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Our climate needs nature

Wildlife and Countryside Link's Tallulah Belassie-Page discusses why healthy ecosystems are essential for tackling the climate crisis and what outcomes we hope to see for nature at COP26.

November 2021

Hailed as the 'last best hope' for the climate, COP26 comes at the final hour for world leaders to commit to meaningful action to tackle the ongoing climate emergency. The climate summit - which started on Sunday and finishes on November 12th - will see the meeting of world leaders in Glasgow to establish how Parties to the UNFCCC will continue to work towards limiting global warming to the 1.5C set out in the Paris Agreement.

Yet despite a recent flurry of announcements in the World Leaders Summit and an abundance of rhetoric promising ambitious action on climate matters, we’re still massively off track. A report out last week showed that the sum of submitted 2030 emissions reduction targets - also known as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs - is sending us towards 2.7C of warming. 

To date, we have experienced 1.2C of warming above pre-industrial levels, and devastating impacts are already being felt by communities and natural ecosystems across the world. Further temperature rise will only exacerbate this. It is imperative that world leaders step up their commitments at COP26 to avoid these scenarios at all costs. 
Bringing nature into the climate conversation 

As the climate crisis sees the global temperature continue its inexorable rise, we are also witnessing an equally devastating biodiversity crisis, with the rapid decline of species and habitats across the globe. Not only are these crises occurring simultaneously, but they are also linked. This year, COP26 presents an opportunity to move away from a siloed approach to climate change, bringing together nature and climate agendas to recognise the interdependent crises of biodiversity loss and climate change. Today’s pledge from over 100 world leaders to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 is welcomed, but the key test will be in its implementation and real action on the ground. 
Reversing the loss and degradation of carbon and species-rich ecosystems on land and in the ocean offers a joint solution to both crises, as pointed out in a recent joint IPBES-IPCC report. Restoring natural ecosystems is one of the cheapest and immediately implementable climate mitigation measures, whilst simultaneously providing ecosystem services to people and increasing resilience to the effects of climate change. According to The Wildlife Trusts, globally plants have removed 25% of human-made CO2 emissions, and oceans absorb 20-35% of human-made CO2 emissions every year. Restoring our natural systems could provide 37% of the CO2 mitigation needed by 2030 for the UK to meet their Paris Agreement commitments.

However, if we continue along our current trajectory, climate change poses an existential threat to global biodiversity and the adaptive capacity of most ecosystems will be exceeded. There is also the risk that solutions to one crisis will exacerbate the other. Moreover, investing in natural solutions to the climate crisis will only be effective if accompanied with ambitious greenhouse gas reductions across all sectors. 

Below we outline some of the key outcomes we hope to see for nature at COP26: 

1. Making nature a political priority as a key part of keeping 1.5C alive.
 Governments should formally recognise the link between the nature and climate crises and create greater join-up between processes under the UNFCCC and Convention on Biological Diversity, the equivalent UN framework for nature. 

2. Widening the range of habitats recognised as nature-based solutions.
Parties at COP should recognise that nature-based solutions are not just limited to trees and peat, but includes seagrass meadows, grasslands, coral reefs, and a variety of other habitats. 

3. Agreements on Article 6 must ensure good outcomes for people and nature
. Article 6 outlines a framework for negotiations on international carbon market rules and is one of the remaining parts of the Paris Agreement yet to be signed off by countries. It is crucial that any agreements made around Article 6 do not endanger the integrity of natural ecosystems, and that they protect the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities where projects are implemented. 

4. Anchoring nature in national climate plans.
Parties should firmly embed nature in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and other national plans, recognising their potential to support climate change mitigation and adaptation. 

5. Shifting to more sustainable supply chains.
 Alongside negotiated outcomes, world leaders should reach agreement and progress on shifting towards more sustainable supply chains and agricultural practices through the UK COP26 presidency nature campaign. This includes the Food, Agriculture, Commodities Trade (FACT) dialogues, which was established with the aim to drive market shifts towards halting deforestation in supply chains.

With the world’s eyes on COP26, we at Link will be watching to ensure that decisions made on the climate also lead to good outcomes for nature. Beyond COP26 there needs to be a greater join up of these two agendas, and whilst COP is being seen as the ‘last chance’ for world leaders to create change for the climate, the next few months and years will be where the real progress is made. In this crucial decade for the environment, it is now more important than ever to close the gap between rhetoric and reality with meaningful action.

Tallulah Belassie-Page is Policy & Campaigns Assistant at Wildlife and Countryside Link.

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.