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Just a few days after the latest round of climate talks concluded at COP27 in Egypt, diplomats have traveled to Montreal to negotiate what we hope will be a landmark agreement on nature at COP15. The crises of nature and climate are intertwined, locked into a vicious cycle exacerbating each other. It is our chance to unlock nature-based solutions for climate change, which will also deliver so many other benefits for biodiversity and for humanity.
We cannot solve the climate crisis without protecting and restoring our natural environment. The world’s forests are estimated to store the equivalent of a century’s worth of CO2 emissions at current levels; the ocean’s phytoplankton annually absorb the CO2 equivalent of four Amazons. Climate change, meanwhile, is placing unbearable pressures on vital species and ecosystems. Warming oceans threaten marine biodiversity. Droughts and wildfires are already decimating ecosystems: during the 2019/2020 summer, Australia’s bushfires destroyed an area the size of Portugal, killing up to 1.5 billion wild animals.
As negotiators meet at COP15 in Montreal to negotiate a Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) within the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), they need to apply lessons learnt from the Paris Agreement to ensure that COP15’s outcome puts us on a path towards addressing both crises.
Nature is a bulwark against climate change—and will be critical to our efforts to halt global warming. As our recent Our Climate’s Secret Ally report shows, natural systems have substantially buffered us against the effect of our greenhouse gas emissions. Almost one quarter of emissions over the last 10 years have been absorbed by the oceans, and nearly a third by plants, animals and soils on land.
A climate ally in nature
The post-2020 framework under discussion is a once-in-a-generation chance to set the world on a new course to address accelerating biodiversity loss with all the benefits this brings to us.
Nature also offers protection against the impacts of climate change, helping to protect people against extreme weather and rising tides. Coral reefs, wetlands and mangroves can protect against storm surges, while forests can soak up excess rainwater, preventing run-offs, landslides and damage from flooding.
The importance of nature to stabilising our climate underscores what is at stake in Montreal at COP15. Not to mention nature’s other existential contributions to humanity beyond climate stability: from water and food security and fighting malnutrition and poverty to supporting human health and well-being. The post-2020 framework under discussion is a once-in-a-generation chance to set the world on a new course to address accelerating biodiversity loss, with all the benefits this brings to us. It must be strong, ambitious and hold governments accountable for delivery.
Here, negotiators can look to the previous UN climate talks for pointers. Notwithstanding the disappointing progress at COP27 at Sharm El-Sheikh, the UNFCCC created, in the 2015 Paris Agreement, an effective framework to put the world on a pathway towards a net-zero emissions future.
Learning from Paris…
Fundamental to the success of the Paris Agreement was that it set the direction of travel without becoming bogged down in the detail. Its overall goal—of holding global warming to below 2°C, and ideally below 1.5°C—is clear, straightforward and unambiguous. It has been translated into the net-zero emissions by 2050 targets that are today driving our energy transition. Critically, it has created accountability and a “ratchet” mechanism that measures progress, and which allows targets to be increased in line with our evolving scientific understanding.
As we have seen all too painfully at COP27, the climate negotiations do not get any easier; there remain crucial areas where consensus remains elusive. But, in big-picture terms, most governments and businesses consider the Paris Agreement to provide firm foundations on which to build the international response to climate change.
… to drive success in Montreal
So what does a successful Global Biodiversity Framework look like? It must set a clear mission—namely to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 and achieve a nature-positive world—so that by the end of the decade we have more nature than at the start. This will ensure a crystal-clear and measurable goal, analogous to the 1.5°C threshold set by the Paris Agreement.
Critically, it must be human rights-based and ensure the participation of the local communities and indigenous peoples who are most dependent upon natural systems.
In order to deliver a nature positive mission, a successful GBF needs to have five elements:
- It must scale up conservation and restoration. The creation of protected areas is one of the best tools we have at our disposal to slow the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of nature. The GBF needs to set a global target to conserve at least 30% of the earth by 2030, including land areas, inland-waters and oceans. In addition, it needs to include an ambitious target for the restoration of natural and semi-natural ecosystems.
- The GBF must address our footprint, tackling the productive sectors currently driving biodiversity loss. Agriculture, and particularly the destruction of habitat caused by land conversion, is the primary driver of biodiversity loss. The GBF should include a commitment to halve the footprint of production and consumption by 2030. Such a commitment will require the transformation of key productive sectors, to ensure they work with nature rather than against it. These key sectors include agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, forestry, infrastructure, mining and other extractive activities.
- It must embrace high-quality nature-based solutions that both provide benefits for biodiversity and address societal challenges. Nature-based solutions are designed to protect, conserve and restore natural or modified ecosystems in ways that address social, economic and environmental challenges. They should be developed in ways that are equitable, rights-based and that follow strict standards, such as the IUCN Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions.
- The GBF must ensure a significant increase in financial resources and measures to align financial flows with a nature-positive world. This is the opportunity to close the biodiversity finance gap, both leveraging more resources for biodiversity -mainly directed to the global south where biodiversity is higher and means are usually lower - and also redirecting public subsidies and private investments from nature-negative to nature-positive practices. Doing so will tap the power of markets to avoid risks and seize opportunities. As we have also seen in the climate sphere, private investments in clean energy and the net-zero transition have dwarfed government commitments.
- The GBF must have an effective implementation mechanism. The CBD’s previous attempt to set goals for biodiversity protection, the 2010 Aichi biodiversity targets, ended in failure; none of the 20 targets were met by the 2020 deadline. To avoid the GBF meeting a similar fate, it needs to include an implementation mechanism that requires countries to present national biodiversity strategies and subject them to periodic review. Countries would then be expected to increase their efforts if those strategies are not on track to deliver their objectives.
In Montreal, we would consider agreement on a GBF that incorporates these five elements as a successful outcome. But we should be in no doubt: it would only be a first step. The implementation that follows will be key.
Inevitably, there will be governments that will resist an ambitious agreement. They must not be allowed to hold the talks hostage. It is critical that the countries that have already publicly committed to a strong GBF hold their ground and put all their efforts towards an effective global agreement, both to protect nature and to keep 1.5°C alive.
Despite the challenges negotiators in Montreal will face, we remain confident that the overarching objectives can be agreed upon, with a framework that ensures environmental and social integrity and effective implementation over time. The only path to a people-positive future is a nature-positive one.