7 December 2023 – 6:43am local time
Dubai, here we are! ALCA’s Policy Lead, Michael Cornish, has landed and is on his way to COP28. An estimated 70,000 people are here for the conference, making it the biggest global climate change convention and negotiation yet. We’ll be updating this blog daily as Michael works to do ALCA’s part in driving Australian and global nature up and through the agenda.
7 December 2023
After landing at 5:22am and getting checked in at my hotel, I headed out to the World Climate Summit, a side-event being held during today’s ‘rest day’ in the COP28 schedule.
Self-styled ‘The Investment COP’, the World Climate Summit brings togethers financiers and project proponents to talk about the common challenges in making a wide range of climate change activities investible in practice.
The opening plenary session, All hands on deck – Taking Stock on Global Climate Action, is where it got interesting for nature; with the panel describing it as delusional to compartmentalise nature and climate and that ‘we do not get onto the 1.5 degrees pathway without preserving and restoring nature’. Further, that ‘the balance of biodiversity and climate is so tricky’, and that whilst ‘we need to tear down artificial barriers between climate and nature, we do need to chunk it up into actionable parts’.
In response to questions about how significant nature was for major companies, there was commentary that confirmed that investors, customers and local stakeholders were demanding changes to the way they operate, especially with regard to Scope 3 emissions and supply chain targets, which was a large shift from 10 years ago.
Whilst there is major company interest in how to ‘do nature’ – and urgently – the general advice at the Summit was to start with actions related to their supply chains that was directly important to the business, building targets into procurement contracts.
Tomorrow, the COP28 schedule restarts and I look forward to sharing you what I learn as I venture into the ‘Blue Zone’ at the heart of COP28.
8 December 2023
Today was a day of finding my feet, orienting myself in the huge, sprawl of pavilion buildings and arcing roadways of the Blue Zone – the area where official delegates get to mingle en-masse. It takes a full 15 minutes to traverse the Blue Zone, and I certainly took the long way round to find the Australian Pavilion once I had arrived. Each of the Pavilions is a modest set-up, with room for an audience and speakers and a connected foyer area.
Today was also a day full of great conversations – it was quickly apparent that for anyone who works on climate change, COPs are the global networking event of the year – and I’ve already had more than my fair share even on my first full day.
Lastly, today marked the COP28 launch of the TNFD’s sectoral guidance and capacity building tools. The capacity building tools – entitled ‘TNFD in a Box’ – currently has three modules plus a board-level overview, with two more modules to come in the future. Their aim is to facilitate the adoption and implementation of the TNFD Recommendations (and on Additional Guidance).
Oh, and I gatecrashed Minister Bowen’s presser.
Looking forward to the Nature-themed day tomorrow!
9 December 2023
The thematic day at COP28 today was Nature, Land Use and Oceans. The take home message? Nature is now squarely on the climate COP agenda, even if it’s not yet squarely in the negotiations.
The Presidents of COP28 (the UAE) and sister biodiversity COP15 (China) launched the Statement on Climate, Nature and People, “uniting for uniting for nature and placing it at the centre of climate action”, but at last count, only 18 countries had found the time to sign during climate negotiations.
However, more interestingly, China announced it had joined the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People, bringing the coalition to 118 countries. Speaking of the HAC, they also launched two matchmaking tools – one for finance, and another for technical assistance – to help support HAC member countries to deliver 30 by 30.
There was also a call to include references to nature in COP28’s Global Stocktake – the country-by-country accounting on progress towards the Paris Agreement – although it remains to be seen whether that will be ultimately achieved.
I attended a great session held by the Nature Positive Initiative convened by Marco Lambertini of ALCA PLC23 fame, which sung the praises of the GEO Global Ecosystems Atlas (video here), an atlas that seeks to collate high-quality global, regional and national ecosystem maps into a single, open, online resource. The IUCN is also now consulting on Measuring Nature-Positive – Setting and implementing verified, robust targets for species and ecosystems, focusing on species and ecosystems with an aim to help enable the effective delivery of verified, robust outcomes for biodiversity. The consultation closes 18 February 2024.
That same session gave an update on UK’s development framework for biodiversity net gain, which became law in 2021 but commences – for most projects – in 2024, alongside a biodiversity credits market (i.e. offsets and ’net gain’ market) estimated to be between £130 and £230m per year (!).
Lastly, there was a particularly interesting comment about whether we could be heading for a GFC-style Minsky moment for the finance sector, as it slowly dawns that company valuations are systemically incorrect because they don’t currently account for nature risks…
10 December 2023
COP28 negotiations continue to heat up over the wording – or indeed, the inclusion – of the phase out of fossil fuels. For what it’s worth, my money’s on the wording being the ‘phase out of unabated fossil fuels’ being used. ‘Unabated’ is a controversial term which implies that carbon capture and storage (CCS) can be economically feasible at scale – a feat as yet unproven – but it will create the lowest base of consensus required to get the holdouts over the line. It also happens to be the compromise which Australia is currently – pragmatically if not ideally– settling upon.
Today’s theme at COP28 was Food, Agriculture and Water. My day started with an interesting session at the Australia Pavilion on Agriculture Sustainability Frameworks, attended by the Australian Government’s Special Representative for Agriculture, Su McCluskey, and hosted by Sue Ogilvy from Farming for the Future.
The challenge appears to be collating and aggregating the data to demonstrate sustainable farming practices in what is otherwise a data-rich sector, especially to match the expectations of leading regulation on sustainability from the European Union. It was interesting to hear the perception that farmers struggled to be heard in this space, highlighting that the strength of a sector’s voice can be a matter of perspective and which interests you compare them too.
Just as we would love to see an integrated approach to nature from the whole of Government, so too was the view from the Australian agriculture sector. Their sector was keen to be a solution to decarbonisation, and not a challenge to it.
I moved on to another great presentation by the Nature Positive Initiative on High Integrity Approaches to Nature-based Solutions, which noted that the conversation around nature really has matured at subsequent climate COPs, having gone from pledges on planting millions of trees to a framing centred around delivering the aspirations of Indigenous peoples and getting land use right (i.e. nature and people).
The session also provide a useful list of NBS integrity ‘takehomes’ for the private sector with the key messages being that we need to reverse the conversation and talk about carbon as the co-benefit (rather than nature and people), and that the return for carbon really will be optimised if you put your primary focus on getting ‘nature and people’ right. In short, we need to move from transactions to partnerships!
Lastly, I also attended a compelling panel session of centre-right Australian politicians visiting COP28 – predominantly shadow State Ministers for the environment and climate change – whose unifying and encouraging message was that action on climate change was not just an issue for the political left.
11, 12 and early on 13 December 2023
As we enter the final stretch of COP28, the proceedings have switched firmly across to focus upon the negotiations. The various panels, seminars, and side events are now fading away as the country delegates transfix their attention on the detail of the final deal.
Long late nights aplenty – I’ve already lost count as they blur into each other – with the media packs, civil society and corporates all laying in wait near the plenaries for the latest updates on the negotiating text. According to those I have spoken to who’ve also attended the biodiversity COPs, it is not as an intimate affair as Montreal due to the sheer difference in scale of the attendance. The biodiversity COP had less than 20,000 delegates, whereas the officially reported number of delegates here in Dubai keep rising above 70,0000 to 80,000 or so – making involvement in the final deal impossible for all but the most senior of country negotiators and leaders.
The main story over the last few days has been that the phase out of (even ‘unabated’) fossil fuels has been under extraordinary pressure from OPEC+ (which is OPEC members plus the world’s major non-OPEC oil-exporting nations, including such luminaries as Russia, Bahrain, Oman, and others).
Whilst there are multiple iterations of draft texts, this version of the Global Stock Stake draft is the most useful document to reference at this point in time. Some quick observations:
- Brilliant to see that a reference to the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework has made it into the current preamble:
“Further emphasizes the importance of conserving, protecting and restoring nature and ecosystems towards achieving the Paris Agreement temperature goal, including through enhanced efforts towards halting and reversing deforestation and forest degradation by 2030, and other terrestrial and marine ecosystems acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and by conserving biodiversity, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards, in line with the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework;”
- Some useful language also to found on nature-based solutions in clause 63(d):
“Reducing climate impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity, and accelerating the use of ecosystem-based adaptation and nature-based solutions, including through their management, enhancement, restoration and conservation and the protection of terrestrial, inland water, mountain, marine and coastal ecosystems”
- However, here are those deeply concerning developments on the fossil fuel front – with gas getting a particular good deal (see clause 29) – with the original proposals of ‘phasing out fossil fuels’ being largely replaced by ‘transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems’:
The situation continues to be fluid and it’s quite likely that the final text will be negotiated once I’m on the aeroplane home. However, I’ll be sure to report on more concrete outcomes as they become available.
13 December 2023
The gavel has now dropped, and just in time before I head to the airport.
Here’s the final text (don’t let the word ‘draft’ at the top fool you – the parties have now adopted this without change).
The dust certainly hasn’t yet settled. But after a flurry of expo activities, side events, idealism, aspiration, sleepless nights, disappointment and grief, what does it all mean?
In particular, given I’m here on behalf of ALCA, what does the outcome of COP28 mean for nature?
Firstly, the deeply disappointing – yet not quite downright horrible – outcome on fossil fuels has unavoidably deep implications for nature as it foreshadows the speed at which the world will meaningfully combat climate change.
Hopes for ardent language on ‘phasing out fossil fuels’ (whether abated or not) has now been replaced with: “Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science” (clause 28d). However, as lauded by the United Arab Emirates as the host country, it does have a clear reference to a reduction in fossil fuels for the first time, which if anything, unfortunately only serves to show how much father we still need to travel with global agreement on climate change.
The gas sector gets a special mention for managing to land a reference which “Recognizes that transitional fuels can play a role in facilitating the energy transition while ensuring energy security” (clause 29) – not really the beacon of action on climate change many would hope for.
However, we can draw some solace from the language on subsidies, which calls for “Phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty or just transitions, as soon as possible” (clause 28h) – a commitment that will certainly be interesting in the Australian context.
Secondly, the inextricability of the climate-nature nexus has been firmly recognised:
“Underlining the urgent need to address, in a comprehensive and synergetic manner, the interlinked global crises of climate change and biodiversity loss in the broader context of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the vital importance of protecting, conserving, restoring and sustainably using nature and ecosystems for effective and sustainable climate action,” [last paragraph of the preamble]. Moving forward, our sector needs to ensure that whilst there are conceptual differences between nature and climate, the crises and the solutions are indivisible. No longer can we allow our sector to be framed as an afterthought to action on climate.
Thirdly, the biodiversity and climate COPs have been explicitly linked for the first time, which can only strengthen the role of nature and of the biodiversity COP: “[The conference of parties] Further emphasizes the importance of conserving, protecting and restoring nature and ecosystems towards achieving the Paris Agreement temperature goal, including through enhanced efforts towards halting and reversing deforestation and forest degradation by 2030, and other terrestrial and marine ecosystems acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and by conserving biodiversity, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards, in line with the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework;” [clause 33].
Fourthly, the language on nature-based solutions has progressed to an association with ‘ecosystem-based adaptation’: “Reducing climate impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity and accelerating the use of ecosystem-based adaptation and nature-based solutions, including through their management, enhancement, restoration and conservation and the protection of terrestrial, inland water, mountain, marine and coastal ecosystems;” [clause 63(d)]. Moving forward, our sector needs to think carefully and iteratively about how we best frame and communicate nature as a solution to the climate-nature crisis nexus in a way that makes clear and simple sense.
Lastly, nature is now squarely on the climate COP agenda, it’s in the plethora of conversations and side events, and (despite my earlier forbearance), it is increasingly in the negotiations. Together, we need to keep it there.
And now, time to dash off to the airport…
Clocking off from Dubai, Michael Cornish, ALCA Policy Lead @ COP28, 13 December 2023