At the end of COP26 in Glasgow last year, we concluded that some progress had been made, but the rate of progress was not fast enough (LINK Thinks blog 22 November 2021).
Another 12 months into the decade when a real and accelerated effective change is needed, has COP27 delivered?
In a single lifetime, we have put 1.5 x more carbon into the atmosphere. And we have halved the extent of remaining wilderness in the world. These are grim statistics. But are they moving the world’s politicians into more effective action to change our course?
Although we heard renewed commitment to 1.5oC, we didn’t see the level of commitment to actions needed to achieve that. The commitments to accelerate efforts to phase ‘down’ coal and fossil fuel subsidies still lag behind business, technological and civic society shifts to renewable energy. Immediate action to reduce emissions drastically was not addressed. This reluctance looks like more of a sop to fossil fuel lobbying than scientific evidence and civic needs.
The loss and damage funding, and the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage, are good moves forward, although slower than needed given the missed 2020 targets on climate finance. And the Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership launch aiming to halt forest loss and land degradation by 2030 is helpful.
But COP needs to move with the changing times: it needs to move beyond its original purpose of international negotiation much more towards the purpose of delivering implementation and accountability. Indeed, implementation, the theme of this year’s COP27, requires a lot more cooperation than we’ve seen as well as the courage to map out and action everything we can do better.
Cooperation and implementation works across COPs too: nature didn’t really figure in this year’s COP. Unlike in Glasgow, where nature was seen as a key element for action, this year, despite COP15, the biodiversity COP, being just weeks away, it did not really feature.
The climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis are one and the same thing: you can’t reach net zero without nature and you can’t halt nature loss without meeting net zero. Why then was nature largely absent from COP27? We urgently need joined up action and ambition to cut emissions and to halt and reverse the ongoing catastrophic biodiversity loss and species extinction. That requires a change in mind set. We need to move out of our silos tackling one problem at a time – we need to find a way for systemic change, built on collaboration and cooperation. We need to work together to achieve justice and access to a safe climate and thriving and resilient ecosystems for the people of today and for future generations.
That leaves a big job for COP15 in Montreal in December. Agreeing the international global targets to halt the loss of nature by 2030 and restore nature by 2050 will take us a long way: we will be able to measure our actions, learn lessons on what works and what doesn’t and act accordingly. But success will depend on even greater ambitions to work together, to collaborate across borders to limit nature loss across the world, to reduce the world’s reliance on natural resources and to move instead towards a global circular economy where natural resources are only used at the rate at which they are replaced.
And therein lies the big unspoken issue. Exponential changes in carbon emissions and loss of wilderness have happened in just 80 years. But forests take 100s of years to grow to maturity, peatlands and coral reefs take 1000s of years to reach full functionality. What humans do in a few decades, nature takes millennia. Ironically, that means humans have to change very quickly to match our rates of consumption to the natural world’s rate of accumulation: we need to speed up moving towards a much much slower rate of use. And we need to do that within a decade.
Join us back here on LINK Thinks for COP15, when we’ll be sharing more thoughts on the negotiations in Montreal in December.
Deborah Long, Chief Officer at LINK