular emphasis on the role that indigenous peoples play in protecting natural ecosystems, and how, with greater recognition of their rights, they stand to play an even greater role in the future.

Where do we go from here?

Despite these encouraging signs of progress, much work remains to be done in the coming 18 months in order to scale nature-based solutions to their full potential as we work to set ourselves on a trajectory toward 1.5 degrees in the coming decade. The fact remains that deforestation is still on the rise and we are falling well short of our 2020 goals. Far too little finance is flowing to protect and restore nature and far too much is flowing to activities that are destroying it. Nature will never be able to achieve its potential as a climate, biodiversity and development solution unless this changes.

Simply put, more stakeholders need to step forward and accelerate actions that contribute to conserving and restoring ecosystems – including forests, grassland and coastal ecosystems – developing sustainable agriculture and food systems, and ensuring nature’s systemic role in sustainable development. While everyone has a part to play in the needed transitions, much of the leadership in the coming months must come from political leaders who need to significantly enhance forest protection and restoration efforts. As we head toward 2020, there are a number of actions that national governments, business and investors, and international organizations can take to ensure the commitments made this week are turned into concrete results on the ground.

First, commit to enhance and mainstream the role of nature-based solutions in Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), as well as other climate policy related instruments such as national adaptation plans, long-term low emission development strategies, and business plans, by the end of 2020. Currently, less than a third of national governments have specific targets for the forest and land sector in their NDCs. This needs to change.  Ultimately, governments should include a quantified national mitigation goal for nature-based solutions in their NDCs or implementation plans that includes targets on protection of high-carbon ecosystems and sinks, avoided deforestation and degradation, sustainable forest management, and large-scale restoration efforts.

Second, undertake and support action to align investment and increase finance for nature-based solutions, sufficient to enable the achievement of the full climate change mitigation (10 Gt of GHG per year) and adaption potential. Just as large investors are pulling investments out of fossil fuels, they must do the same for activities that drive deforestation in the Amazon and elsewhere. We need leading government sovereign wealth funds to pull out of investing in companies that are linked to deforestation. We need investors to ask companies to disclose the deforestation footprint of their supply chain, and then act on that information. And we need countries to re-align their subsidies, tax incentives, and policies away from deforestation.

And finally, take action to incorporate and scale-up nature-based solutions to increase climate action for resilience and adaptation, ensuring people’s livelihoods in the face of climate threats and maximizing the power of nature to lower risks from climate change. The insurance industry itself is only beginning to appreciate the value of maintaining and enhancing natural ecosystems for increasing resilience and reducing risk to their insured assets. For example, in the wake of hurricane Dorian, we may soon see insurance companies investing in the restoration of mangroves as a cost-effective way to reduce risk in their portfolio of coastal properties.

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