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COP26: More than 100 countries commit to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030

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A pivotal pledge to save and restore our planet’s forests was officially announced on the second day of the COP26 World Leaders Summit, and with that deal came a long list of commitments from public and private sector actors to combat climate change, curb biodiversity destruction and hunger, and to protect indigenous peoples’ rights.

Fittingly, the COP26 plenary today was lit up in green, and the room was filled with the sounds of chirping birds and rustling leaves coming from the giant video screens and speakers. There even seemed to be general calm among the delegates, almost as if they were already breathing cleaner air.

“Today is going to be a monumental day, we are setting the tone of how we can preserve the lungs of the world,” declared Master of Ceremony Sandrine Dixson-Declève, who welcomed participants to the key Leaders Event on Forest and Land Use at COP26 on Tuesday.

Next, a film narrated by Sir David Attenborough played on the screens.

“By destroying forests, we are harming biodiversity and our lives… Forests provide fresh water, clean the air we breathe, inspire spiritual value, and provide us with food…Our challenge now must be to halt restoration and beginning to restore forests. It is a huge undertaking, and every country will need their own table approach.”

His unmistakable voice resonated throughout venue. And his call to action was heard.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson came to the podium to announce that at least 110 countries representing 85 per cent of the planet’s forests had signed the pivotal COP26 Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests and Land Use, committing to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030.

“Protecting our forest is not only a course of action for tackling climate change but also for a more prosperous future,” he said.

Mr. Johnson highlighted that China, Russia and Brazil have also joined the promise, which he believed could be also a ‘parallel’ opportunity for job creation.

Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and well as Brazil’s, Jair Bolsonaro, appeared in a pre-recorded message supporting the pledge, among other leaders absent from the COP.

“Signing the Declaration is the easy part. It is essential that it is implemented now for people and the planet,” UN chief António Guterres urged on his official twitter account.

What’s in the Decalration? 

In the declaration, leaders promise to strengthen their shared efforts to conserve forest and other terrestrial ecosystems and accelerate their restoration, as well as facilitate sustainable trade and development policies, internationally and domestically. 

The text also notes the empowerment of local communities, including indigenous peoples, which often result negatively affected by the exploitation and degradation of forests.  

The Declaration aims as well to implement and redesign agricultural policies and programmes to reduce hunger and benefit the environment.  

Finance is also key on the pledge, were leaders promise to facilitate the alignment of financial flows with international goals to reverse loss and degradation, while ensuring policies to accelerate a transition to a greener economy. 

In the last decade, roughly 40 times more finance flowed into destructive land-use practices rather than forest protection, conservation and sustainable agriculture. 

The commitment signed by more than 30 financial institutions covering over $8.7 trillion of global assets under management seeks to change that. It aims to move away from portfolios that invest in high deforestation-risk agricultural commodity supply chains and towards sustainable production. 

‘Guilt free chocolate’ 

The President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, joined Boris Johnson in announcing that 28 countries, representing 75 per cent of global trade in key products that threaten forests such as palm oil and cocoa, have committed to a set of actions to deliver sustainable trade. 

“Guilt-free chocolate!”  the UK Primer Minister shouted, as he noted that the Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade Roadmap for Action is a new partnership between governments of major producer and consumer countries to break the link between deforestation and agricultural commodities. 

The Roadmap will accelerate actions that incentivise sustainability in the supply chain, support smallholder farmers to participate in markets, improve transparency of supply chains, and drive new technology and innovation. Read more about the so-called FACT process here

Congo Basin pledge 

The announcements didn’t end there. The COP26 co-hosts presented the Congo Basin Pledge, which has been signed by over 10 countries, the Bezos Earth Fund and the European Union to mobilize $1.5 billion to protect forests, peatlands and other critical carbon stores. 

“The Congo Basin is the heart and lung of the African continent, we cannot win the battle against climate change if we do not keep the basin standing”, declared the Gabon’s President, Ali Bongo Ondimba. 

According to the UK Prime Minister, the initiative also part of the new global forest finance pledge of over $12 billion. 

“The biggest collective commitments of public funds for climate action in history. Let’s end this great global chainsaw massacre”, he said. 

US and Colombia also announce commitments 

Also at today’s event, US President Joe Biden said that his country was committed to ensure free water, maintain biodiversity, protect indigenous communities and reduce the risk of spread of disease. 

Mr. Biden added that already 20 million hectares of forest land is under restoration and that the US is announcing a new plan to support the halt of deforestation and restoring carbon sinks. 

“We need to approach this issue with the same seriousness as decarbonizing our economies. That’s what we’re doing in the United States”, he said. 

Noting that billions of dollars would be mobilized, Mr. Biden added that the US aims to support the restoration of 200 million hectares of forest by 2030. “The plan is the first of its kind”. 

Meanwhile, President Ivan Duque from Colombia promised to protect 30 per cent of his country’s territory by 2022. 

“We can’t wait until 2030, we must act now to protect our forests”, he said, gaining an ovation of the room for one of the most ambitious promises presented at COP26. 

Jeff Bezos’s promise and other private sector actions 

“Nature is beautiful, but it is also fragile. I was reminded of this in July when I went into space with Blue Origin. I was told seeing the earth from space changes the lens through which you view the world, but I was not prepared for just how much that would be true”, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said at COP26. 

Through his Bezos Earth Fund, he pledged an additional $2 billion in funding to help restore nature and transform food systems. The Fund had pledged another $1 billion earlier in September. 

“Will we in this room work together to gift our children and grandchildren the improvement of the natural world? I know the answer is yes… and I look forward to working together on this important journey”, the philanthropist said.  

Three other major initiatives were also launched on Tuesday: 

  • The Innovative Finance for the Amazon, Cerrado and Chacho (“IFACC”) will announce $3 billion to accelerate deforestation and conversion-free soy and cattle production in South America. 
  • The Sustainable Markets Initiative’s Natural Capital Investment Alliance (“NCIA”), an organisation founded by HRH the Prince of Wales to boost private investment in natural capital, announced 12 new members and plans to mobilise $10 billion in private capital by the end of 2022. 
  • An initial $1 billion of public and private funds will be secured through the Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest Finance (LEAF) Coalition which includes big companies such as Delta, PWC, Airbnb, Unilever. This will provide funding to countries that successfully reduce emissions from deforestation, provided those reductions have been independently verified and confirmed. Finance will only be provided by companies already committed to emissions cuts in their own supply chains. 

Financial Institutions  

A joint statement from nine multilateral development banks, including the World Bank, was presented in support of all the investments and transitions announced.  

In it, they commit to mainstream nature in their investments and in policy dialogue with countries.  

Indigenous leaders react 

Over 1.6 billion people worldwide rely on forests for their livelihoods, and indigenous peoples are the custodians of at least 36 per cent of the world’s large, intact forests. Evidence shows that when local people are empowered to manage forests they are better protected and managed. 

Several indigenous leaders from various part of the world reacted to the Glasgow Forest and Land Pledge during the event. 

“We will be looking for concrete evidence of a transformation in the way funds are invested. If 80 percent of what is proposed is directed to supporting land rights and the proposals of Indigenous and local communities, we will see a dramatic reversal in the current trend that is destroying our natural resources”, said Tuntiak Katak, vice coordinator of the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA). 

“We are ready to act, and we will work together, we won’t drown… We are all traveling in the same canoe of the river basin”, he emphasized speaking to the plenary in Spanish.  

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UNIDO and the Alliance to End Plastic Waste partner to scale circular solutions to plastic waste

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A cooperation framework for jointly tackling global plastic waste using circular economy approaches was signed today by LI Yong, Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and Jacob Duer, President and CEO of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (Alliance).

Through the partnership, UNIDO and the Alliance aim to develop, implement and scale projects and programmes to advance plastics circularity. The collaboration will also help to facilitate knowledge sharing and best practices to support inclusive and sustainable industrial development.

A transition to a circular plastics economy would reduce the presence of plastics in the environment while maintaining the value of plastic materials for as long as possible. The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the creation of new and inclusive jobs and cost savings to governments, are some of the significant environmental and socio-economic co-benefits of transitioning to a circular plastics economy.

LI Yong, UNIDO Director-General, expressed his enthusiasm for the partnership. “Ending plastic waste in the environment will require new business models, technologies, perspectives and partnerships. We are pleased to enter this partnership with the Alliance and bring our expertise in circular economy solutions to bear in solving this environmental crisis.”

Jacob Duer, President and CEO of the Alliance, said, “We are investing in projects and solutions that can scale and will be able to deliver long-term benefits to the environment and to the communities where they are situated. We are excited to partner with UNIDO to amplify the impact of our mission to end plastic waste in the environment and support inclusive and sustainable development.”

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COP26 closes with ‘compromise’ deal on climate, but it’s not enough

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Negotiators marking the closing of the United Nations climate summit, COP26, which opened in Glasgow, Scotland, on 31 October. The conference sought new global commitments to tackle climate change. UN News/Laura Quiñones

After extending the COP26 climate negotiations an extra day, nearly 200 countries meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, adopted on Saturday an outcome document that, according to the UN Secretary-General, “reflects the interests, the contradictions, and the state of political will in the world today”.

“It is an important step but is not enough. We must accelerate climate action to keep alive the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees”, said António Guterres in a video statement released at the close of the two-week meeting.

The UN chief added that it is time to go “into emergency mode”, ending fossil fuel subsidies, phasing out coal, putting a price on carbon, protecting vulnerable communities, and delivering the $100 billion climate finance commitment.

“We did not achieve these goals at this conference. But we have some building blocks for progress,” he said.

Mr. Guterres also had a message to young people, indigenous communities, women leaders, and all those leading the charge on climate action.

“I know you are disappointed. But the path of progress is not always a straight line. Sometimes there are detours. Sometimes there are ditches. But I know we can get there. We are in the fight of our lives, and this fight must be won. Never give up. Never retreat. Keep pushing forward”.

A snapshot of the agreement

The outcome document, known as the Glasgow Climate Pact, calls on 197 countries to report their progress towards more climate ambition next year, at COP27, set to take place in Egypt.

The outcome also firms up the global agreement to accelerate action on climate this decade.

However, COP26 President Alok Sharma struggled to hold back tears following the announcement of a last-minute change to the pact, by China and India, softening language circulated in an earlier draft about “the phase-out of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels”. As adopted on Saturday, that language was revised to “phase down” coal use.

Mr. Sharma apologized for “the way the process has unfolded” and added that he understood some delegations would be “deeply disappointed” that the stronger language had not made it into the final agreement.

By other terms of the wide-ranging set of decisions, resolutions and statements that make up the outcome of COP26, governments were,among other things, asked to provide tighter deadlines for updating their plans to reduce emissions.

On the thorny question of financing from developed countries in support of climate action in developing countries, the text emphasizes the need to mobilize climate finance “from all sources to reach the level needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, including significantly increasing support for developing country Parties, beyond $100 billion per year”.

1.5 degrees, but with ‘a weak pulse’ 

“Negotiations are never easy…this is the nature of consensus and multilateralism”, said Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 

She stressed that for every announcement made during the past two weeks, the expectation is that the implementation “plans and the fine print” will follow.

Let us enjoy what we accomplished but also prepare for what is coming,” Ms. Espinosa said, after recognizing the advancements on adaptation, among others.

Meanwhile, COP26 President Alok Sharma stated that delegations could say “with credibility” that they have kept 1.5 degrees within reach.

“But its pulse is weak. And it will only survive if we keep our promises. If we translate commitments into rapid action. If we deliver on the expectations set out in this Glasgow Climate Pact to increase ambition to 2030 and beyond. And if we close the vast gap that remains, as we must,” he told delegates.

He then quoted Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who earlier in the conference had said that for Barbados and other small island states, ‘two degrees is a death sentence.’  With that in mind, Mr. Sharma asked delegates to continue their efforts to get finance flowing and boost adaptation

He concluded by saying that history has been made in Glasgow. 

“We must now ensure that the next chapter charts the success of the commitments we have solemnly made together in the Glasgow Climate Pact, he declared.

The ‘least worst’ outcome

Earlier during the conference’s final stocktaking plenary, many countries lamented that the package of agreed decisions was not enough. Some called it “disappointing”, but overall, said they recognized it was balanced for what could be agreed at this moment in time and given their differences.

Countries like Nigeria, Palau, the Philippines, Chile and Turkey all said that although there were imperfections, they broadly supported the text.

“It is (an) incremental step forward but not in line with the progress needed. It will be too late for the Maldives. This deal does not bring hope to our hearts,” said the Maldives’ top negotiator in a bittersweet speech.

US climate envoy John Kerry said the text “is a powerful statement” and assured delegates that his country will engage constructively in a dialogue on “loss and damage” and adaptation, two of issues that proved most difficult for the negotiators to agree upon.

“The text represents the ‘least worst’ outcome,” concluded the top negotiator from New Zealand.

Other key COP26 achievements

Beyond the political negotiations and the Leaders’ Summit, COP26 brought together about 50,000 participants online and in-person to share innovative ideas, solutions, attend cultural events and build partnerships and coalitions.

The conference heard many encouraging announcements. One of the biggest was that leaders from over 120 countries, representing about 90 per cent of the world’s forests, pledged to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030,  the date by which the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to curb poverty and secure the planet’s future are supposed to have been achieved.

There was also a methane pledge, led by the United States and the European Union, by which more than 100 countries agreed to cut emissions of this greenhouse gas by 2030.

Meanwhile, more than 40 countries – including major coal-users such as Poland, Vietnam and Chile – agreed to shift away from coal, one of the biggest generators CO2 emissions.

The private sector also showed strong engagement with nearly 500 global financial services firms agreeing to align $130 trillion – some 40 per cent of the world’s financial assets – with the goals set out in the Paris Agreement, including limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Also, in a surprise for many, the United States and China pledged to boost climate cooperation over the next decade. In a joint declaration they said they had agreed to take steps on a range of issues, including methane emissions, transition to clean energy and decarbonization. They also reiterated their commitment to keep the 1.5C goal alive.

Regarding green transport, more than 100 national governments, cities, states and major car companies signed the Glasgow Declaration on Zero-Emission Cars and Vans to end the sale of internal combustion engines by 2035 in leading markets, and by 2040 worldwide.  At least 13 nations also committed to end the sale of fossil fuel powered heavy duty vehicles by 2040.

Many ‘smaller’ but equally inspiring commitments were made over the past two weeks, including one by 11 countries which created the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA). Ireland, France, Denmark, and Costa Rica among others, as well as some subnational governments, launched this first-of-its kind alliance to set an end date for national oil and gas exploration and extraction.

A quick refresher on how we got here

To keep it simple, COP26 was the latest and one of the most important steps in the decades long, UN-facilitated effort to help stave off what has been called a looming climate emergency.

In 1992, the UN organized a major event in Rio de Janeiro called the Earth Summit, in which the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted.

In this treaty, nations agreed to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere” to prevent dangerous interference from human activity on the climate system. Today, the treaty has 197 signatories.

Since 1994, when the treaty entered into force, every year the UN has been bringing together almost every country on earth for global climate summits or “COPs”, which stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’.

This year should have been the 27th annual summit, but thanks to COVID-19, we’ve fallen a year behind due to last year’s postponement – hence, COP26.

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Cooling community announces steps to beat global warming with GBP 12M boost from UK

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The UN-led Cool Coalition today announced a series of steps to reduce the climate impact of the cooling industry, including a GBP 12 million boost from the UK Government, the host of COP26.

Just 1.5°C of global warming, a temperature limit the world currently looks set to far exceed could leave 2.3 billon people vulnerable to heatwaves. Cooling will be essential to protect human health and productivity under such circumstances – but 7 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from cooling already.

“The need for cooling in our daily lives – to protect people against heat extremes – will grow. But the way we cool our homes and workplaces is a major driver of climate change. Today, around 10 per cent of the world’s electricity is used for air conditioning. If left unchecked, emissions related to cooling are expected to double by 2030, driven by heat waves, population growth, urbanization and the demands of a growing middle class,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director.

A transition to efficient and climate friendly cooling, including natural solutions, could allow the expansion of cooling and avoid 4-8 years of global emissions. This includes work under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol to replace climate-warming gases, known as hydrofluorocarbons, that are used as refrigerant gases.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, Minister for Pacific and the Environment at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said, “I am delighted that we have announced GBP 12 million of Defra Official Development Assistance programming today to provide valuable assistance to developing countries, enabling them to make rapid progress on reducing hydrofluorocarbons and adopting energy efficient cooling solutions.

“This funding will support vital work to address inefficient cooling technologies and help develop a resilient and sustainable food supply chain in Africa, delivering the first African centre of excellence for rural cooling and cold chain.”

Cool Commitments

Partners have set out a comprehensive agenda to begin delivering on the climate potential of the cooling industry in the wake of COP26. Through its membership of over 120 countries, cities, companies and investors, and other organizations, the Cool Coalition has been an essential catalyst for the Race to Zero in accelerating global efforts and commitments on sustainable cooling.

Some highlights include:

  • 14 cooling suppliers have joined the Race to Zero, representing 28% of the residential AC market. They are ready to supply solutions aligned with their customers’ net-zero commitments. See how Trane and Electrolux are doing this.
  • Gree and Haier committed to bring to market by 2025 residential AC units that have five times less climate impact.
  • 14 countries made the largest government commitment ever to double product efficiency globally by 2030, with a focus on AC, refrigerators, motors and lighting (accounting for 40 per cent of global electricity).
  • EP100 has doubled its membership during the UK’s Presidency of the COP, so more cooling manufacturers and buyers are improving their energy productivity.
  • 53 enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) have integrated sustainable cooling.
  • 25 countries have committed to developing National Cooling Action Plans.
  • 16 cities have committed to tackle extreme heat using the newly launched Beating the Heat: A Sustainable Cooling Handbook for Cities
  • Energy Efficiency Services Limited committed USD 50million for the development of sustainable cold chain projects in India
  • The UK announced 12 million of Defra Official Development Assistance programming today to make rapid progress on reducing hydrofluorocarbons and adoption of energy efficient cooling solutions. Multilateral Development Banks committed at least USD185 million to stimulate investment in sustainable cooling. 

In support of these commitments, an unprecedented surge of implementation will fill 2022 and beyond. These implementation efforts will go a long way in turning commitments into emissions reduction and increase resilience.

“Cooling is becoming increasingly critical to strengthen our resilience to a warming world. National, local and business commitments to reducing emissions urgently need to translate into implementation that can keep the world cool and achieve net zero in time,” said Nigel Topping, COP26 High Level Climate Champion.

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