Why Dealing with Biodiversity Loss Underpins Solving the Climate Crisis

The ongoing climate drama – The Scottish Play

Those of us working in the carbon “space” are naturally looking forward with a healthy mixture of optimism and scepticism to this year’s big international climate jamboree, catchily known as COP26. Postponed from December 2020, the meeting, which is being joint hosted by the governments of the UK and Italy, is being held in Glasgow in the first two weeks of November. This edition of the conference, often featuring large teams of technocrats and bureaucrats from the participating countries’ governments, is considered so pivotal to our climate action ambitions that it is going to be attended by The Queen of the United Kingdom, the Pope and many Heads of State from around the world, including notably Joe Biden from the US, recently back at the negotiating table of the Paris Agreement with a mission to re-establish America’s international reputation after 4 years of an administration that stalled any action on climate issues.

The meeting comes in the wake of the recent 6th IPCC climate assessment report which further strengthened and consolidated acceptance that human induced climate change is real and present threat, not just to the planet in general but specifically to the life support systems on which human societies depend.

Thanks to this ever-increasing level of acceptance of the problem, there is an associated, but somewhat less uniform, measure of agreement about what needs to be done to avert the worst effects of climate change, and which actions are going to be the most effective, both now and in the long run. Most importantly this consensus is being built not only across governments, but significantly in the corporate domain with many companies now either voluntarily or through national reporting requirements beginning to incorporate climate-related risks into their business planning. 

The Private Sector steps up climate action

This in turn has led to many high-profile multi-nationals announcing ambitious carbon reduction strategies, net-zero plans and climate policies. These all involve combinations of reducing existing emissions, putting in place technologies and processes that reduce business emissions in the future, and purchasing carbon credits to compensate, or offset, the remaining and unavoidable emissions. There is a robust and ongoing debate about which companies can use offsets, and who should be allowed to sell them, but there is a growing realisation that investing in carbon projects that protect and restore nature is the best use of corporate sustainability budgets. It is clear that fixing climate is about more than simply balancing the global greenhouse gas emissions budget – we need to ensure that natural ecosystems remain intact so that they can not only assist in absorbing carbon emissions, but also so that they can continue to provide all the services that mean that we can feed and water ourselves.

Which is why the negotiations that will take place and the decisions that will be made at another international conference, taking place in Kunming in China in October, will form a huge part of shaping the response to climate change.

Oryx in the Makame Savannah Project area.

Everybody’s talking about COP26, but what about COP15 for biodiversity?

COP15, a meeting of the governments who are signatories to the convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will discuss how the world can better incentivise investments in nature that lead to a real, long-lasting adjustment to man’s relationship with nature. Precisely none of the ambitious Aichi Biodiversity Targets were met by their 2020 deadline, so for many people this is even more of a challenge than climate change. This has resulted in some groups presenting the need to address climate change as competing against the equally pressing challenge of biodiversity loss, when the reality is that dealing with these issues together is the key to success.

Governments are responding by making commitments relating to how much of their country’s territory should be prioritised for nature and biodiversity, with both the US and the UK launching “30 by 30” campaigns, with the goal of ensuring that 30% of these countries be protected and managed for nature by 2030. This sends a very positive message, but of course the real challenge is how this commitment can be realised across the world?

In advance of the meeting, differing strategies and approaches are emerging and lines are being drawn by groups interested in ensuring that this is an equitable and fair process, with developed countries favouring the creation of new protected areas, and civil society representatives arguing for a more locally based approach.

Indigenous woman in Yaeda Valley

The former is partly a result of the popularity of traditional “fortress conservation” model, whereby national governments gazette large areas of land for the conservation of charismatic and, importantly, photographically attractive species of large mammals and birds, and often for the preservation of interesting and unique geographical landscape features. While this has led to some notable successes for wildlife conservation, the strategy has often also been associated with negative impacts on and results for local communities and indigenous people. This is regrettable especially in the light of reports such as the recent ICCA Consortium one that estimates that an area amounting to 21% of all land on earth remains ecologically intact due to the land management practices of indigenous peoples, while governmental protected areas are responsible for an area totalling 14%.

In recognition of this, new, innovative and inclusive models are now being developed and implemented due to the realisation that indigenous peoples are often good conservationists when it comes to acting as stewards of biodiversity. As with so many socio-political issues, a synthesis of what is successful from both schools of thought is needed, and I can do no better than to point you to a comprehensive analysis of new and emerging conservation thinking that was recently published by Carbon Tanzania’s good friend Fred Nelson at Maliasili Initiatives. And as with the negotiations around the most impactful and cost-effective actions needed to address climate change, the message is that long-lasting solutions will only be found by engaging with local communities and creating a financially equitable situation for those who are bearing the majority of the costs of protecting and managing natural resources.

Written by Jo Anderson – Director of Finance and Sales