The UN Climate Change Conference, the 26th Convention of the Parties (or “COP26”), has just finished in Glasgow, Scotland. Over 30,000 people joined for the meeting to discuss how the world will address climate change going forward, decisions that will have strong links to the future of Earth's biodiversity as well. Former GGBC director Alexandre Antonelli, Director of Science at RBG Kew in the UK and Professor in Biodiversity at the University of Gothenburg, was active in the restricted Blue Zone together with the meeting's most influential decision makers from across the globe. He reported back on the process to the Swedish, British and Brazilian media.
Alexandre told us more about his impressions of the meeting, their implications for Sweden and for next year's Convention on Biological Diversity COP in China.
Was the outcome more, or less positive than you expected?
"In hindsight I think it was fairly expected. We were all hoping for a revolution – an agreement that would convey the true urgency of the crisis and set up a solid, actionable plan of delivery. The final result, in contrast, has good elements in the right direction but is pretty watered down and not detailed enough to support liability claims. But we know not all country leaders are yet on the same page, and deep inside I suppose they worry more about being re-elected than the consequences of climate change. I also have sympathy with low-income countries like India and South Africa who wanted to be given more cash to help their countries adapt. The previous financial promises haven’t been delivered so I understand they are skeptical."
What were your most important messages for the decision-makers?
"That the climate and biodiversity crises are strongly interlinked, and protecting and restoring nature is critical to tackle both. But doing this successfully requires a holistic understanding of the regional and local conditions, deep interaction with local communities and stakeholders, and approaches informed by the best available science – something we highlighted in connection with Kew declaration on reforestation for biodiversity, carbon capture and livelihoods that we recently published."
We know that there is a strong link between climate change and biodiversity. How much room was allowed for biodiversity in the discussions?
"I was positively surprised by the big focus on biodiversity in the first days of the conference, and then again later in the week, when the focus was on nature-based solutions. Biodiversity was mentioned in many of the discussions, which is a great thing since it has been largely ignored in previous climate COP meetings."
It is global questions that have been discussed. Are there any you see as particularly important for Sweden?
"I’m very curious to see Sweden’s approach to stop deforestation. According to GlobalForestWatch, 17% of the forest cover in the country has been cut down over the last 20 years – one of the highest rates in Europe. The country must immediately cease to chop down the last remaining old-growth forests. There is also lack of transparency in the report of emissions and supply chains for imported products, with negative impacts on climate and nature."
As this COP closes, we look forward to COP15 on biodiversity in China next year. What lessons can we learn from COP26 to take with us to COP15?
"I hope the world attention will be just as big as it was for COP26; the pressure from young activists, scientists, and people on the streets and social media certainly contributed to the overall positive direction of the international commitments, and it’ll be crucial that world leaders are once again prompted to make bolder commitments to stop biodiversity loss. I fear that not as many people will engage with COP15, which gives us – biodiversity scientists – a particularly important role to speak out and join the debate."