As week one of COP26 drew to a close on Saturday, we saw protestors across the world take to the streets to demand faster climate action from global leaders. But were those inside the conference listening?

Saturday was nature and land use day here in Glasgow. This COP is the first to bring together the twin issues of climate change and biodiversity, recognising that these are linked crises that can only be solved when viewed together.

We know that nature is in peril – with unparalleled levels of degradation and accelerating rates of extinction. 1 million species (~12.5% of total) are on the verge of extinction according to a UN report. The causes are complex but include changing weather patterns and temperatures, and habitat loss – driven by climate change and unsustainable human land-use practices.

But linked crises can become linked solutions – nature and sustainable land use must be part of the global action plan to tackle climate change.

Saturday saw another flurry of pledges. Here we examine major announcements from governments, investors, and businesses to assess whether they go far enough.

Governments’ pledge to reverse deforestation – update

What is it about?

On Monday 1st November, 100 nations pledged to halt land degradation and deforestation by 2030. By the end of Saturday, another 34 nations had signed up to the declaration.

The declaration focuses on ending deforestation but does state that restoration should also be targeted within the same timeframe, if possible.

To support the initiative national governments have already pledged £12 billion in public funds, with an additional £7.2 billion committed by the private sector. The EU pledged €1 billion, and the UK Government has committed £1.5billion for the cause.

Who will it impact?

Signatories (including Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Russia, China, Canada and Indonesia) now represent 91% of forests globally. This level of coverage is a huge achievement.

The declaration also commits funding to protect the rights of indigenous communities to conserve and strengthen their land rights within the affected areas. This is an important inclusion as this has been a thorny and controversial issue for past forest protection schemes.

Do we have sufficient commitment?

This was a significant step forward – but it is not the first time governments have made such high-level pledges – with limited success.

In 2014, for example, nearly 200 governments, businesses and civil society organisations signed the New York Declaration on Forests () which called for deforestation to be halved by 2020. This did not happen.

However, promisingly, pressure is mounting for real action this time. But history shows us that pledges must quickly become plans, supported by regulation, to give this commitment a real chance of success.

Asset managers vow to stop financing deforestation

What is it about?

Following the governmental deforestation pledge, major financial institutions have committed to ending investment in agri-food firms linked to deforestation by 2025.

Since 2010, approximately 40 times more finance has supported land use practices that degrade nature, than has supported conservation, restoration and sustainable agriculture.  The agri-food sector is the largest global contributor to deforestation, and this is an important recognition by some of the world’s leading finance organisations that things must change.

Who will it impact?

These asset managers represent more than $8.7 trillion in assets under managements, bringing huge financial pressure to the agricultural commodity sector which includes beef, palm oil, soy, leather, paper and pulp.

Signatories include Axa, Aviva, Schroders, Legal and General Investment Management and Robeco among others.

Do we have sufficient commitment?

This announcement came on the same day as 45 governments agreed to reform sustainable agri-food policies. The combination of policy and investment pressure is powerful. But it’s often money that talks loudest and once the big financial institutions start aligning investment decisions with nature then businesses will have to respond.

UK businesses make commitments too

What is it about?

5 leading UK supermarkets have signed WWF’s Retailers Commitment for Nature – pledging to halve the impact of shopping baskets by 2030.

Signatories of Retailers Commitment for Nature include Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Marks and Spencer, Waitrose, and the Co-op.

Each will need to increase efforts across 7 key areas, and set 1.5oC aligned science-based emission reduction targets by the end of 2022. The 7 areas are:

  • Climate impact
  • Nature conservation
  • Sustainable agricultural production
  • Greener diets
  • Food waste
  • Packaging waste
  • Marine impacts

Who will it impact?

These 5 supermarkets represent more than 50% of UK food shoppers, meaning many of us will see changes in our shopping baskets.

Do we have sufficient commitment?

These were not the only business commitments made on Saturday. Elsewhere, nearly 100 UK businesses signed up to the ‘Get Nature Positive’ campaign – committing them to halt and reverse nature decline by 2030. Signatories included Severn Trent and Burberry.

Also 20 consumer goods businesses, including Mars and Nestle, have unveiled a portfolio of forest restoration schemes they will support over the next 2 years, as part of a commitment to become ‘forest positive by 2030.

These are promising commitments, made by high profile companies across multiple sectors. However, the numbers of businesses involved are still relatively small and, in many cases, including those who were already taking action.

We need more, and quickly.

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