Nature’s key role in climate action in the spotlight at COP28

A high level joint statement issued at the Dubai meeting underscores the urgency of putting nature and biodiversity loss at the heart of climate action, with new funding announced.

Saudi Green Initiative COP28 pavillion
Inside Saudi Arabia's pavillion in the Green Zone at the UN climate change meeting in Expo City Dubai. Image: Jessica Cheam/Eco-Business

The COP28 presidency, with the United Nation’s climate body and member countries, on Saturday issued a joint statement on climate, nature and people that underscored the need to urgently address climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation together “in a coherent, synergetic and holistic manner, in accordance with the best available science”.  

Signed by the COP28 presidency, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 presidency and 18 member countries, the statement issued on the tenth day of the global climate talks taking place in Dubai this week committed to better align national climate, biodiversity and land restoration strategies in the next round of national climate targets and adaptation plans. 

The COP28 presidency, in a separate statement on Sunday, also announced new funding of US$186.6 million for nature and climate towards forests, mangroves, and the ocean. 

The commitments made built on those made during COP28’s World Climate Action Summit (WCAS) on 2 December, where US$2.5 billion was mobilised to protect and restore nature, it said.

“There is no path to fulfilling the Paris Agreement and keeping 1.5 degree Celsius within reach without protecting and restoring nature, land, and the ocean. We must work in partnership especially with the Indigenous peoples and local communities who steward these critical assets,” said Razan Al Mubarak, the United Nations Climate Change High-Level Champion for COP28.

Al Mubarak announced that the United Arab Emirates will contribute US$100 million of new finance for nature-climate projects, with an initial US$30 million investment in the Ghanaian government’s ‘Resilient Ghana’ plan. The UAE and Brazil will co-lead a two-year partnership bridging COP28 to COP30.

Reversing nature-loss can provide upwards of 30 per cent of the mitigation action needed to keep global temperature rise under 1.5 degree Celsius within reach by 2030. Nature preservation can also contribute a potential US$10 trillion worth of new business opportunities and provide almost 400 million new jobs, emphasised the COP28 presidency.

At an event held on Nature Day on Saturday, major announcements were unveiled, including China joining the ‘High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People’, Dominica’s recent designation of the world’s first marine protected area for sperm whales, and Nigeria’s launching of a ministerial alliance for nature finance among others. 

Speaking at the event, Rita El Zaghloul, Director of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, noted that “despite some recent progress, the world is not doing nearly enough to reach the ambition of 30X30. To achieve this target, we must dramatically increase the rate of conservation on land and in the ocean”. 

She was referencing the global biodiversity target to protect at least 30 percent of the planet’s land and ocean by 2030. To this end, new technical support and financial matchmaking tools were announced that will help countries develop and fulfill their ambitious commitments to 30X30, she said.

Joe Walston, executive vice president of global conservation programmes at Wildlife Conservation Society welcomed the joint statement as a “landmark development”. 

“The ministers chose today to break from traditional silos and to pursue strategies that put nature at the heart of climate change responses. The next two years are crucial for the world’s biodiversity and climate agenda. Countries must align and integrate these strategies to achieve maximum impact on the goals of halting and reversing biodiversity loss and limiting global warming,” he said.

Kirsten Schuijt, Director General of WWF International noted that progress has been made since the adoption last December of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework “but the uncomfortable truth is that the overall pace and scale of action remains too low to match the challenge ahead”. 

The limited number of revised action plans that have been announced are not sufficiently transformative to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, she stressed. 

“The creation of the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund was a critical milestone - what’s needed now is a drastic increase in capital mobilization to promote the tangible implementation of this historic agreement… We urgently need to see finance reaching the communities driving change on the ground,” she added.

The movement to put nature and biodiversity at the heart of public policy and private sector action has grown in recent years, with the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) publishing its inaugural framework earlier in September which is expected to be the baseline standard for nature-related risk reporting for corporates.  

First announced in July 2020, the global initiative sought to enable organisations to report on their impacts on nature while redirecting financial flows toward nature-positive outcomes. Its founding members include data-driven non-profit Global Canopy, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) and WWF.

It has said that it will reveal a list of early adopters who have indicated their intention to adopt the new recommendations at the World Economic Forum at Davos in January.

Nature and oceans were the key theme of many of the country pavillions at Expo City Dubai, where the United Nations meeting is being held. At the Singapore pavilion, the underinvestment into ocean conservation and research efforts in Southeast Asia was in the spotlight.

While the region is one of the world’s largest marine biodiversity hotspots — and home to the world’s most vulnerable coastal communities which are highly dependent on marine ecosystems —  there is limited available funding and commitment, said Kathlyn Tan, director of Rumah Group and Foundation, and founder of non-profit Coastal Natives.

“SDG14 “Life below Water” remains the least funded of all Sustainable Development Goals”, she said, adding that ocean-related solutions require more funding to scale up. 

She cited a Phillipines-based start-up Seaforestation, which uses marine permaculture to scale seaweed forest regeneration to remove atmospheric carbon and provide deepwater irrigation, as an example of innovative solutions that deserve funding. Seaforestation was one of the finalists and recipients of investment prizes at the 2023 edition of The Liveability Challenge that is presented by Temasek Foundation which provides funding to sustainability start-ups.  

The creation of the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund was a critical milestone - what’s needed now is a drastic increase in capital mobilization to promote the tangible implementation of this historic agreement… We urgently need to see finance reaching the communities driving change on the ground.

Kirsten Schuijt, Director General, WWF International

Mark Dalio, founder of OceanX, an ocean exploration initiative by Dalio Philanthropies that maps ocean environments and brings them to classrooms, said it was “not enough to have scientific papers”.

“You need the story-telling… to energise the next generation,” he said. Ocean X works closely with students to give them access to the oceans and teaches them “how to tell stories, do livestreaming and other short form content”, he added. 

The education non-profit recently announced a first-of-its-kind mission to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in partnership with Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency, G42 and Bayanat.

It is developing a comprehensive map of the UAE’s ocean environment and will conduct fishery assessments to create sustainable fishing tools and methods, it said. 

The COP28 meeting, which saw almost 100,000 participants in Dubai, is in its final days and is scheduled to end on Tuesday.

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