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.
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.
Global warming did the Unthinkable
French ski resort closes permanently because there’s not enough snow, CNN informs. Winter is coming. And for yet another ski resort in France, that means facing up to the reality that there isn’t enough snow to carry on.
La Sambuy, a town which runs a family skiing destination near Mont Blanc in the French Alps, has decided to dismantle its ski lifts because global warming has shrunk its ski season to just a few weeks, meaning it’s no longer profitable to keep them open.
“Before, we used to have snow practically from the first of December up until the 30th of March,” La Sambuy’s mayor, Jacques Dalex, told CNN.
Last winter, however, there was only “four weeks of snow, and even then, not much snow,” he added. That meant “very quickly, stones and rocks appeared on the piste.”
Able to open for fewer than five weeks during January and February, Dalex said the resort was looking at an annual operating loss of roughly 500,000 euros ($530,000). Keeping the lifts going alone costs 80,000 euros per year.
La Sambuy isn’t a huge resort, with just three lifts and a handful of pistes reaching up to a top height of 1,850 meters (about 6,070 feet).
But with a range of slopes running from expert “black” to beginner “green” and relatively cheap ski passes, it was popular with families seeking more of a low-key Alps experience than offered by bigger, higher-altitude destinations.
UK snow report website On The Snow calls it “an idyllic place to visit, with exceptional panoramic views and everything you need in a friendly resort.”
La Sambuy is not the only French ski resort facing a meltdown. Last year, Saint-Firmin, another small Alpine ski destination, opted to remove its ski lift after seeing its winter season dwindle from months to weeks, a situation also blamed on climate change.
Mountain Wilderness, a French environmental group, says it has dismantled 22 ski lifts in France since 2001, and estimates that there are still 106 abandoned ski lifts across 59 sites in the country.
According to a report published in August by the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, 53% of 2,234 ski resorts surveyed in Europe are likely to experience “a very high snow supply risk” at 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) of global warming above pre-industrial levels, without use of artificial snow.
A report published in January in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found a “substantial possibility” of global temperature rises crossing this 2-degree Celsius threshold by mid-century.
La Sambuy’s Dalex said that “all winter sports resorts in France are impacted by global warming,” particularly those at a medium mountain altitude between 1,000 and 1,500 meters.
G20 summit must formulate plan for Global South climate change threat
The G20 summit in India must have a “concrete plan” for “scaled-up” green financing for the Global South as a critical strategy to combat climate change, affirms the founder of one of the world’s largest independent financial advisory, asset management and fintech organizations.
The comments from deVere Group’s Nigel Green comes as leaders of the Group of 20 top industrialised and developing countries will gather this weekend in New Delhi for a summit that will celebrate the end of India’s 12-month G20 presidency.
He says: Climate change is no longer a distant threat; it is a present reality. Rising global temperatures, extreme weather events, melting ice caps, and sea-level rise are already affecting communities, ecosystems, and economies worldwide.
“The Global South, comprising developing nations with limited resources, bears a disproportionate burden in this climate crisis, despite contributing minimally to greenhouse gas emissions.
“As such, the leader of the G20 – the richest countries in the world – must use the summit starting in India this week to formulate a concrete plan for scaled-up green financing to help the Global South tackle the biggest issue of our time.
“A failure to do this could, ultimately, have catastrophic consequences for our planet and its communities.”
Green financing encompasses a range of mechanisms designed to support sustainable, environmentally friendly projects that mitigate climate change and enhance resilience.
These include investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, climate adaptation, sustainable agriculture, and conservation efforts.
“One of the major challenges faced by the Global South is access to financial resources needed for climate action. Developing nations often lack the financial capacity to invest in green projects without incurring significant debt,” says the deVere CEO.
“The G20 summit must play a pivotal role in bridging this financial gap by prioritising green financing and creating mechanisms to make it more accessible.”
G20 countries, being the largest economies in the world, must also “commit to increasing in a considerable way their financial contributions to international climate finance mechanisms. These funds are essential for providing support to developing nations in their efforts to mitigate emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change,” he notes.
Nigel Green goes on to add that the G20 summit should also serve as a platform for fostering collaboration between developed and developing nations.
This collaboration can take various forms, including knowledge sharing, technology transfer, and capacity building.
In addition, to scale up climate action, it is crucial to engage the private sector. G20 countries can promote public-private partnerships and initiatives that attract private sector investment in green projects.
“This can be achieved through incentives, guarantees, or risk-sharing mechanisms that make investments in sustainability more appealing to businesses.”
Innovation in financial instruments, such as green bonds and climate insurance, can unlock alternative funding sources for climate projects in developing nations.
The deVere CEO says: “The G20 summit must urgently encourage the development and adoption of such instruments to diversify funding options.”
The G20 summit in India presents a crucial opportunity to prioritize green financing for the Global South as a key strategy to combat climate change.
This summit can be a turning point in the global fight against climate change, demonstrating that unity, innovation, and commitment can drive transformative change toward a sustainable future for all.
“The urgency of climate action cannot be overstated, and the global community must act decisively.
“By committing to green financing, promoting collaboration, and bridging the financial gap, the G20 can lead the way in ensuring that all nations, particularly those in the Global South, have the resources and support they need to address the climate crisis effectively,” concludes Nigel Green.
To tackle wildfires, researchers in Europe team up with frontline forces
The EU is seeking to limit growing threats from blazes through the use of satellites, artificial intelligence and unmanned aerial vehicles.
By JACK MCGOVAN
Picture the following scene on the French island of Corsica: a local fire service uses a special surveillance camera to detect smoke in the area, quickly declare the outbreak of a blaze and mobilise a targeted response.
No, the action in the Biguglia municipality on Corsica’s northeastern coast wasn’t one of the many wildfire emergencies in Europe in 2023. Rather, it was a demonstration in October 2022 under an EU-funded research project to help regions in Europe counter threats from wildfires.
The Biguglia exercise used a smoke bomb to simulate the start of a fire and an extensive data network to trigger the rapid-reaction steps. It involved a service that has 1 300 firefighters who protect a population in this part of Corsica – the Mediterranean’s fourth-biggest island – that grows to around 400 000 in summer.
‘This first demonstration on Corsica was very positive,’ said Michael Pelissier, a firefighter who participated in the test.
As part of the EU project, called SAFERS, a similar firefighting exercise took place in the Piedmont region of Italy in February 2023 and two more trials are planned in Greece and Spain toward the end of this year.
‘After the next two demonstrations, we would like to push the management system forward in Europe and also beyond,’ said Claudio Rossi, who coordinates the project and is a senior researcher at an Italian research and innovation centre called the Links Foundation in the city of Turin.
With the help of EU funding, Europe’s research community is joining forces with firefighters to prevent fires from spreading or from happening at all. SAFERS is one of several EU projects to combine resources and know-how for tackling wildfires on the continent.
The focus of SAFERS is primarily on the use of satellites and artificial intelligence, or AI, to provide information that could help save lives and contain environmental damage.
‘The orchestrated utilisation of AI-powered solutions can increase resilience to forest fires,’ Rossi said.
Running for three and a half years through March 2024, the project features weather and hazard maps, fire-detection techniques, input from the general public and other tools to help local authorities prepare.
The ultimate goal is to build on the demonstrations in France, Greece, Italy and Spain and develop a comprehensive wildfire-control system for use around Europe.
By combining satellite images and other data, the system is intended to give first responders, decision-makers and ordinary people a clearer view of what’s happening and to facilitate the best responses.
Earth-observation data from the EU’s Copernicus programme is the primary source of information. This would be combined with data collected from smoke detectors, mobile applications, social media and forecast models.
A stark reminder that wildfires pose a growing threat in Europe came from news images in July 2023 of tourists fleeing flames on the Greek island of Rhodes and blazes spreading near the Sicilian city of Palermo.
A month later, attention turned to Spain and Portugal where blazes destroyed more than 16 300 hectares of land and forced the evacuation of villages and tourist accommodations.
The Biguglia municipality on Corsica was chosen as a SAFERS demonstration site in part because of a major fire there in 2017.
‘These last years we have noticed that, notably because of global warming, the summer season has a tendency to expand,’ said Pelissier, the firefighter. ‘So we are increasingly threatened by forest fires.’
The EU, which recently doubled its firefighting fleet of aircraft, has deployed more than 10 planes, 500 firefighters and 100 vehicles to help control and quell wildfires in Greece alone during the summer of 2023.
Over the past two months, the EU has also mobilised such support for Cyprus and – outside Europe – Tunisia. The moves were closely coordinated with national authorities.
Another EU-funded project – TREEADS – plans to feature drones, high-altitude balloons and satellites in a Europe-wide protection system.
‘We can’t only invest in fire trucks, helicopters or planes – we need to train our communities before the fires happen,’ said Kemal Sarp Arsava, who coordinates the project.
Arsava is a senior research scientist at Norway-based RISE Fire Research, which specialises in fire safety.
TREEADS aims to establish a comprehensive fire-management platform covering all three stages of wildfires – before, during and after a blaze breaks out.
Arsava is a native of Turkey who has also worked and studied in the US.
While in the US in late 2019, he was reminded of the international dimension of the wildfires threat by noticing the effect of Australia’s major outbreak of bushfires at the time.
Based then in the state of New Hampshire, Arsava said the blazes caused a slight haze in North America while primarily hurting air quality in South America.
‘The smoke from all of the wildfires in Australia basically crossed the Pacific Ocean and even changed the colour of the sky in America,’ he said.
Drones and balloons
TREEADS began in December 2021 and is due to run until end-May 2025.
The initiative brings together research institutes and companies from 14 European countries and Taiwan.
Besides Norway and Taiwan, the participants are from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Romania, Spain and Sweden.
The team of researchers is developing new technologies that’ll be tested in eight countries represented in the project.
One plan is to use drones and high-altitude balloons to detect blazes early, collect data for fire crews and even aid their actions by dropping fire-suppressant materials.
A four-layer approach is foreseen: low-altitude drones to locate fire hotspots; mid-altitude drones to drop fire suppressants; high-altitude balloons to provide a broader view; and satellites for the whole picture.
The trials are due to start early next year.
The project is also testing a virtual-reality headset to train firefighters who aren’t typically assigned to dealing with wildfires. That means teaching city firefighters to deal with blazes in different terrains should the need arise.
In total, more than 26 technologies including for fire protection and suppression will be enhanced, developed and verified in TREEADS.
‘These new technologies will make it easier to fight wildfires in the future,’ said Arsava.
Research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
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