Nature must be at the heart of climate decision-making

Posted on September, 17 2022

Climate change is exacerbating the crisis in nature, and nature will be central to addressing climate change. Governments must put nature at the heart of climate decision-making, says WWF’s Manuel Pulgar-Vidal.

Each year, the Climate Week in New York, helps to lay the groundwork for the UN climate negotiations that follow. It is a particularly important forum for connecting non-state actors – including business, investors and sub-national governments – with the intergovernmental process. Progress in New York this year can help provide the pre-conditions for success at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP27 to be held in Egypt at Sharm el-Sheikh from 6 -18 November 2022. But, for a successful outcome there, nature must be kept top of mind and be central to the decisions taken.

Participants at Climate Week and negotiators at COP27 have a full agenda:

  • They must continue the Paris process, keeping 1.5°C within reach by encouraging countries to enhance their near-term emissions targets and set out longer-term strategies. 
  • They must make a decision on compensation for loss and damage to protect climate-vulnerable countries. 
  • Negotiators must begin to frame a global adaptation goal. 
  • Governments must make good their existing climate finance pledges and define a new pledge that enables developing countries to meet their own climate obligations.

In all these elements, nature must be intrinsic to the decisions made, both to ensure that efforts to address climate do not exacerbate the crisis facing the natural world, but also to recognise the important role natural systems can play in mitigating climate change and building climate resilience.

In acknowledging the importance of nature to achieving our climate objectives, we are building on decisions already taken at prior COPs: 

  • At COP25, Parties for the first time recognised the essential contribution of nature to addressing climate change. 
  • At COP26, that recognition was strengthened, with the Glasgow Climate Pact “emphasi[sing] the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring nature and ecosystems”. It is now time to develop concrete measures to begin to do so.

Closing the credibility gap

Nature also has an important role to play in addressing what UN Secretary General António Guterres has described as the “credibility gap” between net-zero targets and the policies and measures needed to meet them. Specifically, nature-based solutions will be a key means of delivering the emissions removals needed to reach net-zero.

COP27 provides an opportunity to strengthen nature-based solutions, particularly in the context of developing countries for whom deforestation and land-use change are the largest sources of emissions. But here, it is critical that social considerations and the rights of Local and Indigenous Peoples are prioritised and protected.

Meanwhile, nature is potentially at risk as we seek to deliver the four transitions that the science shows are necessary to put us on a path to sustainability:

  • In the energy transition, an over-reliance on biomass for energy risks damaging ecosystems, as does ill-planned hydropower development. 
  • Our food system must be transformed – to produce more from less – without damaging nature.
  • The transformation of our cities provides an opportunity to put nature at the heart of more liveable neighbourhoods, helping to manage heat and pollution.
  • We need an industrial transition that prioritises the circular economy, and promises to alleviate pressure from resource extraction on valuable ecosystems.

Defining nature positive

Climate Week also provides a forum in which to further develop the concept of ‘nature positive’. The idea – that we can define a goal where there is a greater level of biodiversity than existed in the past – could provide a similar conceptual framework and as clear a vision as that of net-zero for carbon emissions.

Finally, we need to put nature at the heart of the non-state actor agenda. Through the Race to Zero, the Race to Resilience and the sectoral breakthroughs, Glasgow provided a reinvigorated mandate for participation in the climate process by business, finance and sub-national governments. Now, nature considerations have to be addressed within these initiatives to ensure that the intertwined crises of climate and nature are effectively addressed.

Progress on nature at the New York Climate Week and COP27 can also help to build valuable momentum for the global biodiversity negotiations. 

Shortly after COP27 concludes, negotiators meet in Montreal to agree a global biodiversity framework within the Convention on Biological Diversity. We are not currently on course for a strong agreement. A recognition of the importance of nature to addressing the climate crisis could help make the case for a strong global biodiversity framework..

The truth is that we cannot solve the climate crisis without nature, and a destabilised climate will add unbearable pressure to the natural world. Nature must be placed at the heart of climate decision-making in the important weeks and months ahead in meetings where governments will decide the future course of our planet.
Manuel Pulgar-Vidal is
current WWF International Global Climate and Energy lead, a former Minister of Environment for Peru and COP20 President.

For more information, contact: Mandy Jean Woods


Known for its bright orange colours and its incredible annual migration, the monarch butterfly is now classified as “Endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
© / Lynn M. Stone / WWF