Today is Biodiversity Day at COP27 in Sharm el–Sheikh. When people talk about climate change, there is understandably great attention on reducing greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, in order to limit global average temperature increases.
Until recently, there was insufficient consideration of the need to protect and restore habitats and enhance biodiversity. That’s changing, and the critical role that our terrestrial and marine environments play in regulating climate is increasingly clear – for example, they absorb half of our man-made carbon emissions.
So, biodiversity and nature-based solutions are essential – and fortunately they are beginning to be spoken about more frequently: last week the US released its Nature-Based Solutions Roadmap; and, in England, the Government is well on the way to rolling out a flagship biodiversity net gain policy, which will impact all development schemes.
At COP26, world leaders signed a Pledge for Nature to reverse biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation; in part because it recognises that biodiversity loss is exacerbating climate change “by debilitating nature’s ability to sequester or store carbon”. Now, one of the main targets is to restore 3 billion hectares of land and 3 billion hectares of oceans by 2030, especially those areas that are valuable for biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Whilst many large business and organisations have spoken about “net zero” and decarbonisation plans for a while, few have been quite so vocal about restoring and preserving nature, and fewer still have nature-positive policies in which they set out their stall for improving the localities in which they operate. That needs to change, and days like today at COP27 will go far in persuading us all of the importance of nature.
So what’s on the agenda today? The UN describes the agenda as flowing like a storyline, with three pillars – “present” (the current status of biodiversity across the globe), “hope” (showcasing solutions that benefit nature, humans and the climate), and “vision” (how action can be scaled up).
Present – the loss of biodiversity is driven by climate change, land use, sea use, agricultural production and food systems. Tackling any one of those issues requires significant international coordination, but isn’t that the very point of COP?
Hope – showcasing case studies is expected to demonstrate how biodiversity loss is being tackled at regional and national levels. Expect to see best practices and inspiring stories around conservation, land restoration, combatting desertification, and sustainable land use. The COP27 Presidency initiative on Nature Based Solutions is expected to be launched today. From this session, we will be able to see what’s worked well elsewhere and perhaps gain insights into what may be rolled out more widely.
Vision – scaling-up biodiversity actions will require multiple stakeholders in every country. At COP26 in Glasgow, leaders announced Declaration on Forests and Land Use. Progress is already being made in relation to forests. Earlier on at COP27, the UK, the EU, and 25 other countries announced the creation of the Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership, which is aimed at accelerating momentum to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. The FCLP members account for one third of the world’s forests and 60% of global GDP, so their voice is loud. All eyes will be on this session to understand what action will be taken to support the warm and positive words.
COP27 focuses on climate action, rather than biodiversity, and so today may not result in as much headline-grabbing progress as other days. However, next month, the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) takes place in Montreal, with the aim of agreeing new global goals for nature protection up until 2040. We think that could have some very significant targets and announcements.
About the author(s)
Ben Stansfield is one the UK's leading lawyers practising planning and environmental law. Ben is based in Gowling WLG's London office and brings with him a wealth of experience advising clients on the consenting and regulation of their projects and their compliance with environmental regulations and reporting standards.