Editorial by EEA Executive Director, published in the EEA Newsletter, no 4/2022, December 2022

The stakes have never been higher. Our planet is warming and losing species at an alarming rate. Two global conferences over the past two months brought people from across the world around a common topic — climate and biodiversity. The challenges in both areas are symptoms of the same problem: our unsustainable production and consumption. Despite the complexity of the negotiations, these conferences are crucial for global awareness, consensus and urgent action.

Hans Bruyninckx
EEA Executive Director

As the year ends, the world’s attention has focused on one call to action — we need to urgently tackle climate change and to halt and reverse biodiversity loss.

Global climate talks, commonly referred to as climate COPs (Conference of the Parties), bring together representatives of countries from all over the world to address and agree on a series of issues related climate change issues, including mitigation — how to cut global emissions, adaptation — helping countries prepare for an increasing number of adverse impacts of climate change, and finance — who pays for what.

On the ground, climate COPs are attended by some thirty to forty thousand registered participants, including leaders from over 100 countries, tens of thousands of delegates, tens of thousands of observers (such as representatives of civil society and youth) and thousands of journalists. The outcome of intense negotiations at COPs is always a compromise. Nevertheless, these talks help outline a global vision and trajectory, where all countries and different stakeholders, including the youth and indigenous communities, have a voice and can reach global audiences.

From COP26 to COP27: a step forward?

The climate COP held in Glasgow (COP26) in 2021 had aimed to put the world on a net zero path by 2050 and keep the 1.5 degrees of warming within reach — first identified by the Paris Accord in the context of COP21 in 2015. To achieve these objectives, countries agreed, among others, on a series of decisions and actions that build on the Paris Accord.

With the Glasgow Pact, COP26 highlighted the emergency, called for accelerated action, a phase-down of coal power and phase-out of ‘inefficient’ fossil fuel subsides. The Pact also called for stepping up support for adaptation and a promise to focus on loss and damage at the following conference. Other deals and announcements at COP26 were made on forests, methane, cars and private finance. Despite its shortcomings and compromises, the progress in the negotiations was tangible and kept the 1.5 degree target alive.

A year later, COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, was held in November in a completely different global context and reality. It was set against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, high energy prices with security of energy supply issues, high inflation rates, impacting Europeans in a post-pandemic, fragile economy, and catastrophic impacts of climate change.

The last-minute global optimism of Glasgow was not at Sharm el-Sheikh. Many, including the European Commission Vice President Franz Timmermans, concluded that the need for urgent and drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is not matched by concrete measures and commitments expressed by countries at COP27. In his words, ‘we are faced with a moral dilemma. Because this deal is not enough on mitigation’.

At the same time, countries agreed to create a new fund to help the most vulnerable countries, affected by loss and damage due to climate change impacts. Questions of who will pay and how much, who benefits and who decides, remain open. Despite the current context, Timmermans reconfirmed the EU’s position and commitment to achieving its climate and environment goals, and the EU’s continued support for the most vulnerable. Our current reality makes the need for urgent and decisive climate action even more necessary.

Biodiversity COP15: What is at stake?

Representatives from across the world came together again in December, this time in Montreal, Canada, to agree on global action to protect nature. The world has been losing its biological diversity at an alarming rate and the decline is accelerating. Around one million species currently face extinction and many ecosystems, vital to our planet and wellbeing, are on the brink of irreversible damage. For current and future generations, we urgently need to halt and reverse biodiversity loss and restore natural areas around the world and in Europe.

The current biodiversity COP, commonly referred to as COP15 (as it is the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity), aims to deliver a post-2020 global biodiversity framework. The framework sets 21 targets, including the target to protect 30% of our planet by 2030. It also recognises the need for urgent global action but also highlights the necessity to transform our economic, social and financial models in order to halt and reverse current trends.

Specifically, action involves protecting and restoring more land and marine areas, and addressing unsustainable activities in key sectors such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

Whether we succeed in reversing the trends will depend on what we do on the ground. For example, the 30% to be put under protection needs to include global biodiversity hotspots. How we protect these areas also matters. The protection schemes need to allow nature to recover. These areas can also be our greatest ally in reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by serving as carbon sinks, and in coping with the negative impacts of climate change.

Tackling our resource use

Be it at the climate COP or the biodiversity COP, we are discussing the same problem and the same solution. Climate change and biodiversity loss are two symptoms of the same ailment.

We, in Europe and the world, are consuming more resources than our planet can provide. The way we produce the goods and the services we consume are causing climate change and degrading the natural world. Recent crises have also shed light on existing, and sadly growing, inequalities in terms of benefits on the one hand, and health impacts, climate vulnerabilities and livelihoods at risk on the other.

Today, the costs of climate change and environmental degradation might be affecting some of us more than others. But we are all impacted and in the long-run these impacts will grow unless we use this pivotal decade ahead to reverse current trends. These COPs urge all of us to take bold action and show solidarity with all life on Earth.

Another future is possible. We can adjust and adopt new habits, build new systems. Together, we can write another story for our planet where we all benefit from a healthier nature and a stable climate and where we have succeeded in minimising the risks and impacts. In 2030, we can be one step closer to that future.

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