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U.N. biodiversity chief urges COP26 climate talks to prioritise nature

by Michael Taylor | @MickSTaylor | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 27 October 2021 01:00 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Cars drive along a road amidst an autumn-coloured forest in Leningrad Region, Russia October 4, 2021. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov/File Photo

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The U.N. biodiversity chief hopes messages from COP26 on the importance of nature would provide the impetus needed for achieving an ambitious accord next year

By Michael Taylor

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Any new pledges made at the upcoming COP26 climate summit must include protection and restoration of natural areas, said the U.N. biodiversity chief - a move that could give a boost to ongoing efforts to broker a separate global nature pact.

About 195 countries are set to finalise a new accord to safeguard plants, animals and ecosystems - similar to the Paris climate agreement - at a two-part U.N. summit, known as COP15, which began this month and is due to finish next May in China.

Ahead of that, many world leaders are headed to two-week U.N. climate talks that start in Scotland on Sunday, in a bid to try to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

"The fact that the two COPs are taking place pretty much back-to-back gives us that excellent opportunity to show how issues of biodiversity and climate change are inseparable," said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

"Climate change is becoming an increasingly serious driver of biodiversity loss and ecosystems degradation - and that loss threatens to worsen climate change," Mrema told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

Improving conservation and management of natural areas, such as parks, oceans, forests and wildernesses, is seen as crucial to safeguarding the ecosystems on which humans depend and limiting global warming to internationally agreed targets.

But forests are still being cut down - often to produce commodities such as palm oil and beef - destroying biodiversity and threatening climate goals, as trees absorb about a third of planet-warming emissions produced worldwide.

Mrema said she hoped messages from COP26 on the importance of protecting and restoring nature to reduce emissions and adapt to a warmer world would provide the impetus needed for achieving an ambitious biodiversity accord next year.

"At the national level, we should not look at climate change in isolation from biodiversity because then we end up with duplication of activities or contradiction and conflicts," she said, pointing to projects that may help mitigate climate change but end up increasing nature loss.

Host nation Britain wants an ambitious agreement at the COP26 talks to end deforestation by 2030, and has asked big producers and consumers of agricultural commodities to halt tree clearance for cultivation, The Guardian newspaper reported.


The mainly virtual COP15 meeting earlier this month was "quite a success", said Mrema, citing pledges by more than 100 countries to put habitat protection at the heart of decision-making.

Also positive were biodiversity funding commitments made by large financial institutions and the leaders of Japan, France, the European Union and Britain, as well as China's establishment of a new biodiversity fund, she noted.

But, she added, there is "work still to be done".

Many environmentalists said China's announcement fell short of what will be needed to help developing nations meet the goals expected in the new global nature pact, urging all rich governments to step up ambition and funding.

Further details on the China-led biodiversity fund will be needed to attract more donors, including how it will be managed and what its focus will be, green groups said.

Mrema said early indications pointed to the fund being managed through some kind of "U.N. mechanism".

So far, she said she had not heard of fresh donations but added that the fund offered "a way forward".

"The political commitment is there," said Mrema on the U.N. COP15 nature talks. "But having political will in speeches is one (thing) - we have to see this political will on the ground in terms of actions."

Related stories:

Beyond coal: End to deforestation sought at COP26 climate summit 

Everyone is needed in the new global push to protect nature 

'Shameful' failure to meet climate finance goal risks undermining COP26 talks

(Reporting by Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor; Editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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