A win for nature at the One Planet Summit – but this is just the start

Posted on 14 January 2021

While newly announced funding for Nature-based Solutions is greatly welcomed, governments must ensure it does not come at the expense of other climate, conservation and development priorities, write Chris Weber and Fernanda de Carvalho.
The virtual One Planet Summit on Biodiversity, held on 11 January, provided a breakthrough moment for efforts to bring together climate action, nature protection, development and health. Announcements of significant support for Nature-based Solutions from the UK and France have the potential to provide real momentum to projects and national commitments to work with nature to reduce emissions, protect biodiversity and deliver improvements to communities.

At the Summit, the UK pledged to commit at least £3 billion of its existing £11.6 billion international climate finance budget to “climate change solutions that protect and restore nature and biodiversity”. Host country France made a similar commitment, to allocate at least 30% of its climate funding to “to promote the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity”, with a goal of reaching €1 billion in funding by 2025.

At WWF, we welcome these goals. We believe that Nature-based Solutions – projects that protect, restore and sustainably manage ecosystems such as forests, peatlands, wetlands, savannahs, coral reefs and mangroves to meet biodiversity and societal goals – will be key to meeting climate targets while addressing the crisis in nature and generating crucial societal benefits, particularly job creation and climate resilience. And despite ongoing efforts from Norway, Germany and a few other donors, they remain hugely underfunded. The UK and France should be commended for both recognizing this funding gap and committing to help close it. 

But even the best of news has caveats. First and foremost, as has been argued many times before, funding for Nature-based Solutions must not come at the expense of other climate, development, and conservation priorities. Donor governments must work closely with host countries to ensure that Nature-based Solutions investments meet the latter’s development needs – and greater effort must be made to develop a pipeline of Nature-based Solution projects, and demand for the sustainable commodities some of them can produce. And finally, rigorous yet practical guidelines need to be agreed to ensure that Nature-based Solution projects meet the highest environmental and social standards.

Additionally, we agree with concerns raised by colleagues at other NGOs that the commitments from France and the UK do not necessarily represent additional finance. It is self-evident that at a global scale, public funding to help poorer countries to respond to climate change is inadequate. Similarly, the UN Development Programme has warned of a need for US$600-824 billion of annual investment to protect nature. Re-dividing the tiny pie of government funding for nature and climate in different ways is no answer: we need a larger pie.

There is an obvious source of additional funding: in the many billions that governments – both developed and developing – spend on harmful subsidies. Governments directed a shocking US$1 trillion of subsidies each year to activities that harm the climate and nature, such as fossil fuels, mining and deforestation for food and biofuel production, according to research by Global Canopy.

Wealthy donor country governments must ensure that investments in Nature-based Solutions meet the needs of recipient governments. All countries have a shared interest in protecting both the global climate and biodiversity, but Nature-based Solutions projects must be aligned with the sustainable development priorities of host governments, particularly in cases where climate or development finance are the source funding. Certainly, many developing economies have expressed, in their climate change plans drawn up as part of the Paris Agreement process, a strong interest in developing Nature-based Solutions for climate mitigation and adaptation. However, these Nationally Determined Contributions (or NDCs as they are known), tend to provide little detail on how these projects might be structured and most of them are conditional on international support. Detailed dialogue is needed.

This speaks to the third issue: a danger that funding might not find a ready pipeline of investible projects. One theoretical risk here is that earmarking a set percentage of climate funding for Nature-based Solutions investments could inadvertently crimp overall funding levels, if that Nature-based Solutions funding can’t be deployed. With this risk comes opportunity, though – donor countries can help by providing technical assistance and early funding needs to lay the foundations for robust, investible projects, rooted in appropriate local institutions, policies, laws and regulations, and with credible consultation, monitoring and evaluation.

Part of this enabling environment will be the creation of demand for the sustainable goods that some Nature-based Solutions projects will generate. Demand for sustainable agricultural commodities and forest products such as timber can help underpin the economics of Nature-based Solutions projects. Voluntary private sector demand must be bolstered by regulations requiring companies to adopt sustainable sourcing policies, especially for commodities linked to deforestation.

Finally, the international community needs to agree to practical yet credible environmental and social standards to which Nature-based Solutions projects must adhere if they are to be eligible for funding. As we saw with the Clean Development Mechanism, the Kyoto Protocol’s international carbon offset marketplace, the promise of new revenue streams can attract the unscrupulous. Nature-based Solutions projects must be above reproach.

To conclude, we see enormous potential in the wide uptake of Nature-based Solutions, particularly as we look forward this year to a focus on Nature-based Solutions at COP 26 and a global agreement on biodiversity, and as governments scramble to rebuild their economies and create employment in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The announcements from the UK and France are a good start – and more countries should follow suit – but there is much further to go. Nevertheless, they give us hope that the world is up to the task.

Chris Weber is WWF’s Global Lead Scientist for climate and energy.
Fernanda de Carvalho is WWF’s Global Policy Manager for climate and energy.
WWF staff walk to a long boat after visiting an area of mangrove reforestation on Mali Island, Fiji.
WWF staff walk to a long boat after visiting an area of mangrove reforestation on Mali Island, Fiji.
© Tom Vierus / WWF-US