Can Nature Be Saved by COP26?

Where Were We?

This month, Land Life Company had a very exciting trip to Glasgow as we were invited to speak at several COP26 side events, including the World Biodiversity Summit organized by the World Climate Foundation. The purpose of this summit was to convene stakeholders from the public and private sectors to discuss and analyze the crucial topics of biodiversity loss and restoration, and how we can invest in nature-based solutions. 

Land Life’s CCO, Rebekah Braswell spoke on the panel titled “Overcoming Barriers & Growing Investment Opportunities in Restorative Land & Forestry Management”, alongside Niyanta Spelman, (CEO, Rainforest Partnership), Jennifer Merli, (Vice President, Corporate Sustainability, Mastercard) and Mette Løyche Wilkie, (Director Forestry Division, FAO). This video shows the full discussion. 

The World Biodiversity Summit reflected one of the most identifiable changes this year at COP – a huge shift in focus to forests, biodiversity and nature-based solutions. We’ve gone from could do it, to should do it, to must do it. The conference was promoted as “our last chance” to make important pledges that will determine the future of the planet. Therefore, it is interesting to look into what was actually decided this year in Glasgow. 

Why The Sudden Focus on Nature?

Leaders from over 100 countries, including Brazil, Russia, China, and the US, containing roughly 85% of the world’s forests pledged to stop all deforestation by 2030. This is pivotal as continuing deforestation undermines the huge and incredibly important efforts to reforest and capture carbon with new trees. Looking after the trees, forests and woodland areas we already have is vital to ensure additionality in reforestation projects so that we are not only compensating for what we are currently losing. If these countries achieve what they have pledged, this will have a pivotal impact on ecosystems all around the world.

In addition, nature-based solutions also played an important part in the discussions. The COP26 Presidency announced that 45 governments, led by the United Kingdom, will ramp up efforts to protect nature and shift to more sustainable farming. The entire COP26 summit was themed around a “Nature Campaign” advocating for ecosystem and biodiversity conservation as the key foundation for change in both food and agricultural systems. The UN Environment Programme Chief, Inger Andersen said ​​“Nature-based solutions are absolutely critical. When we protect nature, nature provides security for us. It gives us the water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe.” 

The Question “How”

Overall, discussions between governments this year had a promising focus on these areas, putting more emphasis on the importance of reforestation, stopping deforestation and looking at nature-based solutions and sustainable agriculture as key forms of action to combat climate change. This shift underlines that we now understand why these areas are so important, and the increased focus and attention allows us to move onto the more complicated and arguably delicate part of the puzzle: the how. How do we work with nature rather than against it in current global systems? How do we ensure the right voices are heard and that local communities have an active role in projects? How do we incentivize shifts in modes of working to protect nature rather than destroy it? It is fantastic to discuss these issues, highlighting why we need to take action, but now we need to figure out how to actually do that. 

One “how” that has become a dominant and crucial part of discussions surrounding nature-based solutions is the inclusion and importance of listening to local communities. With their plethora of local knowledge, this should initiate conversations that fully include locals in action. More fundamentally, if we don’t include them, these projects to restore nature will be unsuccessful, and then where will we be? Active listening and understanding how to incorporate knowledge around sustainability into a local context must be adaptable and vitally, those communities need to be included in the implementation of new sustainably-focused projects. Going forward we need to ensure that at these conferences, we are looking at these issues from many different angles. To do this, we need to hear from a variety of different voices. 

Despite there being so much talk about the importance of including local communities in projects and efforts to restore nature and preserve areas of forest, there still weren’t enough speakers from these communities. The voices that are so persistently discussed and so desperately need listening to should have a pivotal role in decisions made that directly affect them. We need to make sure that the people speaking at the COP26 conference, side events and panels reflect the messages we are delivering and reflect the action that we pledge to take.

Revalue to Reform

Another important “how” is the idea of redefining value in terms of nature. The “return” on investment into nature will look different in different contexts, but resetting the criteria for both “value” and “return” could be considered critical to achieving the mindset shift required to remodel current systems. Biodiversity health also equates to economic health, but as current systems often don’t reflect this, redefining value could be a really big turning point in how we function globally and how we approach issues surrounding climate change. 

Additionally, the fact that we are currently losing 10 million hectares of forest every year is not only a climate change problem, it is also a social and economic problem and fighting this will have a multitude of benefits. Looking at all these different areas of discussion through cross-sector collaboration as opposed to singular sectors will ultimately be what enables us to make the necessary changes. That means aligning what is economically beneficial with what benefits biodiversity and ecosystems. If we can redefine how we value nature in a global context, we can look to the future with an optimistic lens.

The forest-focused nature of this COP was inspiring and promising, but as is said every year, words, or as Greta Thunberg famously said, the “blah blah blah” means nothing if it isn’t put into action. At the next COP, we really hope to see some progress in how these pledges are being carried out and more solution-based discussions. We’ve identified what we need to do, and now we all need to actually do it.