June 22, 2024

Conservation groups have hailed the inclusion of biodiversity and a 2030 global deforestation goal in the UAE consensus that emerged from Cop28, along with positive wording on the role of Indigenous communities.

Some hope the deal could help to intermesh nature and climate more closely, rather than treating the two as separate subjects. But many expressed concerns that tepid language on fossil fuel emissions would fail to control the global heating responsible for eroding forest resilience to drought, fire and disease, threatening to tip carbon-rich ecosystems into becoming a source of the greenhouse gas emissions that are heating the planet.

Under the agreement struck in Dubai on Wednesday, governments are obliged to consider the natural world and carbon stores such as forests while developing their next round of nationally determined contributions to the Paris agreement. The new plans, which countries including the US and China said they would produce, are due before Cop30 in the Brazilian Amazon in 2025 and need to be calibrated towards limiting global heating to 1.5C.

Despite the progress on recognising the importance of the natural world and nature-based solutions, division remains about how to fund nature conservation, with talks on carbon markets at Cop28 ending in failure.

The UAE consensus “emphasises the importance of conserving, protecting and restoring nature and ecosystems towards achieving the Paris agreement temperature goal”. This will include “halting and reversing deforestation and forest degradation by 2030, and other terrestrial and marine ecosystems acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and by conserving biodiversity”, in line with this decade’s UN biodiversity targets.

The biodiversity agreement, reached last December in Montreal, has 23 commitments, which include protecting 30% of the planet for nature by the end of the decade, reforming $500bn (£410bn) of environmentally damaging subsidies, and restoring 30% of the planet’s degraded ecosystems. Governments will need to consider those commitments in their new climate plans.

The UAE consensus also notes the need for more financial resources for nature and implementation based on “the best available science as well as Indigenous peoples’ knowledge and local knowledge systems”.

Jennifer Morgan, the former executive director of Greenpeace who is now heading the German climate delegation, lauded the “great language” on nature and forests.

Claudio Angelo of the Brazilian Climate Observatory said it was the first time the 2030 deforestation goal had been included in a UN agreement, thereby upgrading the voluntary language of the previous Glasgow declaration on forests into “a binding-ish commitment among 200 countries”.

Angelo was also encouraged by the overt link to last year’s Kunming-Montreal global diversity framework. “This has potential because there are big bucks for biodiversity that may be used now for climate protection and vice versa,” he said. “The two conventions needed to mingle and now there is a peg for that.”

Jennifer Skene, natural climate solutions policy manager at the Natural Resources Defense Council, was also positive. “The text’s emphasis on halting and reversing forest degradation, alongside deforestation, by 2030 leaves no ambiguity about the urgency of global, multisectoral action to protect high-integrity forests in order to meet the goals of the Paris agreement,” she said. “The international community is stripping away the veil over industrial logging … creating a pathway for action on forest protection defined by equity and accountability.”

Toerris Jaeger, director of Rainforest Foundation Norway, was more cautious, saying the UAE consensus was a mixed bag. “The agreement gives a glimmer of hope with ambition to halt deforestation, but the slow progress on fossil fuel is a threat to the rainforest,” he said.

Recognition of the role of Indigenous communities in protecting forests and fighting the climate crisis was celebrated by Sonia Guajajara, the first Indigenous peoples minister of Brazil. “It was the first time that we had Indigenous people participating directly in a dialogue with Brazilian negotiators,” she said on social media, reminding followers: “We are only 5% of the world’s population, but 82% of the world’s protected biodiversity is within Indigenous territories.” Guajajara looked forward to Cop30, which will be held in the Amazonian city of Belém in 2025. “President Lula has said a lot that it is time for the Amazon to speak to the world. So, we are optimistic that this Cop will be decisive,” she said.

The negotiators had to overcome challenges from Bolivia, which has become one of the fastest deforesting nations on Earth as the government endorses the expansion of soya beans, cattle, logging and mining. In closed-door sessions, Bolivia’s representative said his country and others in the developing bloc needed more economic support. “We cannot support goals to end deforestation in all countries since this reflects different circumstances,” he said. “Why should we reach zero deforestation without any finance at all?”

During the conference, there were doubts too about the role of carbon markets in forest protection and reforestation. Without transparency and clear guidelines, it was feared that polluters could claim credits of dubious value. This debate is expected to continue in future conferences.

This year, fears have been raised of a new “scramble for Africa” after tracts of forest larger than the UK were sold off to a UAE firm in a carbon offsetting deal before Cop28. The mechanism was intended for use in country-to-country trading for the Paris agreement. But talks collapsed with no agreement over carbon markets in Dubai, leaving their role uncertain.

Axel Michaelowa, a carbon markets expert at the University of Zurich, said the lack of agreement was “a disaster”, adding: “The Paris rules could become a benchmark for international quality in the carbon markets, but if we keep kicking the can down the road every year, sometime nobody will believe in it any more. That means the carbon cowboys have another year to ride through the prairie.”

Find more age of extinction coverage here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on X for all the latest news and features

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