Can COP28 help put a key nature agreement into action?

A woman makes her way with a dog during morning fog while the sun shines through trees at Tiergarten Park in Berlin, Germany, September 27, 2023

A woman makes her way with a dog during morning fog while the sun shines through trees at Tiergarten Park in Berlin, Germany, September 27, 2023. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Protecting land and oceans takes money – but the spending could help keep people as well as other species safe

Mary Robinson is the former President of Ireland, and a Campaign for Nature global steering committee member. Rita El Zaghloul is director of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People.

We currently face two urgent crises – nature loss and climate change – and both pose catastrophic risks to humanity.

The two issues are inextricably linked. We can’t address the climate crisis without nature, and we can’t address the nature crisis without drastically cutting emissions.

Two million species are at risk of extinction, a figure that is double previous United Nations estimates, and new evidence has indicated that our planet will cross the global warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius within 10 to 15 years.

Facing such a grave crisis can seem daunting. However, we believe passionately that through collective action and collaboration, we can work with nature to not only halt species loss but also help tackle the climate crisis and in doing so help alleviate poverty, improve land rights, and create a more sustainable world.

Nature is not ornamental, nature is fundamental.

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If protected, nature can buffer communities from increasingly extreme weather and land degradation, absorb more carbon, bolster our food and water supplies, create jobs, protect livelihoods, create jobs, protect livelihoods, and contribute to meeting the SDGs.

In fact, a U.N. Environment Programme report found that conserving 30% of land in strategic locations could not only safeguard 500 gigatons of carbon but also reduce the extinction risk of nearly 9 out of 10 threatened terrestrial species.

Nature, unlike mankind, also knows no borders. It exists within, alongside, and across every kind of society from Indigenous peoples and local communities to urban metropolises and vast farmlands. As such, our efforts to protect nature must embrace collaboration and cooperation across governments, regions, and national and sub-national bodies to be successful.

The adoption of the famous 30 by 30 goal is a living, breathing example of the sort of radical collaboration required to deliver a truly global response to nature loss and climate change.

In the lead-up to last year’s COP15 nature summit, over 115 countries came together to form the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, united by a shared ambition to effectively conserve and manage at least 30% of the world’s land and ocean by 2030.

The coalition also focused its efforts on coordinating with Indigenous people and local community organizations, and more specifically with the International Indigenous Forum for Biodiversity (IIFB), as its members recognized how crucial it is to recognize their roles and rights in the protection of nature.

The coalition succeeded in driving global policy change and the adoption of the 30 by 30 goal as part of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework because collaboration was at its core.

That spirit is now needed to ensure 30 by 30 is delivered, and the required finances mobilized.

The current biodiversity funding gap is estimated to be $700 billion, a disparity that clearly no one country can or should shoulder alone. Neither should those who hold higher densities of nature be forced to shoulder that burden.

Nature is a global asset that requires global funding from all, particularly those that have contributed most to its decline.

At the same meeting where 30 by 30 was agreed, so too was a promise to deliver at least $20 billion in nature finance to the developing world by 2025, increasing to $30 billion by 2030.

Whilst these figures may seem vast to us on an individual level, it is ultimately a small price to pay for the role nature can play in the fight against climate change.

Admittedly some progress has been delivered on both 30 by 30 and the funding required. Just this month Dominica created the world’s first marine protected area for sperm whales. And when it comes to financing, a new Global Biodiversity Framework Fund was launched by the Global Environment Facility in August, with initial contributions made by Canada, Germany, and the UK.

However, just as nature knows no borders, neither can our efforts to protect it. We are still woefully far off delivering 30x30 and we only have six years left.

COP28 provides a critical moment to reaffirm our commitment to nature and recognize that it is one of the greatest tools at our disposal when it comes to tackling climate change if it is implemented alongside rapid decarbonization.

So, as we go into this critical meeting perhaps, we can take with us a lesson from nature itself.

In The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben says “a tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it.”

Trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and collective intelligence. When global polarization and complex geopolitics get in the way of progress we would do well to learn from trees that we are all connected and rooted to this earth, so we must work together towards achieving a more prosperous, bluer, and greener future for all.

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


  • Adaptation
  • Climate policy
  • Loss and damage
  • Forests
  • Biodiversity

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