In November 2022, world leaders gathered in Egypt for the 27th UN Climate Change Conference referred to as the COP27. The main purpose of the COPs is for governments to agree on steps to limit global temperature rises. Within less than a month, the leaders will meet again, this time in Canada to adopt a “Paris Agreement” for nature at the 15th UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15).
During recent years, discussions have evolved around the synergies of the historically separate, yet substantially intertwined climate and biodiversity agendas. Nature positive is bound to become the key component of net zero.
This 12-minute article will look into the importance, urgency, and progress of nature-related goals.
Nature is at its tipping point. Human activities have directly modified 77% of land surface and 87% of oceans, resulting in 30% of global land area degradation. In fact, land-use change and (over)exploitation of natural resources have been the primary drivers of ecosystem collapse over the past 50 years. According to the Living Planet Report 2022, we’ve lost 69% of species since 1970.
The dangerous and worsening decline of biodiversity has serious consequences for the health of the planet, its human inhabitants, and the rest of life. It’s evident that we are living through the dual crises of biodiversity loss and climate change driven by the unsustainable use of our planet’s resources. Unless we stop treating these emergencies as two separate issues, neither problem will be addressed effectively.
“We need to look at climate, biodiversity, and land degradation as a three-fold crisis. We can’t look at them separately because the solutions are also connected,” said Elizabeth Mrema, co-chair of TNFD, at last year’s COP26. “Talk about nature was everywhere”, agreed TNFD Executive Tony Goldner. “We’re finally acknowledging that nature loss poses direct and immediate risks to the global economy and financial system while also magnifying climate risks.”
Despite the urgency, the lack of action for nature protection has been only lately brought to attention, most recently by the influential Dasgupta Review. The report highlights the critical role nature plays in supporting healthy societies and resilient economies while painting a clear picture of what we stand to lose.
To counter this shortfall, a group of global nature and development organizations and scientists issued a Call for Action for a clear and overarching Nature-Positive Global Goal for Nature. They published a paper describing how nature-positive goals could be integrated with other global goals to create an “equitable, carbon-neutral, nature-positive world”. The paper makes a strong case with scientific justification on why we need to build a nature-positive world by 2030.
Nature-positive means halting and reversing nature loss by 2030, measured from a baseline of 2020. The year 2030 is a milestone for improving the abundance, diversity, and resilience of species and ecosystems. A full recovery should be achieved by 2050. The hopes are high for world leaders to commit to these targets and adopt a transformative biodiversity framework at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal in December, this year.
Regreening the planet and avoiding the degradation of intact natural systems such as forests (natural climate solutions) can provide 37% of the cost-effective climate mitigation needed by 2030.
Forests are a key component of natural ecosystems that host a high level of biodiversity and perform vital ecological functions, including carbon sequestration. They are, however, disappearing at an extraordinary rate, primarily driven by commodity production, forestry, and shifting agriculture. Between 2011 and 2022, the world lost 411 million hectares of forest which is equivalent to 10% of the existing global tree cover. In 2020 alone, the world lost a near-record of 25.8 million hectares of forests — almost double that in 2021.
The special IPCC report on Global Warming of 1.5 identifies reforestation (replacing forests on deforested or recently harvested lands) and afforestation (planting new forests) as important strategies to increase negative emissions. Unfortunately, both approaches face significant challenges: afforestation requires an enormous amount of additional land, and neither can remove sufficient carbon by growing young trees during the critical next decade(s).
In contrast, growing existing forests to their biological carbon sequestration potential optimizes carbon dioxide removal while limiting climate change and protecting biodiversity, air, land, and water. This is called proforestation, which is considered to be the most effective, immediate, and low-cost approach that could be used for forests of all types. Simply put, forest preservation is a crucial ally for combating climate change.
As a follow-up to the commitments made at COP26 by over 140 countries to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030, the world leaders of 26 nations and the EU launched the Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership (FCLP) at COP27. This partnership aims to enhance cooperation, incl. with the private sector on delivery of those commitments, and to take stock of progress made each year up to 2030.
“For too long the world’s forests have been undervalued and underestimated. They are one of the great natural wonders of our world, and with the loss of our forests accounting for more than 10% of global emissions, protecting them is one of the best ways of getting us back on track to 1.5 degrees,” said Britain’s new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
The representatives of each country added their statements and unanimously agreed on the importance and urgency of forest preservation, and the enormous role it plays in achieving climate and biodiversity goals.
“Startups have the license to disrupt, fail, iterate, and bring the craziest ideas to life. It’s our responsibility to help the industry and governments with innovation. More startups with bold visions for a greener world – that’s the fastest way to create radical change to tackle climate and biodiversity crises,” says Merit Valdsalu, CEO of Single.Earth, summarizing her COP27 experience.
Single.Earth is a GreenTech company that aims to integrate nature protection into the economy and incentivize forest preservation to combat the twin crises of climate and biodiversity. There’s a pressing need to make forest preservation a more attractive and competitive option than the more damaging uses – especially as 1.3 billion people are dependent on forests as a source of income.
Nature provides much more than raw materials and should be valued for biodiversity and vital ecosystem services supporting all life on Earth. The team of scientists and innovators strongly believes in and supports the approach of proforestation – protecting high-integrity mature forests under risk of harvest to allow them to grow into their full ecological potential.
Birgit Aru, the Head of Sustainability Frameworks at Single.Earth, highlights the importance of valuing nature as a whole: “Single.Earth offers an efficient and highly scalable simple solution to raise private funding for threatened forests and pave the way for a nature-positive future. Our land assessment covers carbon sequestration and will soon also include biodiversity and carbon stock evaluation. We need to see the forest for the trees!”