Encouraging Integrated Climate And Biodiversity Action At Cop 26 And Beyond
By Charles Barber, World Resources Institute & Virginia Young, Australian Rainforest Conservation Society
We have reached a critical juncture in the history of the UN Conventions and our collective responsibility to adopt a holistic approach to reversing the dangerous trajectory we are on of biodiversity loss, ecosystem decline, escalating GHG emissions and climate change.
As the Nexus Report on Nature-based Solutions to the Climate and Biodiversity Crises1 explained, protecting and restoring nature is crucial to addressing the climate, biodiversity, poverty and health crises in an integrated and mutually supportive manner, and is central to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Importantly, this must be done through a rights-based approach and in parallel to, not instead of, an urgent fossil-fuel phase-out and economy-wide emissions reductions.
The first ever joint workshop of IPBES and the IPCC in June this year echoed this call, noting that the root causes of the climate and biodiversity crises are the same, as are many of the solutions. But we still have a long way to go to bridge the silos of the UN Conventions and increase understanding of the critical importance of protecting and restoring the integrity of ecosystems for long term, relatively stable carbon sequestration and storage and climate resilient sustainable development.
The health of the biosphere on which all life depends cannot be protected and restored unless we tackle the climate and biodiversity challenges together. The functional role of biodiversity in underpinning ecosystem integrity and stability and reducing GHG emissions into the atmosphere needs to be better understood by many climate decision makers and better reflected in climate policy and rules.
The IPBES/IPCC workshop clearly identified that each crisis amplifies the other; and that to reverse the downwards spiral we are on, we must first protect and then restore carbon and species rich natural ecosystems – including forests, peatlands, wetlands, mangroves and other near shore marine ecosystems. Institutional, governance, climate rules and ‘Business as Usual’ practices also require change – in particular in how we think about and make transparent for decision makers, nature’s capacity and role in fighting climate change and adapting to its impacts.
We must build on the decision at COP25 that underlined “the essential contribution of nature to addressing climate change and its impacts and the need to address biodiversity loss and climate change in an integrated manner” (Paragraph 15, 1/CP.25). Parties now need to operationalise this provision as well as other vital ecosystem provisions under the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, and anchor nature in the formal text outcomes that will be adopted at COP26.
Many conservation strategies are directly relevant to achieving integrated climate and biodiversity outcomes. Conservation actions that deliver resilient climate, biodiversity and community wellbeing outcomes include: Rights Based expansion and improvement of the Protected Area estate; Connectivity Conservation initiatives that work with IP&LC’s to deliver climate mitigation, adaptation, biodiversity, ecosystem and cultural and livelihood benefits; and a suite of ‘Other Effective Conservation Measures’ that deliver holistic and resilient climate, biodiversity and community outcomes.
There will be much talk at COP26 about Nature-based Solutions (NbS). But not every claimed climate action ‘based on Nature’ will be good for biodiversity and many may simply facilitate dangerous delays in eliminating the use of fossil fuels and thus fail the acid test of keeping carbon out of the atmosphere.
Forest based bioenergy is another NbS pitfall that increases GHG accumulation in the atmosphere and takes time and land we don’t have to draw down.
NbS proposals therefore require scrutiny. Most importantly, they must prioritise protection ahead of restoration and avoid offsets that facilitate expansion or BAU use of fossil fuels.
So what is needed at COP26 to encourage integrated climate and biodiversity action?
We need a pathway to examine the barriers to integrated climate and biodiversity action. One such pathway would be to encourage a joint IPCC/IPBES ‘Special Report on Climate and Biodiversity’ to look beyond the obvious synergies between the two problems and their solutions and into the rules and practices of the Conventions that discourage holistic action.
And we need a COP decision that builds on 1.CP/25 to encourage parties to tackle the biodiversity and climate crises together and include improved conservation management of carbon and species rich ecosystems in their NDC’s, National Adaptation Plans and other Long Term Strategies.
Other opportunities to better operationalise the ecosystem provisions under the UNFCCC, the Paris Agreement and 1/CP.25 exist in the upcoming Global Stocktake and ongoing SBSTA dialogues on the Ocean and Climate Change; and Land and Climate Change adaptation.
Setting up an SBI and SBSTA joint work programme to address and agree on common approaches to conserve, restore, enhance and support the long-term stability of carbon sinks and reservoirs in ways that support biodiversity is another potential opportunity as is commiting to a more structured engagement between the UNFCCC and the CBD in both the COP26 and COP15 decision texts and in the future, to maximize synergies and minimise trade-offs in implementing both conventions.
Post COP26 we must increase our efforts to ensure NbS follow the scientific imperative to deliver integrated climate and biodiversity outcomes and debunk false solutions.
We must also pursue the opportunity provided by the UNSEEA-EA to strengthen and re-set current approaches to carbon accounting in land and forests and deepen understanding of the importance of maintaining and restoring ecosystem integrity for climate mitigation, adaptation, long term biodiversity protection, climate resilient sustainable development and overall economic value.
And we must develop new mechanisms to support the rights and livelihoods of IPLC’s and defend the defenders.
Case studies working with IPLC’s to demonstrate the application of the UNSEEA-EA to carbon and species rich natural forests to reveal the superior climate and other ecosystem service benefits and lower financial and reversal risks of improved conservation management of primary forests would help prevent deforestation and forest degradation and enable the economic value of the protection offered by IPLC’s to be properly valued and recognised.2
1: Barber, C.V., R. Petersen, V. Young, B. Mackey, C. Kormos. 2020. The Nexus Report: Nature-based Solutions to the Biodiversity and Climate Crisis. F20 Foundations, Campaign for Nature and SEE Foundation
2: Science Informing Policy Breifing Note 1/21: ‘Reforming Carbon Accounting to Supprt Nature-based solutions’ (Source document: Keith H, Vardon M, Obst C, Young V, Houghton RA, Mackey B. 2021 Evaluating nature-based solutions for climate mitigation and conservation requires comprehensive carbon accounting. Science of the Total Environment 769:144341)
Anna Keremen, Communications F20 | email@example.com