Fauna & Flora International (FFI) arrived at COP26 with four key asks. All these areas were at the heart of the negotiations, the numerous conversations, events and debates, and ultimately threaded into the final decision text at the end of this critical summit for climate and nature.

The so-called Glasgow Climate Pact, published at the end of the summit, is the basis for how all parties will work towards the overarching global climate goal.

While the overall volume of pledges and commitments still remains far short of what is needed to get us onto the pathway that will keep global warming below 1.5 degrees, and the volumes of finance committed to support poorer countries on their transition pathways and in meeting costs of loss and damage remain woefully low, we did see significant progress in the acknowledgement of climate-nature linkages.

Nature and climate

More than any other before it, this was the ‘Nature COP’; the moment that the central place of nature within the climate debate was almost universally recognised.

The final decision text ‘emphasises the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring nature and ecosystems to achieve the Paris Agreement temperature goal, including through forests and other terrestrial and marine ecosystems acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and by protecting biodiversity, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards.’

This is a promising development. For decades, those in power have failed to appreciate that the crises of climate change and biodiversity loss are not separate issues to be dealt with one by one – but deeply intertwined problems that must be tackled together. Now those linkages are well understood – for both land and ocean ecosystems.

Encouragingly, we also saw international commitments to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030 as well as new funding pledges to help communities around the world manage their land sustainably and securely, protecting vital ecosystems in the process.

But pledges on paper need to become action, right now. To deliver the Glasgow Declaration on Deforestation, we need clear, agreed metrics for monitoring progress and we need real accountability for those governments that don’t live up to their commitments.

Climate mitigation

The Glasgow Climate Pact is a step forward with real positives, but still far from where we need to be. Analysis shows that commitments from governments as they stand will not achieve the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C this century, with 2.4C the likely outcome based on current 2030 targets officially submitted to the UNFCCC.

This is why the “accelerated” ratcheting-up process agreed in Glasgow was a breakthrough, with Parties requested to revisit and strengthen their plans in 2022 and now submit their progress towards achieving the targets on an annual basis. This is an important step, as we cannot wait five years to find out how we are doing and, by retaining this annual focus on the 1.5C temperature goal, COP26 has kept the spirit of Paris alive – just.

The commitment for Parties to “phase out inefficient fossil fuels subsidies” and “phase down unabated coal power” was agreed in the very final hours of the summit. Despite the text being watered down at the last minute, the significance of this is clear, as fossil fuels have never been specifically mentioned in previous COP outcomes. This is a vital detail that could have substantial repercussions for the way in which governments and the private sector respond in the coming months. Vigilance will be needed in the coming months to ensure that the climate benefits of phasing out coal are not undermined by, for example, a headlong rush into mining the deep seabed for minerals to build new energy infrastructure.

Climate adaptation

It is disappointing that Glasgow could not deliver on developing countries’ calls for a settlement on loss and damage and climate finance that is equal to the enormous task of adaptation faced by those nations worst affected by climate change.

We saw a call to double adaptation finance from 2019 levels by 2025 and the beginning of a ‘dialogue’ on funding for loss and damage (caused by the unavoidable impacts of climate change that cannot be adapted to, e.g. loss of land due to sea-level rise or drought-struck farms), together with some mitigation transactions channelled into adaptation, as called for in our priorities paper. Welcome though these initiatives are, they are less ambitious than many had hoped.

We are pleased to see the recognition of human rights in the climate transition and in particular the explicit recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities as well as gender equality within the COP26 decision text. The voices from the most vulnerable parts of the world were loud and clear right across Glasgow, but their lack of influence within the negotiating rooms was called into question.

To be effective and sustainable, the fight for nature and the climate needs to be locally led, with communities and indigenous peoples at the forefront, making decisions and shaping their own future. It is these communities who have the specialist, on-the-ground, place-specific knowledge that will truly make a difference and funding for ecosystem protection must reach the grass roots. That is why FFI endorsed IIED’s Principles of Locally Led Adaptation at COP26 and will be rapidly scaling our work on ecosystem-based adaptation.

Next year’s COP27 will be in Egypt, and we heard directly from the Egyptian delegation, which will now join forces with the UK Presidency over the next 12 months, that adaptation will be front and centre at COP27. This conference also set up a two-year “Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh work programme on the global goal on adaptation”, which recognised the need for “additional work” to help countries measure and track adaptation.

Finance, markets and Article 6

One of the final pieces to be resolved in Glasgow was the infamous Paris Rulebook on finance and market mechanisms, known as Article 6. Before COP26, FFI called for the completion of this process, something we have now finally seen.

This part of the overall agreement is critical for private finance to be able to fund large parts of climate action and had to be agreed in order to prevent further stalling and inaction. In essence, despite the compromises and imperfections, it provides a set of rules for international cooperation and the carbon markets.

Of particular importance is the agreement to prevent double counting of emission reductions by two different countries, where the difficult issue of corresponding adjustments has been agreed. However, the exact carbon accounting rules for the Voluntary Carbon Market remain voluntary and therefore a grey area that will require scrutiny.

We will also see a large number of historical carbon credits – generated since 2013 – brought into the market, some of which are of questionable integrity and quality.

FFI and civil society therefore have a critical role to play in helping to ensure integrity, at a time when scale is also required and powerful commercial interests are at play – a tension that must be resolved. Going forward, we must focus on integrity of climate, social and biodiversity benefits, ensuring they are interlinked with the rights of those on whom we depend to protect ecosystems. We will be straining every sinew to ensure that climate finance is brought down to those forests, grasslands, peatlands and marine systems where FFI and our partners are working.

Finally, we cannot let momentum fall away. As it was at COP26, nature protection needs to be at the heart of discussions at COP27 and at every COP from now on. Just as important, there needs to be a clear link-up between the UN climate framework and UN biodiversity framework (the Convention on Biological Diversity, or CBD) which has its own landmark summit, COP15, in Kunming, China in spring next year. Nature’s role in averting climate disaster must be on the agenda.