By Gaulbert Sutherland in Hawaii
More emphasis needs to be placed on often overlooked nature-based solutions such as conservation to protect against the challenges of climate change and ensure sustainable development, according to a top United Nations climate official.
“Nature-based solutions hold significant potential for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, maintaining healthy ecosystems and restoring degraded lands,” Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Patricia Espinosa said during a panel discussion on ‘A Changing Climate: Championing Nature- Based Solutions’ during the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii on Friday.
To illustrate, she pointed out that burning and clearing of tropical forest alone, account for 16% of global carbon emissions while unsustainable agriculture accounts for another 14%. “Thirty percent of global carbon emissions could be avoided by changing how we manage land and restoring what we have degraded. Nature-based solutions are also good for people,” she said, pointing to actions such as the protection of mangroves which act as a buffer against storm surges and provide a nursery for fish.
Against the backdrop of the Paris Agreement on climate change which could come into force this year, Espinosa said conservation is critical to tackle the challenges of climate change and ensure sustainable development. Scientists say that emissions of greenhouse gases contribute to a warming planet which has upended climate patterns and caused a range of destructive impacts such as rising sea levels, longer droughts and floods, among others. Espinosa emphasised that the coming years will be crucial and urged more consideration of low-cost, high beneficial options which, she said, are often overlooked. The panel discussed the role of conservation in mitigating the impacts of climate change and the role of various actors in the process.
“Right now governments are writing the rules for the Paris Agreement, determining support structures and finalizing the details regarding how to measure success,” Espinosa said. “Twenty-three countries to date have ratified the Paris Agreement and all indicators show the Agreement could enter into force even as early as this year,” she pointed out while adding that negotiations must proceed swiftly.
According to the UN’s top climate official, at this moment, national governments must hear from the conservation community on what needs to be done to unlock the full potential of nature-based solutions. The conservation community must now turn towards solutions she said while urging the Congress, which is being held under the theme ‘Planet at the crossroads,’ to produce a coherent and cohesive message that governments can act upon.
“What is needed is a real transformation globally, but most critically, nationally. Only when all key ministries in government are fully in the same direction will we have certainty we can succeed,” she emphasised.
According to Espinosa, the UN and conservation movement have all the best practices and pilot projects needed. “What is needed now is building the coordination at the national level among all actors of society” inclusive of governments, civil society, scientists, and the private sector, she said.
“Together, through conservation and the implementation of nature-based solutions, we can harness the natural ability of the planet and use it to bring a brighter, more sustainable future for every species on earth including our own.”
Meantime, the UNFCCC official also pointed out that when the Paris Agreement enters into force and becomes legally binding, this will present several challenges including for her organisation. Among other things, she said there is need to strengthen structures in order to support developing countries in putting together their National Determined Contributions which are their plans for what actions they will take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. She also highlighted that they have to define rules on transparency, on how work will be done and noted that in many cases, these are complex and technical issues.
“We are also entering into the phase of implementation and that is a lot of work,” she said even as she pointed out that the UNFCCC Secretariat serves the Convention and does not have the ability to run programmes on the ground. At the same time, action on the ground is urgently needed to comply with commitments so there is a need to reach out to as many actors as possible, she said.
According to Espinosa, the biggest challenge is how a small Secretariat for one single convention now has to take up the work of mobilising all actors towards the coordination of efforts needed. She said there is fragmentation of work and there is a need to bring this together. Currently, an “incredible amount” of work is going on, she said.
According to the official, there is a need for everyone to understand that climate change and conservation are an essential part of any development process.