By Deborah Long, chief officer, Scottish Environment LINK
Looking back on the rollercoaster of hope and despair that was COP26, there are many aspects of the Glasgow talks that give me cause for optimism as we enter 2022. One of the things that makes me hopeful is the enormous public profile of the Glasgow event. Pretty much everyone in Scotland knew about COP26 – and not just because the talks were hosted here. People are ever more aware of the urgency of the climate crisis.
Another thing that gives me hope for 2022 is the prominence of nature at COP26. In the negotiating rooms and out on the streets, nature inspired. We saw real recognition that halting biodiversity loss, in Scotland and around the world, is essential for the future of humanity. Nature has a crucial role to play in limiting and adapting to climate change. But it’s also clearer than ever that the solutions we put in place to tackle climate change must help restore the planet’s ecosystems. In short, we must address the nature and climate crises together.
So far, efforts to stop biodiversity loss and restore habitats and species are lagging far behind efforts to limit global temperature rises. This is true in Scotland as much as anywhere: Scotland has ambitious climate targets that are helping us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, but despite one in nine species in Scotland being at risk of extinction, there are no equivalent targets in place for nature. Following a campaign by environment charities, the Scottish government has committed to introducing legally binding targets to restore nature in a Natural Environment Bill in 2023-4.
Despite the many failings of the annual UN climate talks – the COPs – these summits have undeniably helped galvanise countries to start taking action on climate change, albeit to a widely varying degree. For this reason, I want to see the UN biodiversity conference scheduled to take place in Kunming, China, in spring 2022 (but facing possible delays due to covid) get as much attention and fanfare as COP26.
The Kunming conference is the latest in a series of international UN biodiversity summits, equivalent to the climate COPs, aimed at conserving and ensuring the sustainable use of global biodiversity. Confusingly, these are also referred to as COPs (‘conference of the parties’), and since it is the fifteenth, the Kunming conference is COP15.
So what can the world hope to achieve at this other COP, the nature COP?
First, we need the nature COP to set ambitious global targets for halting biodiversity loss and restoring nature, to give countries, including Scotland, a clear framework for their own national targets. These would be the equivalent of 1.5oC for climate.
Second, we need financial commitments. Biodiversity is declining at a faster rate now than at any time in human history. Stopping the decline and helping species and habitats to recover will be a massive job, and it won’t come cheap. But it’s a job we have to take seriously if we want ecosystems to continue to function and provide for our needs.
Third, the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities must be protected. Biodiversity survives best where human pressure is less intense and where local communities work with nature, often using traditional techniques. Efforts to protect and restore biodiversity must work with local communities, rather than excluding or dispossessing them.
If it can make these things happen, and if it can help inspire the world to treat nature and climate with equal urgency, the nature COP might just be our next big chance to save the planet.
This article was first published in the Scotsman on 21 December 2021.