Today saw biodiversity take centre stage at COP27, which aimed to advance and institutionalize action towards valuing, conserving, restoring, and sustainably using biodiversity across terrestrial, freshwater, coastal, and marine ecosystems to reduce climate change impacts and leverage nature-based solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change and build resilience for people and nature.
Headlines saw the Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey call for renewed global action on nature, setting out UK support to protect the world’s oceans and natural habitats with Government pledges of £30 million to the Big Nature Impact Fund.
Environment commissioner Virginjus Sinkevicius also made an impassioned plea to connect climate action with biodiversity action as the EU signs up to an Egyptian initiative to promote nature-based solutions.
Recognising the need for a more integrated global approach to Nature-based Solutions (NbS), the Egyptian COP27 Presidency, the Government of Germany and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) developed the ENACT (Enhancing Nature-based Solutions for an Accelerated Climate Transformation) initiative to bring coherence to and strengthen collaboration between existing NbS efforts and partnerships. ENACT is a voluntary coalition of state and non-state actors, co-chaired by Egypt and Germany. IUCN will host the ENACT Secretariat, which will lead the implementation of the initiative.
“Nature-based solutions are making significant contributions to efforts to address climate change, but their huge potential is still largely untapped. Egypt is championing the ENACT initiative as it will boost integrated, well-coordinated Nature-based Solutions on a global scale, in line with the scale and urgency of the climate crisis,” said Yasmine Fouad, Minister of Environment of the Arab Republic of Egypt and COP27 Climate Envoy.
“Nature is our most powerful ally in combating the climate and biodiversity crises. Intact ecosystems store carbon dioxide, secure our food and water supplies and protect against disasters. Nature-based Solutions can create jobs and contribute to economic and social development. But to achieve this, they need to be supported by effective safeguards and standards. This is something we pay close attention to in both our international and national projects,” said Steffi Lemke, German Federal Environment Minister.
Figureheads Christiana Figueres, Laurence Tubiana, Laurent Fabius and Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who helped design the Paris agreement, today said that Cop15 would be an “unprecedented” opportunity to turn the tide on nature loss, stating that humanity’s “accelerating destruction of nature is undermining its abilities to provide crucial services, including climate change mitigation and adaptation.
As with climate change, it is the most vulnerable communities who bear the greatest impacts of biodiversity loss, from loss of food security and livelihoods to decreased climate resilience. The climate and nature agendas are entwined.”
Meanwhile, the US Biden-Harris administration has released a nature-based ‘solutions roadmap’ at COP27 in Egypt. Announced by John Podesta, chair of President Biden’s national climate task force, the roadmap includes updates to policies, new funding and training, and plans for research.
The roadmap is accompanied by a commitment to $25bn of investments for the Environmental Protection Agency to support nature-based programmes. A newly formed technical working group will work on better accounting for nature-based options in the benefit-cost analysis process for federal decisions.
The administration has also released a companion resource guide with examples of nature-based climate solutions and more than 150 resources to spur action.
In a separate announcement, a group of nearly 350 scientists, Indigenous peoples, businesses and NGOs have urged presidents and prime ministers to prioritise the nature summit.
Historically, NbS were deployed by environmental policy frameworks in the context of climate adaptation, i.e., strengthening the resilience of ecosystems and communities to withstand and recover from the impacts of climate change (Seddon et al., 2020). Examples of NbS for climate adaptation include planting native trees between agricultural crops to improve soil health; rehabilitating coastal ecosystems to reduce the impacts of erosion and storm surges; restoring natural habitats on slopes and hillsides to capture more water and stabilize the ground, therefore reducing flooding and landslides; and increasing green spaces in cities to improve air quality and reduce urban temperatures (United Nations Environment Programme [UNEP], 2020).
The rise of NbS in the climate agenda has triggered concerns across various sectors and stakeholders around the world. Some fear that, due to the vagueness of the term itself, NbS may be implemented ineffectively without proper consideration of evidence-based practices or without properly consulting experts, stakeholders and indigenous and local knowledge holders (Seddon et al., 2021). Others have expressed concerns that the rapid adoption of NbS may delay the phasing out of fossil fuels by shifting the focus to nature’s capacity to capture and store carbon (Seddon et al., 2021).
However, the capabilities of nature to solve our collective concern, climate change, are also being recognised through the widespread adoption of NbS. Investments in NbS enhance the effectiveness of ESG strategies, by providing investment vehicles which drive societal benefits and solve a number of challenges (such as biodiversity loss and climate change).
Beyond screening and divestment, there is a growing opportunity to support the necessary transition, which will be driven by actors who stand to benefit from it. New biodiversity-related standards and methodologies are emerging to help financial professionals account for, and report on, their nature-related risks and impacts.
Nature-related and biodiversity accounting can be thought of as an addition to existing approaches, rather than an entirely new topic for investment professionals. If we can accept the added complexity, the return on investment is a layer of protection from risk which may otherwise be unmanageable.