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On climate & biodiversity, where are we, post-COP15? (commentary)

  • There are many connections between climate change and biodiversity loss, and many of the actions needed to meet the 2030 action targets around biodiversity loss can also work toward climate change targets.
  • One of the things that stood out about the COP27 climate treaty decision text, though, was that it did not reference the subsequent conference on biodiversity – COP15 – hence failing to ‘join up’ the conferences in a meaningful way, a new op-ed argues.
  • If we hope to both reduce emissions by at least 45% and put biodiversity on a path to recovery, coherent approaches must be applied, writes Fauna & Flora International’s director of Climate & Nature Linkages.
  • This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

With the world busy evaluating the conclusion of the latest meeting under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal (COP15), and the publication of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, it’s easy to forget that just a few short weeks ago the decision text of the United Nations Climate Change conference (COP27) was the center of attention.

For me, one of the crucial things that stood out about the COP27 decision text was that it did not reference its imminent sister conference on nature – COP15 – hence failing to ‘join up’ the conferences and their outcomes in a meaningful, official way. Human-induced climate change, biodiversity loss and declines in human well-being are severe and interconnected crises that cannot be addressed in isolation. Without healthy ecosystems and biodiversity, we cannot have a safe and livable climate but, equally, climate change is having a severe impact on the ecosystems upon which we so heavily rely.

The ways we tackle the climate and nature crises must, therefore, be aligned in their ambition, pace of action and resourcing – both in international agreements and at the level of national implementation.

So, where are we, post-Montreal?

The Pantanal is home to many different animals, such as this amicable yellow-headed caracara (Milvago chimachima) and capybara (Hydrochoeris hydrochaeris). Image by Charles J. Sharp via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).
A yellow-headed caracara (Milvago chimachima) and capybara (Hydrochoeris hydrochaeris) in Brazil’s Pantanal. Image by Charles J. Sharp via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Because of the inextricable connections between climate and nature, many of the actions needed to meet the 2030 action targets around biodiversity loss, will, if implemented effectively, also work towards climate change targets. Looking at the Global Biodiversity Framework target to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030 (Target 3) as an example, the additional – and hopefully better – protection of terrestrial and marine ecosystems catalyzed by this target will inevitably lead to more carbon remaining stored within these ecosystems, and more being sequestered. It’s a similar story for Target 2, which requires an increase in degraded areas under restoration, and Target 10, which urges a substantial increase in biodiversity-friendly practices in productive areas. All will lead to more nature, and less carbon in the atmosphere – a positive win-win.

While it’s clear there is often natural cross-over in climate and biodiversity ambitions, it’s still really important that solutions are not developed in silos – risking inefficiencies and potentially damaging contradictions. The ideal is that actions which provide optimal solutions to both the nature and climate crises are prioritized across the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Framework Convention on Climate Change processes, but I believe there is still some way to go to achieve this. The Global Biodiversity Framework has spelt out that it must be implemented consistently with other international agreements, which would of course include the COP27 decision texts and the Paris Agreement, but stronger wording may have helped elevate this further up the public agenda.

The link between climate change and nature is more explicitly outlined in the Global Biodiversity Framework’s Target 8, which refers to minimizing “the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on biodiversity” and increasing nature’s “resilience through mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk reduction actions, including nature-based solution and ecosystem-based approaches, while minimizing negative and fostering positive impacts […] on biodiversity.”

A hummingbird hawk-moth
A hummingbird hawkmoth in Iran. Image by Ali Bakhshi via Pexels (Public domain).

The reference here to nature-based solutions for climate-change mitigation and adaptation is key, as it bolsters support for the power of nature for tackling climate change – and therefore the importance of protecting nature too. The fact that it highlights the need to minimize negative, and foster positive, impacts for biodiversity when pursuing climate action is also welcome; it lays out in black and white that we must consider nature before ploughing into perceived climate panaceas.

The main weakness of Target 8, however, is the lack of numerical elements, which unfortunately got lost in the COP15 negotiations. A quantifiable target would have helped focus minds on joining up climate and nature action and, in particular, it might have been easier for funders to translate as they make decisions about their portfolios. Target 11, which puts governments on the hook to restore and enhance nature’s contribution to regulating the climate, among other things, is also lacking in tangible targets; as is Target 15, which, while it asks governments to encourage businesses to disclose their impacts on nature, fails to put a number on how far businesses should actually reduce their impacts.

As a whole, the Global Biodiversity Framework has made a positive start along the road towards actions that benefit nature, as well as the climate. There are also encouraging words in the COP15 text on resource mobilization, calling for the enhancement of efforts that simultaneously tackle biodiversity loss, climate change and land degradation. Now, as we look ahead to the implementation of these ambitions and pledges, it is critical we don’t forget people – and that actions do not override the rights and livelihoods of those who are implicated in their delivery.

On both land and sea, my organization champions the precept that the protection and restoration of nature will be effective in the long term only if it is delivered by, or in close collaboration with, local communities and Indigenous peoples. Communities and local organizations have the on-the-ground knowledge to best develop solutions for their particular context, which tackle the underlying drivers of inequality, climate change and the degradation of nature. Local people, therefore, need to be empowered in the decision-making and implementation processes, and it’s also essential that finance is appropriately channeled to the grassroots.

A clownfish in the Red Sea. Image by Cinzia Osele Bismarck via Ocean Image Bank.
A clownfish in the Red Sea. Image by Cinzia Osele Bismarck via Ocean Image Bank.

Section C of the Global Biodiversity Framework makes it clear that all actions undertaken must respect the rights of local people, and allow for their full and effective participation in decision-making, a statement that has been widely welcomed across the conservation sector. But, we need the finance flows to deliver too. Understandably the headlines during COP15 were about the quantity of finance available, yet the way the money is distributed will make a huge difference to global success in achieving the new targets.

Already the Global Environment Facility, an established mechanism funding developing countries to meet international objectives, has been given marching orders to explore ways to improve the access to funding for Indigenous peoples and local communities. Building on this, the resource mobilization text, as it stands, has a reference to directing more resources to local level implementation partners and ensuring community engagement. This strategy is still to be finalized in the coming year or so, but it is positive that local communities and Indigenous Peoples will have some representation on the Advisory Committee helping to strengthen it. We must see how this all develops, however – recognizing the importance of getting the strategy right, but not unduly delaying getting the money out of the door.

As countries now embark on their strategic course to 2030, the connections between biodiversity loss, climate change and declining human well-being must not be forgotten. When these are tackled in silos, opportunities for effective, holistic design, and impact, are missed – which, it’s apparent, we simply do not have time for. If, in the next seven years, we hope to both reduce emissions by at least 45%, and put biodiversity on a path to recovery, joined up, coherent approaches must be applied – and I sincerely hope this is better reflected in the COP processes going forward.


Zoë Quiroz Cullen is director of the Climate & Nature Linkages program for Fauna & Flora International.

Related audio: Mongabay editor Latoya Abulu joins our podcast to share what happened in Montreal, as well as the concerns and questions that many still have, listen here:

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