The Global Stocktake: We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make nature the climate-fighting tool it really is

Can we hope for something different at this year’s COP climate conference? Every year, global leaders, business execs, activists and NGOs join in discussions and debates aimed at building global consensus around one of the biggest crises our planet is currently facing: climate change. And yet every year, we come away asking ourselves “Has progress matched the urgency of the crisis?”

From severe heat, to out-of-control flooding, to droughts, 2023 has been a rollercoaster of extreme weather; with the worst impacts being felt in developing countries, by those people who have contributed least to this crisis. Climate change is here, and its magnitude cannot be denied. But, while countless and enormous finance commitments and promises to reduce emissions and increase solutions have been made at previous COPs, we are still way off track to achieve the Paris Climate Change Agreement goals. Nor are we getting the funds to the ground with speed and scale.

So where do we go from here? Despite countless reasons to feel pessimistic, I do believe we can be hopeful about COP28. At the conference, which will take place in Dubai from 30 November – 12 December 2023, leaders will come together to agree to the outcome of the first-ever global stocktake; a process for countries to take a hard look at where they are making progress toward meeting the Paris Agreement goals and, importantly, where they are not. So far, a global stocktake synthesis report, published in September, has provided an analysis of global action on climate change to date, and lays out very clearly how off-course we really are.

The task at COP28 is to correct that course; for countries to agree on how they will apply the stocktake’s findings to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, and to address the impacts of climate change. While the synthesis report is far from positive, it does provide a clear path forward – highlighting the gaps to be filled, how urgently, and recognising a range of potential solutions; therefore enabling countries to update and strengthen their climate action plans.

The agreement of the global stocktake outcome provides a critical moment to change the trajectory of the climate crisis, and with that, creates an invaluable opportunity to better connect the dots between climate and nature action. Nature plays a critical role in the pathway to meeting the Paris Agreement goals, but the more nature is degraded, the more we erode its capacity to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, and the resilience of local livelihoods is also undermined.

Nature-based solutions to climate change are proven, readily scalable and cost-effective tools to support and accelerate the transition to a net-zero future, while driving positive climate, biodiversity and social impact at scale.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has highlighted that effective conservation of a minimum of 30% of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean areas would not only protect biodiversity and critical carbon sinks, but would build ecosystem resilience to the effects of climate change, and bolster essential ecosystem services related to food security and health. If we do everything in our power to protect nature, we will not only save species from extinction but will also be able to keep the world’s remaining natural carbon sinks intact. Forests, peatlands, wetlands, grasslands and marine and coastal ecosystems are all extremely efficient climate-regulating tools, but once lost, their carbon stocks – built up over millennia – can hardly be restored on a human timescale.

A protection-first approach to biodiversity needs to be prioritised throughout COP28 and in the global stocktake output; and, crucially, this protection must be in partnership with those Indigenous Peoples and local communities living closest to nature and on the frontline of climate change. An estimated 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity is currently protected by Indigenous Peoples, and only through the ancestral knowledge and first-hand experience of these communities can we continue to protect nature sustainably.

It’s clear that Indigenous Peoples and local communities – and their rights – need to be front and centre in any discussions and decisions about the future of our planet’s life-support systems, but currently only about 10% of climate finance reaches local actors in developing countries.

Across the board, we are missing out on significant opportunities to maximise support to achieve benefits for local livelihoods, ecosystems and climate action, and it’s essential that the global stocktake response works to turn this around.

Above all, the response must provide guidance to countries on how they can better embed, finance and accelerate the implementation of high-integrity nature-based solutions, both terrestrial and marine, into their national action plans – and it must truly amplify nature as a vital mechanism that works alongside, and not as a substitute of, rapid decarbonisation across all sectors, to progress towards the Paris Agreement goals.

In addition, the importance of locally led approaches to nature-based mitigation and adaptation action, and a commitment to Indigenous Peoples and local communities meaningful participation, should be referenced in the decision of the global stocktake. This would help to unlock increased public and private investment in projects with a locally led approach, sustainably supporting nature, livelihoods and climate action.

Last year, COP27 recognised nature-based solutions to address climate change as a critical tool in the international response to both the climate and biodiversity loss crises. But pledges on paper need to become action, now. Time is of the essence. The global stocktake provides an unparalleled opportunity to demonstrate a positive way forward with tangible, achievable actions that benefit people, nature and the climate. It’s an opportunity that future generations will not thank us for wasting.

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