In the eye of the climate-nature storm: from COP27 to COP15

As the dust settles after the latest UN climate summit, and the international community gathers in Montreal for its long-awaited nature counterpart, UNEP-WCMC Director Neville Ash summarises our COP27 delegation’s take home reflections and looks ahead to what’s at stake at COP15.

The two weeks of COP27 were teeming with discussions, challenges, breakthroughs and disappointments, from the rollercoaster climate negotiations, through the myriad of pavilions and side events, the growing sound of marginal voices, and the greater than ever emphasis on the relationship between climate and nature.

After going into extra time, negotiators landed an agreement on the creation of a loss and damage fund to support those worst affected by climate impacts, and the final COP27 decisions had a strong focus on the need to accelerate adaptation measures. However, commitments on mitigation didn’t advance from previous COPs, and the principal cause of the climate crisis – the burning of fossil fuels – remains unexplicit in the decision texts. 

Importantly and for the first time, food systems were clearly on the radar at COP27. Although greater recognition of the need for food system transformation will be needed to ensure sufficient progress on mitigation, our UNEP-WCMC Nature Economy team came away with a feeling of positive momentum – with a great discussions in the margins on the integration of food, land use and the role of business and finance. This has set the stage for continued and amplified discussions on these issues in Montreal during CBD COP15.

Whatever the views on other aspects of COP27, there can be little dispute on one key outcome. Building on the foundations laid at Glasgow COP26 and on efforts over the last decade or so by the nature community in civil society and with key parties, this was the COP where nature had the greatest prominence to date across formal and informal outcomes.

The recognition of the interdependencies of the climate and biodiversity crises and the need for integrated solutions was embodied prominently in the conference’s overarching cover decision text, was discussed throughout the corridors of the COP venues, and featured in a COP Presidency thematic Biodiversity Day, co-convened by UNEP. COP27 was the most nature-focussed UN climate conference ever. 

The cover decision, known as the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan, underlinesthe urgent need to address, in a comprehensive and synergetic manner, the interlinked global crises of climate change and biodiversity loss”, emphasises the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring ecosystems and makes a historic reference to the use of nature-based solutions (NbS).

Alongside the launch of various new reports supported by UNEP-WCMC, highlighting the crucial importance of peatland management for the global climate, and on the current state of progress on forest financing targets, COP27’s high-level Biodiversity Day discussions showcased powerful restoration and NbS initiatives from around the world, and there were further pledges to address deforestation and to scale up the use of NbS.

There was palpable recognition of the closeness, both in timing and impetus, between COP27 and COP15, and a strong sense of both substantive and political momentum that will carry into the work of the UN biodiversity conference starting in Montreal this week.

All eyes on Montreal for UN Biodiversity COP15

As COP15 gets up and running here in Montreal, it faces a heavy agenda, and there are great expectations.

After four years, negotiations will be finalised on a new global plan for nature: the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. The scope of the framework is necessarily broad – including addressing the causes of biodiversity loss, the importance of sustainable use of biodiversity, ensuring sufficient resources are available for the framework to be delivered, and strengthening transparency on progress in its implementation.

There will be challenging negotiations in Montreal. Achieving consensus among 196 Parties on the priorities and the emphasis in the global biodiversity framework is going to be difficult. Negotiations usually are. But that’s their value, and in bringing together perspectives from all parts of the world, the framework will benefit from being relevant to all parts of the world where it will then need to be implemented.

And it is the urgency of action that follows from COP15 that will be its legacy. By the time negotiators leave Montreal, the world will have just seven years to realise the new global biodiversity targets.

We will need to see action from everyone. National governments will need to show leadership, but there is much to be done by all sectors of society. Local governments, the private sector, civil society, Indigenous peoples and local communities and much more.

Urgent action will be needed at a sufficient scale to deliver on the political rhetoric and commitment that is agreed at COP15. This will require transformations across society and the economy, for example in food and financial systems. And we will need to shine a light on the data to ensure the world keeps track of progress being made. 

So whilst it’s our focus for the next two weeks, our work will not be finished at COP15. Despite four years in the making, COP15 will really only be the start of a new level of action on what needs to be done to address the biodiversity crisis and put the world on a pathway towards the vision of living in harmony with nature.

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