Negotiations at COP26 could and must result in immediate and decisive action to ensure that the climate goals of the Paris Agreement are achieved. There is a substantial gap between the decarbonisation promises and targets proposed by nations and the private sector to date, and the emissions reductions needed to stay within a 1.5oC temperature limit.

World leaders must put nature protection front and centre in their plans and actions to address the climate crisis, which is directly linked to biodiversity loss. Combined with rapid decarbonisation – achievable only by halting oil and gas exploration and ending fossil fuel subsidies – nature-based solutions are the most effective tool we have to reduce carbon emissions, as well as increasing our resilience to the impacts of climate change and supporting biodiversity.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is calling for an end to the frustration of futile negotiations and discussions since Paris. We need immediate and effective action on climate change that puts nature at the heart of decision-making. This is what we must see from COP26 leaders in November:

1. Prioritise the protection of nature

The health of nature and a stable climate are inextricably linked. Examples of well-established natural landscapes and seascapes – ones that are mature and undisturbed – include colossal old-growth forests, vibrant coral reefs, lush grasslands and rich peatlands. As these natural habitats age, they form diverse, complex ecosystems that sustain an abundance of plants and animals, while also absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. These irreplaceable ecosystems are the most effective tools we have for reducing the impacts of climate change, preventing the loss of biodiversity, and providing life-sustaining benefits for all people.

Why protection first?

Many of the global initiatives to decarbonise human activities are prioritising carbon removal projects, such as planting new forests, while failing to halt the destruction of existing forests and other vast natural carbon sinks. Mature, intact ecosystems such as peatlands and mangrove forests are far more effective at storing carbon and mitigating the worst impacts of climate change than, for example, new tree plantations, which will take centuries to deliver the same benefits.

What do we want to see?

Global leaders must shift focus towards protecting existing carbon sinks and stocks, which took centuries to establish, and whose carbon we don’t have time to re-sequester through carbon removal projects. This does not mean that planting new forests isn’t important, but these need to be in the right place, and decision-makers must also differentiate between native tree planting and monoculture; a plantation comprising just one species of tree will be infinitely less valuable for biodiversity and carbon sequestration than a mature, species-rich forest. We also need greater recognition of the importance of other natural sinks and stores of carbon; wetlands, grasslands, seagrasses, soils, ocean sediments and other ecosystems play key roles in climate regulation.

Five Breakthroughs for Nature: Read more about how governments and the private sector can protect and restore nature in Breakthrough #04.

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Credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI

2. Put nature protection front and centre in national plans to reach net zero

There is a substantial gap between what nations are promising to deliver in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and what is needed to limit temperature rise to 1.5 oC.

Nation states and the private sector need to make deep commitments and take rapid action to decarbonise human activity. These commitments must be fair, rigorous and transparent, with concrete implementation plans.

The more nature is degraded, the more we erode its capacity to reduce – and help us adapt to – the impacts of climate change. Maintaining thriving, healthy ecosystems and halting further loss of nature must be made a top priority, alongside aggressive decarbonisation across industry and society.

What do we want to see?

To accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to a net-zero future, we call for nature to be further embedded within NDCs and in pathways for the private sector to drastically decarbonise their activities. Nation states must prioritise the scaling-up of nature-based solutions while halting the further loss of nature to address the twin climate change and biodiversity crises.

Five Breakthroughs for Nature: Read more about how governments and the private sector can place nature at the heart of decision-making in Breakthrough #01.

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Credit: Fabian-AdobeStock

3. Put local people at the centre of decision-making

Rich ecosystems such as grasslands, tropical forests and seagrass meadows are best managed by the local communities and organisations who live closest to them. Local people have irreplaceable and unparalleled knowledge of the natural world and what it takes to protect these vital ecosystems. But their voices too often go unheard in top-level decision-making, and they lack the financial support needed to effectively protect and restore these landscapes and seascapes.

Engagement of people, both women and men, particularly Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs), as empowered actors in all stages of the development of nature-based solutions will be critical in achieving the desired outcomes for climate, and maintaining the healthy, functioning ecosystems we all need to survive and thrive.

What do we want to see?

COP26 leaders must guarantee increased investment in locally led approaches to developing nature-based solutions to the climate crisis, ensuring that IPLCs are empowered to participate fully and actively in all stages of the process and that they are fairly rewarded for their crucial contribution to the protection of the ecosystems on which we all depend.

Five Breakthroughs for Nature: Read more about why locally led solutions are best in Breakthrough #03.

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Credit: Edy Susanto/FFI

4. Scale and target finance where need is greatest

The protection and restoration of nature will only be possible with the right financing. Developing nations are disproportionately exposed to climate change, and are also home to some of the largest and most biodiverse carbon sinks globally. To increase the resilience and reduce the vulnerability of people and the environment to climate change, these valuable ecosystems must be managed effectively by local organisations and communities. However, the funding of US$100 billion per year promised by developed countries for developing countries to implement these measures has not been honoured.

International carbon markets also have a part to play. Carbon markets, under which rules will be determined in Article 6 negotiations at COP26, often lack the transparency and efficiency needed to monitor global emission reductions accurately. This must change if we are to avoid exceeding the 1.5oC temperature limit within the next decade.

What do we want to see?

We need to see a significant scaling-up of finance specifically for the protection of nature to benefit climate, biodiversity and people. Developed nations must deliver, in full, their long-standing commitment to mobilise US$100 billion per year to support climate action in developing countries.

Article 6 negotiations at COP26 must place integrity and efficacy at the centre of discussions. Carbon emissions counting must incorporate technical instruments to ensure accurate assessments of how close the world is to achieving the Paris Agreement temperature goals. We must see an allocation of finance from carbon markets to support ecosystem-based climate adaptation measures.

Five Breakthroughs for Nature: Read more about how governments and the private sector can commit funding for nature in Breakthrough #02.


Read the full FFI COP26 priorities paper here.