At the UN Climate Change Summit in Glasgow, COP26, nature has been on the agenda and a topic of negotiations more than ever before. Now, leaders are calling for nature and the range of ecosystems it encompasses to be more specifically included in the text of the Paris Agreement.
According to a report launched by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) at COP26, 92 percent of countries’ new nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement on climate change now include measures to tackle nature loss, up from 82 percent earlier in the year.
“We know that nature has a key role to play in meeting climate change targets and adapting to climate change, but this was not formally outlined in the Paris Agreement,” says Clement Metivier, a policy advisor at WWF. “Something that was also not included was the fact that nature encompasses a broad range of ecosystems.”
WWF has developed a list of specific requests for where and how nature should be included in the text of the Paris Agreement, such as the explicit mention of marine, coastal, freshwater and land ecosystems as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases, asking for biodiversity loss and climate change to be addressed together as interwoven challenges, and directing finance toward high-quality nature-based solutions.
Five years after the signing of the Paris Agreement, in which countries made commitments to help limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-Industrial levels – known as nationally determined contributions, or NDCs – this COP has meant to serve as a stock-take on progress and an opportunity for countries to increase their ambitions.
Other core issues of the COP have also taken nature prominently into account, including Article 6 of the Paris Agreement that addresses carbon market regulation, climate finance, and the integration of the three Rio Conventions on climate change, biodiversity and land degradation.
This comes largely in light of the term “nature-based solutions” – which is, in many senses, interchangeable with “nature” – expanding in the environmental lexicon over the course of the past couple of years.
Nature-based solutions: Actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Said to have the potential to provide up to 30 percent of the climate change mitigation needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, nature-based solutions essentially harness the power of nature and ecosystems to achieve the targets set in the Paris Agreement on climate change and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. They could also generate trillions of dollars in benefits.
The COP26 presidency, held by the U.K., themed the summit around a “Nature Campaign” that advocates for ecosystem and biodiversity conservation serving as the foundation for transforming food and agriculture systems to become more sustainable. This was preluded by last year’s Leaders Pledge for Nature, which saw 92 countries and the E.U. commit to halting and reversing biodiversity loss by 2030. Then, this June, G7 leaders signed the Nature Compact, adding a further commitment to halve carbon emissions by 2030.
With awareness for nature-based solutions rising, advocates are now calling for more specific demands, such as more attention given to ecosystems with high levels of biodiversity and carbon sequestration. There’s a movement for a stronger focus on oceans, which have absorbed almost 90 percent of the heat trapped within our atmosphere due to rises in greenhouse gases since 1971 and contain enormous numbers of different life forms, most of which remain unknown.
“I wrote to the COP26 president Alok Sharma after doing a survey around the world of scientists involved in ocean acidification,” said Ambassador Peter Thomson, special envoy to the UN secretary-general for oceans.
“I said to him that he must understand, as president of this COP, that ocean acidification is an existential matter for all species and that this is occurring because of greenhouse gas emissions caused by mankind. Parties need to be aware of the seriousness of this situation.”
Meanwhile, Article 6 of the Paris Agreement remains the only part of the agreement lacking agreed-upon rules for implementation. Countries have become entrenched in their positions in negotiations on the text that indirectly addresses voluntary carbon markets and trading. As carbon markets are often rooted in Indigenous and traditionally held lands, there are pervasive fears that without proper safeguards in place, a long-awaited agreement on this article – which is a priority outcome of COP26 – could do more harm than good.
Now, the importance of safeguards for ecosystems are coming into view as well. “It’s really critical, in everything that comes out of those negotiations, to really see this idea of safeguards in terms of human rights but also in terms of protection of ecosystems,” says Metivier. “Anything coming out of the negotiations on Article 6 should include ecosystem integrity.”
“Governments meeting in Glasgow have announced major commitments on forests and land use in the last few days,” said Gavin Edwards, global coordinator and nature lead at COP26 for WWF. “But this is only part of the picture. Nature must be recognized in the COP outcome, and governments must commit to urgently scale up and implement nature-based solutions.”