The UN climate conference COP28 is one of the biggest international climate conferences. More than 70,000 delegates are expected to attend from around the globe including Rishi Sunak and the Pope alongside business, environmental NGOs and community groups. Over the years, the profile of COP has increased and is now mainstream news.
What is less well known is that every year there is a nature day and this year, on 9 December, the theme is ‘Nature, Land Use and Oceans’. The day will focus on addressing nature loss, scaling solutions, empowering indigenous people and communities, unlocking financial flows, and accelerating the implementation of the UN Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.
Undoubtedly the challenges of climate change, land degradation, and biodiversity loss are interconnected with nature-based solutions (NBs), often mentioned as a way to help address both issues. Although future NBs will make a significant contribution to climate mitigation and adaptation, it shouldn’t be forgotten that nature itself is already working hard, capturing around 50% of our greenhouse gas emissions.
A Natural England study released in 2021 showed that peatlands, when correctly maintained, are the largest carbon stores. New woodland takes up carbon while old woodland can be a substantial carbon store, as can saltmarshes which also offer coastal protection: ‘One hectare of saltmarsh each year buries the carbon equivalent of an average car’s annual carbon emissions.’ Orchards, hedgerows, heathlands and grasslands all play their part. Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, concludes: ‘This research reveals the fundamental importance of conserving and enhancing our natural environment in meeting the climate change challenge.’
However, the UK is now one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. The State of Nature Report published this year tells us that the abundance of terrestrial and freshwater species in the UK has fallen by 19% since 1970, and 16% of species are threatened with extinction. The global use of natural resources has more than tripled since 1970. The biodiversity intact index shows that while countries such as Canada and Finland have around 89% of their biodiversity left, the UK has less than 50% remaining.
Looking through the lens of climate change, less nature means less carbon sinks. The Wildlife Trusts identified that restoring our natural systems could provide 37% of CO2 mitigation needed to meet the Paris Agreement. Therefore, actively protecting, restoring, and enhancing nature should be considered alongside plans for energy saving and climate change mitigation and adaptation.
In a recent IEMA meeting with the shadow cabinet ministers for climate and energy, the need to understand risk and resilience came up. The need for risk and resilience (both for organisations and the UK as a whole) does not just apply to energy and climate, but also applies to nature. Without nature, we lose not only the resources that provide food, minerals, pharmaceuticals, wellbeing, and more, but also carbon sinks and the opportunity to create effective nature-based solutions. (Ironically, one of the key drivers of nature loss is climate change itself.)
It is important that nature is considered on an equal footing in the context of energy and climate change. New infrastructure to support energy reduction and climate mitigation activities must have ‘the right thing in the right place’ (for example, when considering the placing of onshore and offshore wind farms). Local Nature Recovery Strategies, biodiversity net gain, plans for protected sites, MPAs (marine protected areas), and their equivalents across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, should help to ensure sure that nature is not overlooked, and is improved, in planning for a greener future.
From a private sector perspective emphasizing the links between nature and climate is a must and the consideration of both Carbon and nature is explicit in a number of newly released initiatives. For example, the TCFD (Task Force for Carbon-related Financial Disclosure) this year published a sister reporting methodology, based on the same framework, called TNFD (Task Force for Nature-related Financial Disclosure) and ultimately they aim to create one standard for both carbon and nature.
Meanwhile, back at COP28, it’s been encouraging to see that more than 130 prime ministers and presidents have signed up to the Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action, committing to incorporate food and land use into their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and adaption plans by 2025.
Also this week, IEMA announced its support for the Climate & Ecology Bill which aims to ensure the UK reduces emissions to limit global warming to 1.5°C, reverse the destruction of nature by 2030, and engage citizens in shaping a fair and sustainable path forward.
What does this all mean for those working in climate and energy? Sustainability professionals, whether from a business implementing net zero or a local authority looking at planning for a renewables project, should be linking carbon and nature. In many cases it might be that it’s not easy to incorporate both carbon and nature smoothly into organisational or national activities but it’s important to recognize that they are mutually dependent and cannot stand alone. Looking at them in silos may lead to less optimal outcomes that are potentially bad for our green future.
If you are interested in how nature and biodiversity can be integrated into your work please join the IEMA Biodiversity and Natural Capital (BANC) network.
Posted on 8th December 2023
Written by Lesley Wilson
IEMA and the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries User Guide to Climate-Related Financial Disclosures : 2nd edition - February 2023
- 22nd February 2024
Biodiversity Net Gain arrives in England
- 12th February 2024
LIVE BLOG: LGBT+ History Month 2024
- 9th February 2024
UK environmental policy digest – January
- 2nd February 2024
The European Business and Nature Summit 2023
- 31st January 2024
IA Outlook Journal Volume 19: Ecology, Biodiversity Net Gain and Natural Capital in Impact Assessment
- 29th January 2024