COP26, the UN’s climate change conference, opened in Glasgow on October 31. Halloween night. An appropriate date considering the terrifying state our planet is in.
The climate and biodiversity crisis is in danger of overwhelming communities, natural habitats and economies throughout the world, and time is running out to stop it.
COP26, which will bring global powerbrokers together, must be a line in the sand. Fundamental changes in government policy and industry practices must be set in motion once and for all. Good intentions must become bold actions.
There is no pathway to net zero without protecting and restoring nature. Nature remains in freefall because the activities driving the loss of habitats and species have not been curtailed. The food and agriculture sector has a massive impact in fuelling the environmental crisis. Land-use has been identified as the first driver of biodiversity loss by IPBES3, and it is estimated that food systems are responsible for a third of our greenhouse gas emissions.
Recent reports show that deforestation has led to the Amazon rain forest now emitting three times more carbon dioxide than it absorbs, resulting in a huge ripple effect being felt across the world. The Amazon was one of the largest CO2 capture sites. If changes aren’t made soon, it will become one of the biggest emitters.
Nature-based solutions (NbS),will play a vital role in addressing the climate crisis, and meeting the goals set in the Paris Agreement in limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
NbS are growing in popularity. The 2020 UK Climate Assembly, a group of ordinary citizens brought together by six selected committees, showed near-unanimous support for use of solutions like afforestation to reduce the impact of climate change. A recent OnePoll survey commissioned by WWF also found that over three-quarters (76%) of Brits agree UK Government should introduce a legal target for nature’s recovery by 2030.
NbS can potentially provide around a third of the climate mitigation needed globally up to 2030, however, delivering these solutions at the cumulative scale and speed needed will ultimately depend on the COP26 fallout.
NbS are a relatively novel topic, there are currently no recognised standards or market drivers for these solutions. Universal regulations and definitions are lacking, as are systems for the sharing of information, research and lessons learned from existing NbS. Global frameworks are desperately needed to help solve these issues.
The role of COP26 is not just to explore how NbS can help the world reach net zero, but set out clear definitions and create structured markets that ensure that finance is funnelled into NbS solutions that will benefit the planet and society. Finding ways to properly fund NbS, including the introduction of economic incentives for their creation, would be another game-changer.
Enabling partnerships among all stakeholders is crucially important. These partnerships must involve regular dialogue, easily understandable information that explains the proposed solution in detail, and full transparency on financial issues, timeframes and trade-offs. The decisions made in the coming months will define the future of the planet.
At COP26, the main discussion surrounding NbS will be their role in the new Article 6 carbon market as generators of carbon offset credits in a global compliance scheme.
Article 6 of the Paris Agreement refers to the rules on how countries can reduce their emissions using international carbon markets – it is a complex and knotty area that needs to be tidied up at this year’s Summit.
A set of legally binding rules is urgently needed to act as a foundation for a system of global carbon trading, replacing the Clean Development Mechanism and its Certified Emission Reductions credits, which was the Kyoto Protocol’s attempt to provide a universal standard. There’s much at stake in the carbon market at COP26, however, realism is required. COP26 will not transform decarbonisation and offsetting overnight. It is going to take time to roll out the actions and legalisation agreed at the summit. NbS take time to mature. Trees must grow, green roofs need to be built, wetlands need conserving and restoration.
Time is not on our side. According to scientists, we are currently undergoing the sixth mass extinction in geological history due to a “biological annihilation” (the last such extinction was 66 million years ago which marked the end of the dinosaurs).
Companies must therefore take the initiative themselves, taking full responsibility for reducing and offsetting their carbon emissions in efficient and ethical ways, and on a significant scale.
The global market for voluntary offsetting has been growing exponentially for more than a decade. Just 8.8 million tonnes of CO2e were covered in 2006 but, by 2017, the figure stood at 62.7 million tonnes. The publication of the IPCC’s landmark report on global warming in 2018 – the science behind the global appetite for net-zero by 2050 – accelerated this trend. By late 2019, some NGOs and businesses offering carbon credits were reporting a tenfold increase in interest from businesses.
From within the voluntary market there has been a large increase in demand from companies who are setting net zero targets, and inevitably they are looking at carbon offsetting as a way of doing it.
There are however some concerns, some companies are displacing their climate ambition by offsetting, instead of taking direct action from within their company boundary. There have also been questions centred on the efficacy of the carbon credits when offsetting. Carbon offsets should not be used as a way for companies to cheaply meet their commitments with a small fee paid to a renewable energy project developers so that they can erase the carbon on the ledgers.
Robust climate action, including the appropriate use of offsetting cannot wait until 2050, but needs to start now. There has been a paradigm shift with the net zero movement. Across the markets we are seeing an emphasis on long-term emission reductions, with companies focussing on their organisational footprint first, by getting emissions as close to zero as possible, and then looking to offset second.
If done well and included in the overall sustainability strategy, then carbon offsets can offer a route to achieving mitigation at low cost or least cost. That also means that we can increase our ambition and do more climate change mitigation if we have appropriate access and methods of reducing emissions.
COP26 the ‘super year for nature and climate’: a major opportunity for systemic NbS
2021 must be the year of enabling systemic NbS, making them an essential part of a successful COP26 and a green recovery. There’s an opportunity for countries such as the UK to become world leaders by sharing, refining and putting into action an integrated approach to NbS and sustainable agriculture.
In the medium to long term, the growth of the NbS market will need be guided by international verification schemes and legislation however, for the immediate future businesses will need to take the initiative for themselves.
Speak to a member of the offsetting team to find out more about nature-based solutions and how to embed carbon offsetting into your net zero business strategy
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