Climate Change

How COP27 put nature at the heart of the climate movement

This image shows a panel at COP27

Nature was a key discussion point at COP27 Image: UN/Jamie John

Jad Daley
President and CEO, American Forests
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  • Nature-based solutions dominated COP27.
  • Many people and organizations have worked for a long time to position nature-based solutions to lead climate action going forward.
  • Now is the time to redouble our efforts, from youth leaders to world leaders, to make nature-based solutions the engine of climate progress and climate hope.

As COP27 concluded last month in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, one thing was clear: nature-based solutions have fully arrived, free from the suspicions and uncertainties that have hindered past progress. Even better, it feels inevitable that this momentum will carry into the UN Biodiversity Conference, termed COP15, in Montreal next month. Here, world leaders, companies and NGOs will seek to leverage the same kinds of nature-based interventions to also provide solutions for the global biodiversity crisis.

I’m proud that, the partnership platform launched by the World Economic Forum in 2020, was at the centre of the COP27 activity on nature-based solutions. This ranged from leading youth engagement to helping align actors working on the Great Green Wall to USAID announcing a stunning 100 million-hectare pledge to the US Chapter. The ability of the community to rally nature-based ambition from the public and private sector, to align nature-based solutions practitioners on the best forestry practices and to facilitate mass and inclusive mobilisation, including youth, are all directly on point for what is most clearly needed now.

Looking across the whole of COP27, from the official negotiations to the buzzing activity in the pavilions, four major themes emerged that will shape the future of nature-based solutions and the ways that is positioned to help.


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Nature can provide multiple-benefit solutions

Some critics of nature-based solutions have fretted that our focus on using trees to naturally capture carbon emissions will come at the expense of other needs, such as growing and protecting forests for biodiversity. That concern was soundly addressed by an overwhelming consensus across COP27, from addresses by world leaders to presentations in the Nature Pavilion, asserting that we can and will deliver nature-based solutions in a way that advances Net Zero, Nature Positive and climate justice for communities.

In fact, hosted a COP27 session that touched on exactly this topic, with numerous examples from different actors around the world who are achieving intersectional climate, biodiversity and community benefits through carefully-designed nature-based solutions rooted in science and deep community collaboration. Additionally, there was broad agreement at COP27 that we must deliver nature-based solutions in cities and rural areas alike to realize this full range of benefits.

Government leadership on the rise at the COP27

Across the climate movement, there is a lingering question about who is responsible to lead. Governments? Companies? Individual actions? COP27 made clear that governments are ready to play an increasing leadership role, complementing actions from the private sector. One such example is the newly launched Forests and Climate Leaders Partnership, announced during the first week, which will provide a forum for participating nations to scale ambition and assure follow-through on forest conservation and restoration.

The launch, with 26 countries, on board included commitments ranging from the UK providing an additional €1.5 billion for international forest conservation to Kenya’s commitment to plant 15 billion trees. Want evidence that governments will really deliver on their commitments? The United States showed up with $20 billion from the Infrastructure Bill and Inflation Reduction Act to invest in domestic forest-climate actions, complementing the funding it is providing internationally through USAID. In a speech at the US Center, Minister Samuel Abdulai Jinapour of Ghana announced that last year his nation reduced deforestation by 30% and planted 24 million trees in a single day. Governments are ready to lead.


Youth are gaining leverage

Another major development at COP27 was the growing purchase of youth leadership. While youth strongly shaped media coverage at COP26 and influenced the official negotiations from outside, youth used COP27 to establish a more formal place in the process that will change the balance of power going forward. Some of the changes were subtle, such as the establishment of a first-ever Children and Youth Pavilion in the COP27 Blue Zone, which became a much-needed home and hub for all youth participants. Youth also captured significant speaking slots, including UN Youth Advisor Sophia Kianni’s showstopping address to world leaders in which she borrowed the words of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to challenge leaders to “stop lying” about the urgency of the climate crisis and insufficiency of our actions to date.

But perhaps most profound is that youth secured a hugely impactful audience with UN leaders and national delegations on and off camera, including the first-ever Youth Climate Forum at COP. They used this access to directly challenge leaders to act at the scale and speed of the climate crisis and to assure climate justice is addressed. It is quite certain that the COP27 outcomes on topics, such as affirmation of the 1.5 degrees Celsius target and payments for loss and damage, will be significantly impacted by youth voices.

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Holistic and just private finance

Sometimes COP events can feel like an investment conference with so much discussion focused on increasing private finance in every form. What felt different this time was more emphasis on exactly how these dollars are being invested and, specifically, who is being funded to advance nature-based solutions. A very strong and encouraging trend is the emphasis on finance strategies, including carbon finance, that maximize the funds delivered directly to local communities where nature-based interventions are taking place, helping to assure that investment in nature-based solutions creates the maximum economic uplift for economically underserved people and families.

While much of the dialogue at COP27 centred on this local financing imperative in places such as Africa, this same movement is afoot in the United States and other wealthy nations. This includes initiatives taking hold to deliver more funding to build paid capacity in frontline organizations, such as the Environmental Justice Program of the Bezos Earth Fund and, on a smaller scale, the Tree Equity Catalyst Fund announced by my organization, American Forests, at COP27.

These four promising developments come against a sobering reality that hung over the whole of COP27—the need to move faster. The COP27 theme of 'Together for Implementation' was a recognition that we are out of time for empty ambition or slow-moving actions. There was also much discussion about the need to build broader and deeper public support and ultimately political will, so that nations can fulfil their climate commitments with necessary policies and public investment.

Many people and organizations have worked for a long time to position nature-based solutions to lead climate action going forward. Given the sense of urgency and need to show quick climate progress, nature-based solutions can play an especially vital role, because we have so many opportunities for rapid action, from emerging forest conservation agreements to ready reforestation opportunities that are just awaiting the hands and dollars to get to work. Now is the time to redouble our efforts, from youth leaders to world leaders, to make nature-based solutions the engine of climate progress and climate hope.

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