Extreme weather events – heatwaves, floods, droughts and fires – have made the news with astounding regularity this year. They have come at the cost of tens of thousands of lives, billions of dollars in damages, and vast numbers of homes and livelihoods, too.
There’s still time to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change and adapt wisely and fairly to the rapid shifts in the planet. But to find our exit from the “highway to climate hell” – as António Guterres, secretary-general of the UN, dubbed our current trajectory during his opening speech to the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) on 7 November – we need to act now.
What will that entail? The Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) recent conference, GLF Climate 2022, held on 11 and 12 November alongside COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt and online, laid down critical principles and clear pathways for action. The event, which featured scientists, politicians, organizational leaders, activists, Indigenous leaders, young people, artists and more, attracting more than 100 in-person attendees and thousands more online.
In line with the GLF’s mission to champion sustainable land use, land-based action for rebalancing the climate system was woven through the event’s 43 sessions, plenaries, launches, special events and more. “Investing in trees and forests is probably the most profitable business for climate resilience,” said Center for International Forestry Research–World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) principal scientist Peter Minang. “Whilst restoration is important, we also need to look at land as part of people’s lives and think about transformative approaches that enable them to protect their land.”
To serve that goal, CIFOR-ICRAF launched a new partnership platform at the conference, TreesAdapt, which aims to boost the role of forests and tree-based systems in climate adaptation. GLF partner Crop Trust also launched a report showing how tree diversity can most effectively be conserved and used for smallholder livelihoods and food security. And the Rights and Resources Initiative officially launched the Land Rights Standard, a major framework for inclusive Indigenous, local and Afro-descendant rights, developed with more than 70 organizations over the past three years.
Regarding food, many speakers emphasized that developing climate-smart, soil- and water-safe agricultural systems will be critical for attaining global food security while softening climate change impacts. Research on various methods such as agroforestry, silvopastoralism and regenerative agriculture was presented on numerous sessions throughout the days. “Eight hundred million people are hungry,” said Alexander Müller, the founder and managing director of TMG Think Tank. “So the big challenge is: how do we translate potential into real action?”
Finance will be a key part of the picture. “Investments in nature-based solutions will have to almost triple by 2030,” said Yuriko Backes, Luxembourg’s Minister of Finance. That’s not unreasonable, said Christopher Brett, a lead agribusiness specialist at the World Bank. “If nature could invoice for what is being used, it would drive change very quickly.” To that end, the notion of a “stewardship economy” – one that prioritizes the caretakers rather than exploiters of the natural world – was presented during a key plenary that illustrated examples of local-level efforts that couple sustainable land-use with profit. “It is time to truly recognize that nature is more than just products,” said Ravi Prabhu, ICRAF’s interim director general. “It also provides measurable services. People are not just producers, they are carers.”
Technological innovation will also help, when created and deployed inclusively and appropriately. Satellite data and other digital tools have great potential to strengthen resilience to climate-related shocks, said Sebastian Lesch, the head of the Agriculture Department at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), but “governance is critical for effectively applying the data generated to multiple crises and local contexts.” Likewise, said Elizabeth Nsimadala, the president of the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF), “technology and innovation on their own can’t create sustainable food systems. We have to navigate these technologies and put them into practice.”
As was reflected in wider discussions at COP27, putting frontline communities first – and compensating them for climate impacts to date – is critical to a fair transition. “The call for climate action now is not a fight for our rights alone, but a fight for our lives,” said Sônia Guajajara, an Indigenous environmental activist based in Brazil. “We need education and power for women and Indigenous People.”
Galina Angarova, the executive director of Indigenous advocacy organization Cultural Survival (CSORG), noted that transitions to cleaner energy, in particular, must avoid mining the minerals required in battery development in unjust, ecologically-damaging ways. “There’s nothing just about continuing to use the same extractive practices that have harmed peoples and altered the balance of this planet,” she said. “Indigenous communities cannot be sacrificed in the name of green extractivism.”
Young climate activists amplified the call for adaptation finance, and compensation for loss and damage payments from developed to developing countries, which has been the central topic of this COP’s negotiations. “If you close your eyes and do not see these loss and damage mechanisms or financing for adaptation, and only focus on mitigation, it’s like playing a home goal,” said Oluwaseun Adekugbe, the managing director of youth environmental organization Youth4Nature.
Despite the major practical, economic and political obstacles to action, the atmosphere at the conference remained positive – a necessary attribute, according to GLF managing director John Colmey. We are all connected by hope, and hope is our greatest ally,” he emphasized during the opening plenary. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Vice-Chair Ko Barrett agreed: “Climate action and climate justice go hand in hand,” she said. “Action begets hope.”