Biden’s Summit is a chance for leaders to energize climate, nature ambition

Build political momentum, drive sectoral transformation ahead of COP26; and recalibrate our efforts to tackle the destruction of nature

2021 should be a breakthrough year for climate and nature, writes WWF Global Lead for Climate & Energy Manuel Pulgar-Vidal and Gavin Edwards, WWF Global Coordinator, New Deal for Nature & People.

Group of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) swimming in kelp forest (Macrocystis pyrifera), California, USA | naturepl.com / Pascal Kobeh / WWF

This week, US president Joe Biden will roll up his sleeves and re-engage with the international climate effort; it’s not a moment too soon. His Leaders Summit on Climate is expected to energise climate ambition, build much-needed political momentum, and drive sectoral transformation ahead of the crucial COP26 climate negotiations later this year.

The world has already warmed 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels, and we are currently on track for 3°C of global temperature rise. If we do not take immediate action to reduce emissions and accelerate sectoral transformation, we will suffer the most severe impacts of climate change. And to get that, Nature can and must play a key role.

Climate and nature, tightly intertwined

The world faces two tightly interwoven crises — of climate and nature. Never has the need for urgent action been clearer, but leaders are yet to demonstrate that they have grasped the scale of the crises at hand. Countries must come to the Summit with scaled up climate ambition, so setting the stage for a breakthrough year and laying the foundation for implementation in the years to come.

Global warming is also piling increasingly unmanageable stress on vulnerable ecosystems; it is contributing to an extinction rate that is 1,000 times greater than natural rates, and which threatens a million species. Deforestation and other land-use change, meanwhile, account for around one third of greenhouse gas emissions, helping to dangerously destabilize the climate on which we all rely. 83% of the global carbon cycle is circulated through oceans, which are facing warming, sea level rise and acidification.

Any effective response to the climate crisis needs to include a focus on nature. The already extremely challenging task of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, will be all the more difficult to meet climate, nature and sustainable development goals if we don’t also act swiftly to halt the destruction of nature.

A farmer in Madhu Ban Model Village where WWF has helped introduce the use of bio gas and organic farming practices | James Morgan / WWF-US

What it means to put nature in the climate effort

Nature-based Solutions (NbS) can provide up to one third of the emission reduction needed by 2030 to tackle the climate crisis. Tackling the biodiversity crisis will benefit our climate efforts. It will protect biodiversity, boost job creation, and people’s resilience to climate change with a particular contribution to the most vulnerable. It has the potential to do much more, with well-designed NbS projects with strong environmental and social safeguards. These activities can increase the carbon stored in forests, wetlands, agricultural land and mangroves.

Embed nature-based solutions into international conventions

The role of nature should be embedded in the international conventions that express the will of the global community to address our global sustainability challenges of climate, nature and sustainable development. Leadership is needed from the highest levels of government to ensure a joined up, whole-of-government response.

Leaders have an opportunity, this year, to ensure nature is anchored in climate ambition under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change through decisions taken at COP26 later this year. A new Global Biodiversity Framework is due to be agreed under the Convention of Biological Diversity later this year. A recognition here of the potential of nature to help reduce the impact of climate change on ecosystems could help direct climate funding towards activities that both reduce emissions and protect biodiversity.

Start with the Leaders Pledge

The Leaders Pledge for Nature, through 85 world leaders have pledged to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, offers a starting point. This commitment needs to be turned into action across all government ministries and departments, at national and sub-national levels. More governments should endorse this Pledge.

Narratives and visions must be translated into concrete targets. These must be measurable, and progress must be tracked and disclosed. Governments should commit to consistent reporting, enabling the transparency needed to ensure goals are being fulfilled and facilitating comparability between governments.

Ensure there is money to implement

Finally, more finance is needed, both for all aspects of climate action, as well as for nature. While public finance for NbS has increased from 3% to 8%, it is still far from what is needed. Recent commitments by the UK and French governments to direct 30% of their overseas public climate funding to NbS are welcomed. But an estimated US$600-US825 billion per year is needed over the next decade to sustainably manage biodiversity. It is vital that this 30% by donor countries is part of a much larger pie to quickly scale up action on climate and nature. It needs to be new money, rather than simply diverting money from, for example, renewable energy projects into NbS. Redirecting harmful subsidies from fossil fuels and unsustainable agriculture offers a key avenue for doing so, particularly when public purses are stretched and the need for finance that creates multiplying public benefits is needed most.

It is clear that failing to halt climate change will threaten many of our natural systems. It is also clear that it will be difficult to address the climate crisis if we don’t also make nature more resilient. So we urge leaders to pursue a net zero carbon, nature positive and more equitable world with vigour.

Building a future in which people live in harmony with nature.

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