The day that was: Youth and Public Empowerment Day
- Yesterday was COP’s Youth and Public Empowerment Day, delivered in collaboration with YOUNGO (the Children and Youth Constituency of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change).
- Discussions focused on the “critical role of empowering, educating and training the public in driving climate action to keep 1.5°C alive.”, all while keeping teenage activist Greta Thunberg firmly out of the official conference space.
- The UK Government, through the Department for Education, announced a series of initiatives to engage schools and young people.
- These included a new ‘Climate Leaders Award’, as well as an upcoming Sustainability and Climate Change strategy, which they intend ‘educators, sustainability experts and environmentalists’ to engage with ahead of its publication in April 2022.
TODAY’S THEME: NATURE
Of course, the entirety of COP is in some way focused on nature, but today’s discussions will specifically look to “[ensure] the importance of nature and sustainable land use are part of global action on climate change and a clean, green recovery.”
Through negotiations, the delegates hope to put in place plans which can “protect and restore ecosystems,” while also “build[ing] defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure and agriculture to avoid loss of homes, livelihoods and even lives.” This palpable urgency is matched by the alarming scale and speed of biodiversity loss.
Research from Duke University in 2014 found that the extinction rate of species is now thought to be around 1,000 times higher than before humans dominated the planet. To illustrate this further, the WWF and Zoological Society for London found that Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years. Why does this matter? Well, put in simple terms by Oxford University’s Professor David Macdonald: “Without biodiversity, there is no future for humanity.”
Though ostensibly a desperate rescue mission, Sir David Attenborough provided a note of optimism. In kicking off the conference, he noted that “nature is a key ally” in the fight against climate change. Focusing on the carbon issue – and lengths needed to keep 1.5. alive – the naturalist said, “whenever we restore the wild, it will recapture carbon and help us bring back balance to our planet.” As such, many of today’s discussions will focus on how the world’s economic structures can be revitalised to support and propagate biodiversity, both on land and in the sea.
COP26 has already seen a major development in this space. Trees were one of the four priorities outlined by the UK in the run up to the conference, alongside Coal, Cars and Cash. On Tuesday, crucial leaders including U.S. President Joe Biden, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro signed a declaration committing to end deforestation by 2030, and this has been signposted as the major success of the conference to date.
Through the deal, £14 billion of public and private funding has been pledged to restore damaged forests and help local economies, and a £1.1 billion fund earmarked to protect the Congo Basin. Separately, 28 countries are agreeing to phase out trade of goods like palm oil that are a major driver of deforestation, while more than 30 of the world’s biggest financial companies, such a Schroders and Axa, promised to end investment in activities linked to deforestation.
So far, so promising. Yet In 2014, the New York Declaration on Forests also set a target of no deforestation by 2030, with an interim goal of a 50 percent reduction by 2020. This was palpably not achieved. In fact, a 2019 study found that rates of forest loss were 41 percent higher in the years after that declaration than in those preceding it. Gallingly, it also found that an area the size of the United Kingdom was being lost annually. Therefore – and as ever where COP is concerned – we should take this latest agreement with a healthy dose of salts.
In the Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade (FACT) Dialogue, the major producer and consumer countries of agricultural commodities like cocoa and soy will come together to discuss actions to protect forests, whilst promoting sustainable global trade and development.
Countries will also be implored to come together to discuss policies, innovations and investments which could accelerate the transition to sustainable agriculture, working closely with the World Bank and the UN Food Systems Summit. Currently, only 3% of global climate finance is spent on nature-based solutions, and only 1% for adaptation, so delegates will hope to mobilise finance for nature from public and private sources.
Alongside this, FACT is calling on governments, businesses, and civil society to endorse the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature and make “ambitious commitments” to build nature positive economies and societies. This has already been signed by many international figures, including the UK Prime Minister.
Over in the Pavilion, the UK Government is chairing several discussions to go alongside the formal, Presidency negotiations. Kicking off the day will be an expert panel event to support countries’ transition to a nature positive, low carbon and resilient future through evidence-based natural solutions. As the day develops, so will the specificity of the sessions. A discussion on the how best to support Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLC) will be followed by a panel on how to draw private investment in nature and sustainable land use.
Towards the end of the day in the Pavilion, the Food and Drink Federation, British Retail Consortium and National Farmers’ Union will discuss the global role of food systems in addressing the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss.
Implicit in all of these discussions will be how to avoid ‘Greenwashing’ – the process by which businesses and governments misleadingly showcase their sustainability credentials – and ensuring that any interventions are evidence-based and will positively impact biodiversity.