Wednesday, November 16 was Biodiversity day at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh. The fact that nature is an important ally of decarbonization is common knowledge among experts: the absorption of CO2 by plants, soil and oceans, the adaptive capacity of animal and plant species to preserve food security, the role of vegetation to capture water when it becomes scarcer due to climate change, the protection offered by mangroves in the face of storms and rising seas.
How important, however, is revealed in a new WWF report, Our Climate's Secret Ally: Uncovering the story of nature in the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report. Using the IPCC's work to highlight the interconnected emergencies of human-induced climate change and biodiversity loss, it shows that nature has absorbed 54 percent of human-produced carbon dioxide emissions in the past 10 years.
WWF Biodiversity and Climate Report's analysis
The report points out that about 31 percent of human-generated CO2 emissions over the past 10 years have been absorbed by terrestrial ecosystems (including plants, animals and soil), while an additional 23 percent have been absorbed by the oceans – at a high cost to many marine ecosystems as their waters become increasingly acidic.
“Nature is a climate ally, but natural systems are being pushed beyond their limits by the relentless pressures of climate change, pollution, over-exploitation, and ecosystem conversion,” stated Stephen Cornelius, WWF's deputy global climate and energy officer. “We cannot stop climate change if we refuse to rapidly decarbonize the global economy and allow the loss of nature to continue unabated. Governments at COP27 should integrate the links between climate, people and nature, as well as accelerate progress and ambition on mitigation and adaptation and loss and damage. To limit warming to 1.5°C, adapt to climate change, and save lives and livelihoods, we must safeguard and restore nature.”
COP27 and COP15: How climate negotiations will affect the biodiversity conference
If we have learned that COPs are the conferences of the parties to the climate negotiations within UNFCCC, the UN climate change framework, less widely understood is the process of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), which in December at COP15 will seek a new, historic, 10-year agreement. Just as Paris gave birth to the Agreement that seven years later holds up negotiations, COP15 in Montreal, Canada, will give birth to a new set of targets to protect nature (30 percent protected areas), require the business community to account for its impacts on biodiversity, and seek economic resources for nature conservation in poorer countries. A decision that could have major ramifications on the agribusiness, forestry and mining sectors, the main culprits in the loss of species and environmental services.
“Scientists are telling us in no uncertain terms that climate change and biodiversity loss are intrinsically linked and that is why we see the [Cop15] framework as, fundamentally, a ‘Paris’ moment for biodiversity,” explained Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, secretary-general of the Convention on Biological Diversity, during a media briefing attended by Renewable Matter, one of the few Italian publications registered for the Montreal negotiations.
But the success of Montreal is also linked to the outcome of the negotiations here in Sharm el-Sheikh. According to several delegates, it is highly likely that a reference to biodiversity will find a place in the cover-decision, the final text of the COP27 negotiations, however, it's still unknown at the moment how relevant it's going to be.
The turning point could be the action of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva Lula, Brazil's newly elected president who has announced a sharp shift in the protection of rainforests and nature in general. His intervention along with those of other countries will push for the mention of nature-based-solutions and biodiversity protection to be included in the final text of the climate negotiations. A success that could reverberate overseas and give visibility to a COP15 that for the moment appears forgotten in the Italian media. "The results of COP27 will be decisive and will greatly influence the discussions and specific goals within the framework," Mrema commented. Just as the success of COP15 will have an impact on preserving the goal of containing global average temperature increases to within 1.5°C.
Image: Alenka Skvarc (Unsplash)