global perspectives

The nature agenda at COP28: growing in recognition but lacking in commitments

19 December 2023 / WORDS BY Jane Hutchinson, Maggie Comstock and Sara Oishi

The UAE COP28 Presidency had high ambitions for this year’s conference, hoping it would catalyse “unprecedented” action, including with respect to nature, clean air and water, and healthy food. Nature was a pervasive topic throughout the event and there were several significant announcements related to investments in forest protection, water resources, and regenerative agriculture — along with new initiatives related to building capacity for nature finance. Events coincided with the one-year mark since the UN Biodiversity COP15 in Montreal, and the historical signing of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) and there were high hopes that nature and biodiversity would feature prominently. However, given the scale of the challenge, the world’s nature stewards—especially Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities—have reason to feel the outcomes of COP28 still lack the speed and scale needed to meaningfully tackle the climate crisis.

Policy Developments

The conference opened with the announcement that the Loss and Damage fund—which was established to assist developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change—was being operationalised. By the end of the first week of the conference, total pledges by all countries amounted to US$726 million. Despite the forward progress this represents, these pledges fall far short of the sums required.

The theme of adaptation carried over from COP27, with negotiations emphasising the need for support for adaptation strategies. The final text relating to the global goal on adaptation sets out seven specific targets for 2030, including accelerating the use of ecosystem-based adaptation and nature-based solutions. In respect of national adaptation actions, the final decision related to the global goal on adaptation emphasises that action should be guided not only by the best available science but also traditional knowledge, Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge, local knowledge systems, ecosystem-based adaptation, nature-based solutions, locally led and community-based adaptation, disaster risk reduction, and intersectional approaches. Yet, the text also notes with concern that the current provision of climate finance for adaptation remains insufficient to respond to worsening climate change impacts. It reiterates the call for developed countries to at least double their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation from 2019 levels by 2025 to support developing countries in achieving goals related to, among other things, the preservation and regeneration of nature.

The final day of negotiations saw the decision on the first ‘Global Stocktake’ released, branded the “central outcome of COP28 because it contains every element that was under negotiation and can now be used by countries to develop stronger climate action plans” (which are due by 2025). The decision left many countries feeling disappointed that nature did not receive more prominent treatment. It references the urgent need to address the interlinked global crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. Yet, this text can do little more than continue reminding countries of the benefits of conservation and nature-based solutions, leaving specific action items to the purview of each country when preparing its next nationally determined contribution.

Private Sector Action

Despite lacklustre commitments on nature that came out of the negotiating rooms, nature and biodiversity commitments featured heavily in announcements. “Nature” was included as one of the key themes for discussion at COP 28 and 9 December was declared “Nature Day”. This shift reflected the growing global consensus that there can be “no net zero without nature”.

Much of the discussion at COP28 in relation to nature was centred around mobilising public and private sector finance for investments that conserve nature, and away from investments that harm nature. Creating “nature as an asset class” was a hot topic – building on the momentum at the UN Biodiversity COP15 and the GBF. Several announcements linking private equity to nature occurred throughout COP28, including:

  • The Government of Brazil’s proposal for a new global instrument, the ‘Tropical Forest Forever Facility’ which would mobilise at least $250 billion from sovereign wealth funds to conserve standing tropical forests in over 80 countries.
  • Costa Rica and Ghana becoming the first forest countries to sign agreements facilitating the sale of jurisdictional REDD+ credits through the LEAF Coalition through its first finalised Emissions Reductions Purchase Agreements, unlocking a potential additional US$60 million for forests.
  • Non-profits signed a Jurisdictional REDD+ Technical Assistance Partnership to scale emissions reductions agreements between forest-rich governments and carbon credit buyers.

Biodiversity credits as a tool to unlock nature finance was discussed on the sidelines of the negotiations – just like it was at COP15. Showing up to discuss this emerging response for nature were government-led initiatives such as the International Advisory Panel on Biodiversity Credits and private sector-led initiatives such the Biodiversity Credits Alliance.

In addition to nature, there was also a Food Systems and Agriculture Agenda at COP28, including a larger announcement of more than $2.5 billion “mobilised by the global community to support the food-climate agenda, H.E. Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment and COP28 Food Systems Lead, announced during the session.” Further, more than 130 countries endorsed the Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action. The Declaration was paired the UAE and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launch of a USD$200 million partnership for Food Systems, Agriculture Innovation and Climate Action, focused on agricultural research, scaling agricultural innovations and funding technical assistance for implementing the Declaration.

Finally, there was also a growing recognition that Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, as stewards of 80% of the world’s biodiversity, need to be at the forefront of nature-based solutions. As at COP15, it was stated that Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities shouldn’t just be recipients of benefit but also leaders and decision makers.

There was a clear call from countries and non-state actors alike to address the climate and biodiversity crises in tandem and it was encouraging to see the level of engagement, in both the climate negotiations and other COP-driven announcements, on nature and nature finance. It is becoming ever clearer that decisionmakers in both the public and private sectors recognise that investment in nature-positive outcomes is essential for achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. We hope that this convergence of climate and nature will catalyse investment and action, and that we will see the lessons learned from UNFCCC processes in support of climate-related activities applied to next year’s UN Biodiversity COP16.


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