COP26 Reflection – The Glasgow Pact and UK Nature-Based Recovery

Our Technical Director of Environmental Planning and Consenting, Henry Collin blogs about the outcomes of COP26 and what they mean for Ecus and our clients.

Henry Collin
Written by:

Henry Collin

The closure of the UN Climate Change Convention (COP26) conference with the ‘Glasgow Pact’ has been met with a varied response across the political and institutional spectrum. Media coverage has focused on the last-minute watering down of commitments around the use of fossil fuels and the undoubted criticality of reparations for loss and damage from the increasingly damaging effects of climate change in lower and middle income nations.

During week two of COP26, an analysis of the effectiveness of the nationally determined contributions of each nation by the respected Climate Action Tracker (CAT) identified that the global effort was still well below the emissions reduction needed to meet the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5 degrees of post-industrial global warming. The ensuing round of frantic negotiations and diplomacy has evidently not managed to fully move the dial on this overall target, falling back instead on agreement to continue to revisit and strengthen Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) over the next two years.

Behind the headlines and the hyperbole there are some important features of the final agreement that represent tangible progress and in language new to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) lexicon. Importantly the text and scope of the Agreement ventures into some of the critical details that underpin a sustainable climate response, which are often lost in the narrow media focus on targets and temperatures.

"Nature-based recovery sets a welcome framework for a more considered approach to sustainable development. One which genuinely responds to the need for integration between the critical agendas of emissions reduction and climate adaptation with the health of our ecosystems and communities. This approach is at the heart of what Ecus seeks to deliver. "

Henry Collin

Technical Director of Environmental Planning and Consenting (Edinburgh)

These critical details include the establishment of a framework for the exchange of carbon credits between nations. This is likely to add impetus to the scope and veracity of carbon pricing, which many independent observers consider is essential to driving corporate and consumer behaviour towards low carbon and circular economies.

The narrative of COP26 this year has been punctuated to a larger extent by the omnipresent biodiversity crisis. Complicated perhaps by the fact that a parallel but separate COP process exists for biodiversity with the first part of COP15 held (virtually) this year and a follow up scheduled in 2022 in Kunming, China. In a year where UN and NGO reporting has underlined the precarious state of natural systems globally, and the UK has been identified as amongst the most nature-depleted countries in the developed world, tying together the climate and biodiversity emergency responses is critical.

These international conferences are raising the profile of nature-based recovery – the COP26 pledge on ending deforestation by 2030 among the headline acts – but they fail to convey the scale of effort needed to halt and reverse biodiversity decline. The narrative of the climate agenda tends to under-report the considerable complexity of achieving a reversal of ecosystem health in a system of ever-increasing consumption. Many of the suggested solutions to emissions reductions will drive biodiversity loss without equivalent revolutions in how we extract, process, manufacture and re-use materials – the so called ‘circularity gap’.

Nevertheless the increasing focus on nature recovery presents a welcome boost to efforts to integrate nature-based solutions in UK planning and development. The eventual passing of the Environment Bill at Westminster last week underlines the need for action across our planning and development, land use and rural economies to follow a ‘nature first’ approach. In the same week in Scotland, the consultation draft National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) has been published, with apparently increased policy commitments around enhancement of biodiversity.

These programmes set a welcome framework for a more considered approach to sustainable development. One which genuinely responds to the need for integration between the critical agendas of emissions reduction and climate adaptation with the health of our ecosystems and communities. This approach is at the heart of what Ecus seeks to deliver. We’re committed to achieving outcomes that genuinely support sustainable development. We follow an independent and practical approach drawing on our teams of environmental planners, scientists and ecologists to plan and deliver nature-based solutions from planning, survey and inception, to implementation and habitat creation on the ground. For more information or to get in touch with us to discuss your plans, contact us.