Reflections from Glasgow and COP26: Nature-based Solutions are More Important Than Ever
November 12, 2021
For the past two weeks, Point Blue scientists, members of our Board of Directors, two graduate students with Yale’s School of the Environment and I have been together in Glasgow, Scotland as Point Blue’s delegation for COP26, this year’s version of the annual UN climate change conference. And what a whirlwind it’s been.
The first day of COP26 began as a cold rainy morning in Glasgow, yet our Point Blue team was excited to once again join our global partners, share our science and learn from each other, and help craft a path to address the climate and biodiversity crises. This annual gathering has been like no other before, not only due to the extensive precautions taken to conduct a global conference during a pandemic, but also because the sense of urgency has never been higher. COP26 represents the first check of the commitments made at the 2015 conference in Paris by 197 countries to work together to meet the challenge of climate change.
On our second day in Glasgow our Point Blue delegation took part in the California Innovation breakfast hosted by Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis and the Secretary for Environmental Protection Jared Blumenfeld. I was grateful to hear that in his remarks as part of the keynote speeches Tom Steyer, one of the most prominent voices for climate action, emphasized that California’s commitment to equity is a fundamental part of its leadership. And it was also nice to hear his praise of Point Blue as an important example of the type of innovative leaders the state has as partners.
Throughout the first week of the COP, there were encouraging speeches by the world’s leaders, including President Biden, committing to new national policies and emission reduction plans as their increased contributions to the Paris agreement. New commitments for greater financial resources from governments and philanthropists also took center stage as they recognize that this is an “all in” moment.
Having participated in these climate summits since 2008 (under even colder days in Poland) I appreciate that there are many late nights, much coffee to be consumed, and difficult conversations that need to occur to make progress. The first week set a positive stage that had potential to lead to concrete and more ambitious actions. At the same time many of the participants that I have met and spoken with recognize that the commitments made here in Glasgow must quickly translate to action on the ground if we are to avoid the most drastic effects of climate change.
During the second week of the conference is when countries got down to the real nuts and bolts of the negotiations. With heads of state gone, it was time for delegations from around the world to work together and agree on the “rulebook” through which the Paris agreement will be implemented. Many important issues were discussed this past week, focused not only on the actions we need to take to address climate change, but also on how to root these actions in justice and ensure that the needs of all communities, including indigenous and other historically marginalized communities are considered. And a constant message we heard from fellow scientists and other participants alike was that any successful pathway to address climate change must include natural climate solutions due to their ability to offer multiple benefits including capturing carbon emissions, building resilient food systems, and protecting critical habitat, while also supporting the livelihoods and well-being of local communities. Many of the financial pledges and policy commitments made here at Glasgow raised the level of commitment needed to protect our natural world, and the final decision text issued at COP26 by all countries here elevated nature based solutions for climate action, restoration, and habitat conservation.
The science that Point Blue has pioneered for almost six decades makes it absolutely clear we will not solve the climate crisis without nature, without protecting the critical biodiversity and ecosystems that allow us to survive and thrive. This message resonated with everyone I spoke with at this important gathering of global climate leaders.
The path to a safe climate future for all of us will certainly be a winding one. It will require individual actions as well as those at the state, national, and international level. While the work is far from over–and no international deal will ever be “perfect” or sufficient on its own–I view the steps taken here in Glasgow over the past two weeks as ones in the right direction. And the Point Blue team will return to California with increased motivation to study and protect the natural world we all care so much about.
P.S. Since we’ve been asked before, I want to share that we take reducing Point Blue’s carbon footprint seriously and at times choose to offset emissions that we cannot eliminate. In the case of this trip, we used Terrapass.com to purchase offsets for our airline travel to Scotland.