Keeping nature in focus: bringing Glasgow and Kunming together

Nature-based solutions promise to bring the international climate and biodiversity agendas together — and urgently address the twin crises we face.

© Karine Aigner/WWF-US

Climate change is helping drive unprecedented nature loss. And we cannot slow and reverse global warming without relying on nature. The crises of climate and biodiversity loss are inextricably linked. It is time that our global responses to the two crises become similarly interlinked — and a formal embrace of nature-based solutions (NbS) in the UNFCCC COP and in the Convention of Biodiversity (CBD) provides a powerful means to do so.

Nature is rapidly unravelling. The 2020 Living Planet Index showed an alarming 68% average decline in global populations of vertebrate species — mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish — in less than half a century. The IPBES report of 2019 warned that a million species face extinction.

The assumption that 1.5°C can be a safe limit for warming is based on the assumption that the natural world remains as it is today — able to soak up carbon and buffer communities against the extreme weather events that climate change is already bringing. This is not a safe assumption, and underlines the need to further prioritize action on nature as part of the effort to avert runaway climate change.

Tackling the climate crisis while addressing the collapse of nature are equally important challenges that must be addressed in tandem. This was recognized in the UNFCCC climate talks, at COP25 in Madrid, when Parties stressed “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”.

© Antonio Busiello / WWF-US

We need systemic solutions that support convergence of policy and on the ground. We believe that NbS — which protect, restore and sustainably manage natural ecosystems — can help play that role. Such solutions must, of course, be pursued to high standards, enhancing biodiversity, and in partnership with local and indigenous communities. And clearly, they must not be a substitute for urgent, rapid global decarbonization.

Governments are already committing to use NbS to help them respond to the climate crisis. In the lead up to COP 26, 105 of the 114 Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted by governments included the use of those solutions, in tandem with others to enhance climate ambition and protect the most vulnerable against the growing impacts of climate change.

But these NDCs illustrate some of the challenges that currently exist with NbS. One third of these plans do not specify how they are to be measured. Individual governments are not only to blame for this: the climate convention has not yet operationalized the role of nature in achieving adaptation and mitigation goals, and has yet to provide sufficient guidance to countries on how to specifically and comparably describe their commitments.

This is why we are calling for nature to be properly reflected in the decision text that emerges from COP26. It must recognize the vital contribution played by nature and nature-based solutions in keeping global warming to 1.5˙C , and ensure that nature’s potential for climate change mitigation and adaptation is maximized in the delivery instruments of the UNFCCC: Nationally Determined Contributions, National Adaptation Plans and Long-Term Strategies.

Significant sums of climate funding are flowing to nature: the UK and France have both committed billions in climate funding to NbS. At COP26, the Canadian government announced CAD$1 bn in funding overseas specifically for nature based solutions, representing a fifth of its international climate finance.

It is critically important that these flows are directed towards NbS of the highest social and environmental integrity, governed through the Paris process with appropriate and rigorous guidance. Their role within NDCs must be recognized, including a clear request that new plans maximize the potential of nature to help mitigate and adapt to climate change.

But just as nature must be better recognized in the Glasgow decisions, tackling the climate crisis must also be high on the agenda in Kunming through NbS. Next April and May, the second part of the 15th Conference of the Parties to the CBD will take place. The talks aim to agree on a Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), a 10-year action plan to reverse nature loss and set out the ambition, targets and funding to secure a nature-positive world.

The first draft of the GBF removed a direct reference to NbS. This means the CBD community risks overlooking the huge opportunity and the role that NbS can play in the biodiversity conservation agenda in general, and in contributing to achieving the objectives of the CBD and the GBF in particular. Given that NbS are interventions in nature to address a societal challenge, then the CBD should, as a nature-governing body, be the forum that defines exactly what high-quality, high-integrity interventions on nature are, in a way that is coherent with other international processes, including making meaningful contributions to climate mitigation and/or adaptation efforts and the Sustainable Development Goals.

© Greg Armfield / WWF-UK

It is vital that these two international processes, which seek to respectively address the twin crises of nature and climate, converge around this key tool, which has so much promise to deliver both their objectives. By coming together to embrace and define NbS, the COPs in Glasgow and Kunming could help to catalyse action on nature by both governmental and non-state actors, unleashing public and private resources in pursuit of ambitious action that benefits climate, nature and people.

Based on this, WWF has developed an innovative proposal to bring NbS back into the CBD’s Global Biodiversity Framework and contribute to strengthening the alignment between climate and nature conventions, in this decisive decade. The CBD should not miss the opportunity to have a clear and strategic role, as nature’s governance body, to shape the NbS unstoppable agenda.

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, WWF Global Lead Climate and Energy, and COP20 President
Gavin Edwards — Global Coordinator, Nature & People, WWF International
Vanessa Morales — Policy Specialist, Nature and Climate, WWF International

Building a future in which people live in harmony with nature.