Nature-based Solutions included in COP27 Cover Decision text
Nature-based Solutions have been included for the first time in a COP cover decision. COP27, held this year in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt has seen a range of developments for nature-based solutions, particularly from the US.
The inclusion of NbS within a COP decisions text is something many organisations, including our own, have been working towards, with its importance deriving from the oversight it gives parties to ensure NbS are not misused for greenwashing, violating human rights or harming biodiversity. The multilaterally agreed NbS definition adoption by the UNEA and the USA NbS roadmap released during COP27 were likely two major decisive factors in achieving the inclusion of NbS in the final decision text.
Specifically, the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan resulting from COP27 includes the term nature-based solutions within a dedicated section on forest:
47. Recalls that, in the context of the provision of adequate and predictable support to developing country Parties, Parties should collectively aim to slow, halt and reverse forest cover and carbon loss, in accordance with national circumstances, consistently with the ultimate objective of the Convention, as stated in its Article 2;30 48. Encourages Parties to consider, as appropriate, nature-based solutions or ecosystem-based approaches, taking into consideration United Nations Environment Assembly resolution 5/5,31 for their mitigation and adaptation action while ensuring relevant social and environmental safeguards;
In Glasgow, NbS was included in the draft agreement, only to be removed at a late stage, although the COP26 decision text recognised “the interlinked global crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, and the critical role of protecting, conserving and restoring nature and ecosystems in delivering benefits for climate adaptation and mitigation, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards.”
COP27 “Underlines the urgent need to address, in a comprehensive and synergistic manner, the interlinked global crises of climate change and biodiversity loss in the broader context of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the vital importance of protecting, conserving, restoring and sustainably using nature and ecosystems for effective and sustainable climate action”.
The text also “emphasises the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring nature and ecosystems to achieve the Paris Agreement temperature goal, including through forests and other terrestrial and marine ecosystems acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and by protecting biodiversity, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards”.
Although NbS apply to all ecosystems on land and in the sea, including in urban areas, rather than exclusively forests, these indications of increased ambition and commitment are welcomed, but it is key that they translate into implementation and action, and are not subject to misuse. As detailed in our paper Getting the message right on nature-based solutions to climate change, limiting NbS to forests can be harmful, and risks an overemphasis on tree-planting as a solution to climate change via carbon sequestration. This is of concern as it risks distracting from the need to rapidly phase out use of fossil fuels and protect existing intact ecosystems. Conflation of NbS with the expansion of forestry can also be at the cost of carbon rich and biodiverse native ecosystems and local resource rights.
Well-designed NbS include the protection, restoration or management of natural and semi-natural ecosystems; the sustainable management of productive land and seascapes; or the creation of novel ecosystems such as urban ‘green infrastructure’. NbS can contribute to tackling climate change and biodiversity loss, whilst supporting many other sustainable development goals, but poorly designed schemes can have adverse impacts. NbS were removed from the GCP a year ago over concerns about greenwashing and land grabs. As highlighted in ‘Harnessing the potential of nature-based solutions for mitigating and adapting to climate change’, “actions labelled as NbS are sometimes implemented through top-down governance structures that do not respect local rights; fail to account for local voices, values, and knowledge in decision-making; and perpetuate power asymmetries. For example, there is evidence that poor-quality carbon offsets, such as plantations of single, non-native tree species, are leading to land grabs. Sometimes plantations or protected areas are established, in the name of climate change mitigation, within Indigenous peoples’ territories without their knowledge or consent, ignoring their rights and cultural links with ecosystems. Local social outcomes of nature-based solutions, such as empowerment and community cohesion, are key to ensuring that nature-based solutions can be maintained over time.”
With NbS now in the text, it is essential that it is understood that NbS are not an alternative to drastic emissions cuts, without which ongoing rising global average temperatures will turn the biosphere into a net source of greenhouse gases, and so those investing in NbS must also be doing everything they can to rapidly scale back use of fossil fuels. Furthermore, they must bring local benefits to biodiversity and Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities. To this end, it’s significant that Brazil’s incoming President (Lula) promises to establish a new ministry for indigenous peoples as a key pillar of eliminating deforestation in his and other countries.
Four evidence-based guidelines for NbS were developed in 2020 by a consortium of 20 UK-based organisations. These provide principles for delivering successful, sustainable NbS with long term benefits for people and nature, with underpinning scientific evidence:
- NbS are not a substitute for the rapid phase-out of fossil fuels and must not delay urgent action to decarbonize our economies.
- NbS involve the protection, restoration and/or management of a wide range of natural and semi‐natural ecosystems on land and in the sea; the sustainable management of aquatic systems and working lands; or the creation of novel ecosystems in and around cities or across the wider landscape.
- NbS are designed, implemented, managed and monitored by or in partnership with Indigenous peoples and local communities through a process that fully respects and champions local rights and knowledge, and generates local benefits.
- NbS support or enhance biodiversity, that is, the diversity of life from the level of the gene to the level of the ecosystem.
These guidelines are designed to inform the planning, implementation and evaluation of NbS projects; in order to meet the guidelines, practitioners should set goals and quantitative targets relating to each guideline, monitor progress towards these targets using comprehensive metrics, and use adaptive management to improve outcomes. They are intended to be complementary to the more detailed IUCN Global Standard for NbS.
The goal of these guidelines is to ensure investment in NbS is channelled to the best biodiversity-based and community-led NbS and does not distract from or delay urgent action to decarbonise the economy. As evidenced by the lack of commitment to phase out fossil fuels highlighted by COP26 President Alok Sharma in his closing remarks, COP27 has ultimately failed to deliver on climate ambition. Therefore, although the inclusion of NbS within the text is welcome, as the guidelines make clear, there are no solutions from nature unless we keep fossil fuels in the ground. However, we do welcome the breakthrough agreement made at COP27 to establish a fund for “loss and damage” for vulnerable countries who have contributed the least but suffer the most from climate change impacts. Healthy ecosystems play an important role in helping people reduce and adapt to climate impacts, especially in the global south where dependencies on nature are high. Conversely, ongoing loss of and damage to ecosystems directly and indirectly via climate change can exacerbate human vulnerability to climate change. We hope that the UNFCCC’s Loss & Damage fund takes these interdependencies into account and can support the scale-up of nature-based solutions for those that need them most.
“The inclusion of nature-based solutions in the COP27 decision text is important. It means that Parties now have oversight to ensure nature-based solutions are implemented with integrity….meaning, they are people-led and biodiversity based, providing positive social outcomes locally, and are implemented in tandem with, not instead of, drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.”
NbSI Director Prof Nathalie Seddon
*Read the full COP27 cover decision text and find all decisions taken at the Sharm El-Sheikh Climate Change Conference on the UNFCCC website.
**The NbS guidelines now have 45 signatories, and we are inviting additional organisations from the research, conservation, and development sectors globally. To add your organisation as a signatory to this letter, please visit the NbS guidelines page.