For the latest in our regular features with the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, Mark Rose, chief executive officer of Cambridge-based Fauna & Flora International (FFI), the world’s longest established international wildlife conservation organisation, considers the outcome of COP26 and what must happen now.
This time last month we at Fauna & Flora International (FFI) were eagerly following, minute by minute, the closing negotiations of COP26, the UN climate summitIt took place in Glasgow, November.
The international agreement that emerged from those final, tense hours – the Glasgow Climate Pact – was a step forward for efforts to combat climate change, but still very far from where we need to be.
As they stand, carbon-cutting commitments by governments won’t be enough to keep us below 1.5C of warming this Century.
On one front however, it’s clear to me now the dust has settled and we head we head into a new year, that COP26 will be remembered as something of a turning point.
More than any other before it, this was the ‘Nature COP’; the moment that the central place of nature protection within the climate debate was almost universally recognised.
This is a very encouraging development. For decades, those in power have failed to appreciate that the crises of climate change and biodiversity loss are not separate issues to be dealt with independently – but deeply intertwined problems that must be tackled together. These linkages are now well understood.
According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), if tropical deforestation was a country, it would rank 3rd in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent emission, behind only China, and the United States.
Nature loss contributes to climate change, climate change contributes to nature loss – and the politicians seem to get it. One forward-thinking minister at COP26 called this shift in understanding “genuinely profound” – and credit has to go to the UK government and their COP26 presidency, which put nature front and centre from the off, achieving promising international commitments to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030 as well as new funding commitments to help communities around the world manage their land sustainably and securely, protecting vital ecosystems in the process.
However, if the cautious optimism expressed by those pledges is to become real progress there is still a lot to do in 2022 and beyond. The expertise and energy of organisations committed to protecting nature – like the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI) partners based here in our city – is going to be needed more than ever.
We cannot allow momentum to slip. The UK presidency of the COP lasts for most of next year and our government needs to use it wisely, focus on delivery and keep up pressure on the world’s biggest polluters to live up to their pledges. Nature protection must be at the center of the discussions at the next climate summit, COP27, in Egypt.
There also needs to be a clear link-up between the COP26 outcome and another big UN event that’s happening in 2022; the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity, or CBD, at its own landmark summit, COP15, in Kunming, China next spring. As the governments of the world meet to set targets for reversing biodiversity loss over the next decade, nature’s role in averting climate disaster must be on the agenda. No more can the two UN processes – one for climate, one for biodiversity loss – operate in separate silos. We are facing twin crises – and they must be tackled together.
Nature protection is not a magic bullet for the climate crisis. To reach our net-zero goals, we need to make drastic and rapid reductions in fossil fuel emissions and transition to green energy.
But there is also no credible path to limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels that doesn’t include nature protection; the safeguarding of vital ecosystems that absorb carbon from the atmosphere and lock it away in their biomass and soil. Lose the rainforests of the Amazon or the Congo basin and we’re stuffed. The same applies to the peatlands in Indonesia, the savannahs and grasslands of central Asia, as well as the savannahs and savannahs in Africa.
It’s mature, intact ecosystems that store the most carbon. They are also the most diverse. It’s a beautiful scientific truth that the more biodiversity in an ecosystem, the more carbon it generally holds, so what’s good for nature is good for the climate. It’s the ultimate win-win.
The fact that governments around the world are beginning recognize this fact as we enter a new year is reason for cautious optimism.
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