Looking to 2023: Four Reasons We Can Win for People, Nature and the Climate
By John Lotspeich, Executive Director, Trillion Trees
As another year closes, we must ask ourselves again if we are any closer to winning for our planet.
There are reasons for hope, and it has been a momentous year for nature, with forests featuring in some important milestones. Lula pledging to protect the forests of Brazil, forests appearing again in the pledges made at COP27 in Egypt and just this week, an historic agreement to protect 30% of the planet by 2030 reached at CBD COP15.
But there remains so much more to do. Recognition of nature’s critical role in the future of humanity is very different from real action taken to protect and restore it. And even where commitment to action is evident, funding and finance mechanisms aren’t yet in place to match those commitments.
But at the end of 2022, here are four reasons for optimism, and — crucially — four things we need to do in 2023 to keep us moving forward.
1. Nature is finally front and centre in global efforts to bring about a just response to the climate crisis.
Nature-based solutions and forests specifically featured for the first time ever in the cover text of a COP agreement, at COP27 in Egypt. Forests alone can sequester nearly a third of our carbon emissions, support half of the world’s biodiversity on land and provide opportunity for millions of people either through jobs, food, water, medicines and cultural or ancestral rights. Also at COP27, the Forest and Climate Leaders Partnership launched with 26 countries plus the EU, conceived as a catalyst for the delivery of the pledges made at COP26 in Glasgow. The fact that this group exists specifically to galvanise action is welcome, but it’s made up of only a fraction of the 141 countries who committed to the Glasgow Leaders Declaration a year ago.
We must work tirelessly not only to hold those who have signed-up to account, but to ensure that all the others follow suit.
2. Restoration has earned its rightful place as one of the most promising pathways to rebalancing our relationship with our planet.
Two full years into the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the crucial imperatives of this movement are taking root. Trillion Trees’ Guide to investing in forest restoration interactive tool, Nature4Climate’s Reforest Better guidance, and the recognition of indigenous wisdom and techniques all point to a shift away from cheap and ineffective tree-planting schemes, towards an understanding of quality forest restoration, what that means, what it costs, and its potential for sustainability in the long-term. A superb example of this is USAID’s new commitment to support the protection, restoration, or management of 100 million hectares of critical landscapes — an area more than twice the size of California — by 2030. This kind of ambition and measurement is what we need –more than tree numbers — to address the scale of the challenge we’re facing.
But restoration programming is fragmented, geographically scattered and with few clear roads to scale and impact. Time is short. We must rapidly increase the pace and size of investment into restoring key landscapes, because while philanthropy can help projects initiate activities such as tree-planting, sustaining momentum and longevity to deliver climate impact remains a significant challenge. It’s becoming increasingly clear that transformational change at the scale required needs Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) initiatives to move beyond philanthropic support, with financing drawn from both the public and private sectors, to incentivise climate-smart and regenerative land-use.
So, in 2023, Trillion Trees will launch its ReForest Catalyst mechanism designed to kick-start the development of large-scale restoration initiatives that will support projects to build, test and deliver sustainable financing for forest restoration at scale. Our aim is to inspire refreshed thinking in how market mechanisms can be used to finance forest restoration in a sustainable way for the long term, with benefits to people, nature and the climate.
3. Biodiversity — and not just ‘charismatic mega-fauna’ or ‘glorious birds of paradise’ — has become a thing, and made it to the mainstream.
An historic agreement — signed by 196 countries — to put 30% of the planet under protection, including rich ecosystems such as forests, has been reached at the biodiversity COP (CBD COP15) in Canada — and has been reported in the mainstream media. After more than four years of negotiations, repeated delays caused by the Covid pandemic and reports such as the latest Living Planet Report from WWF which shone a terrifying spotlight on just what we are on the verge of losing, there is hope. COP15 also saw a commitment to substantially and progressively increase the level of financial resources from all sources by 2030 — a major milestone. Suddenly, the worlds of climate action, development and private enterprise and business are searching for ways to protect and enhance the myriad diversity of life on Earth.. But the implementation of the commitments made in the Kunming-Montreal agreement will be key. And arguments on how to quantify and value biodiversity are still loud and fractious.
It will be critical that agreement is reached not only on how we quantify the value of nature, but how that value is applied so that it leads to the systemic change needed to protect and restore nature before it’s too late.
4. Everyday people have more influence than ever in safeguarding nature
Politicians have long stood up to say they ‘represent their citizens’. This year, for the first time, an indigenous woman was elected to the Brazilian parliament; COP27 saw its first ever youth pavilion, and children around the world continued to stage school strikes for climate. Loss and Damage was officially recognised with leaders finally taking note that climate change is a reality that happens to people in the form of devastating floods, storms and drought.
The year 2022 was arguably the ‘year of the people’ for climate action as opposed to repeated government pledging, but there is still stifling inertia in recognising how vital this nature-humanity link truly is.
Our core focus must remain to cut fossil fuel use. At the same time, we must use every tool in the box to help absorb the CO2 already in the atmosphere.
Nature, and particularly forests, can help meet the challenge with their enormous capacity to sequester carbon and regulate the environment. The evidence amply demonstrates that they do this best when they are managed by the people who live in and around them.
Building on the momentum of 2022, we must return stewardship of forest landscapes to the indigenous peoples and local communities who know them best, to deliver both more just and more effective tenure of these vital allies in our climate struggle.