Nature at the Heart of COP26

Short film In Our Nature. Premiere at COP26 on 6 November.

On 6 November, nature day was celebrated at COP26. As several speakers repeated on Saturday, until very recently efforts to save the planet were segmented, i.e. there were several conventions to solve problems such as conservation or biodiversity loss, with no clear connection to the fight against climate change. This is now behind us, and the Glasgow convention was concerned with putting nature "at the heart of the COP", indicating that this time parties are thinking about climate change efforts together. 

In general, the nature day was defined by three themes: deforestation, agriculture and trade, and the role of indigenous communities. The three themes are clearly linked, as agricultural production is one of the main causes of deforestation globally, and because of this and other economic factors, the rights of indigenous communities are increasingly undermined. This COP however wanted to emphasise the valuable role of these communities in protecting the environment, and the need to listen and learn from their ancient wisdom.

Deforestation

On deforestation, both the need for mitigation and the value of reforestation were emphasised. The Norwegian Environment Minister urged parties to "leave nature alone to do what it does best: be a carbon sink".

Instead, Jim Andrews, President of Sustainability at PepsiCo, announced that the Consumer Goods Forum' s (CGF) Positive Forest Action Coalition had initiated the first phase to transform areas equivalent to the impact of deforestation in the areas of influence of deforestation in the production of palm oil, soy, beef and timber. Positive forestry action would involve an effort to reforest areas of the same size that the coalition destroys in its production process, as well as investment in local social initiatives.

Florika Fink-Hoojier, representative of the European Commission, described all the ways in which the European Green Pact prevents deforestation, both within and outside the European Union, through a series of measures aimed at reducing the environmental impact of EU consumption.

Finally, the contribution of the Seychelles Minister for Environment, Energy and Climate Change, Flavien Joubert, gave an interesting approach to deforestation: Joubert affirmed the need to consider local people, biodiversity and climate in climate action, recalling that efforts against deforestation have to address both the land surface and the marine environment. The Minister recalled that the protection of the oceans is as important as the protection of forests

Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Goods

On agriculture, trade and consumer goods, discussions focused mainly on support for small farmers, and the production of palm oil, beef, soya, timber and cocoa.

As chair of COP26, the UK created the Forests, Agriculture and Trade in Goods (FACT) Dialogue. This dialogue between governments is the first of its kind to seek to eliminate deforestation from their respective supply chains. It was also announced that the UK's major retailers had committed to reduce the impact of deforestation in their shopping baskets by 50% by 2030.

Building on this momentum, participants presented various ways to achieve this goal. For example, Perpetua George, representative of the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) focused on recent innovations, such as sustainable palm oil. She stressed her discomfort with the reluctance of some actors to opt for this resource, such as the EU, which treats it in the same way as palm oil, without sustainability accreditation. It is worth remembering that the sustainability label has in no way altered the product itself, nor the requirements for its production. Sustainability certification is awarded when the production process has passed certain criteria. However, this process has been mired in a number of corruption problems, due to the lack of transparency, and the ambiguous language of its green accreditation criteria. 

In contrast, the CEO of Sainsbury's - a British supermarket chain - Simon Roberts, appears to be joining the green label movement, proposing greater transparency in the process through technological innovations, such as satellites that verify compliance with sustainable criteria.

Professor Valerie Kapos, Director of the Climate Change and Biodiversity Programme at the UN Environment Programme's Conservation Monitoring Centre, also used space technology to strategically plan natural solutions to climate change. In his presentation, Kapos demonstrated that strategically chosen conservation and afforestation areas could prevent 50% of emissions and biodiversity loss. Spatial monitoring can inform our progress and promote both transparency and efficiency in the process.

The Role of Indigenous Communities

Finally, the voices of indigenous peoples were heard loudly on Saturday. Joseph Itonga, representing indigenous interests from the Democratic Republic of Congo, described the cultural and identity function of forests for indigenous peoples. He also called for increased economic assistance to indigenous peoples who protect the environment. 

One phrase that struck a chord was that of Indonesia's indigenous peoples' representative Mina Sethra: "Nature provides, we defend and you protect". With this, Sethra sought to encourage indigenous communities to take action in environmental management and conservation, as, Sethra argued, they have been doing so successfully for hundreds of years.

Vice-Minister Herrera of Bolivia stressed the importance of collaboration with indigenous peoples in conservation, adaptation and mitigation. According to the Vice-Minister, a dose of solidarity and proportionality must be injected into climate commitments. In conclusion, the Vice-Minister called for environmental justice, with a greater or lesser demand for environmental commitments according to their respective impact on the environment. 

Finally, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez - CEO of the Global Environment Facility - in agreement with the other speakers, stated that the climate crisis cannot be solved without an explicit recognition of the land rights of indigenous peoples. The Global Environment Facility focuses on financing low-income countries' investments in nature, with state and non-governmental partners, as well as the private sector. Rodriguez also stressed that his organisation's recent focus has been more on working with local communities and NGOs, as one of the big problems with climate finance to different state governments lies in the back-and-forth of environmental policies. According to Rodriguez, in recent years, the Fund has been more focused on supporting local communities.

Written by Beatriz Dromant.

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