Nature’s future at stake

An Earth Trust perspective on COP28

By Verity Warne

What is COP28 and why it matters

The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP28, is currently underway in Dubai. COP stands for “Conference of the Parties” – a reference to the 198 countries that signed on to the original 1992 UN climate agreement.

These annual climate summits provide a critical forum for nations to assess progress, forge cooperative solutions, and ideally, ratchet up commitments to tackle the climate crisis. After last year’s COP27 produced a landmark agreement for wealthier nations to fund “loss and damage” from climate impacts, hopes were high coming into COP28.

Ahead of the climate summit, the UK government unveiled ambitious goals for improving public access to nature, including plans to designate a new National Park, fund dozens of landscape restoration projects, create new forests, and help disadvantaged youth experience the outdoors. While these initiatives and announcements have been in the making for some time, critics worry they seem to prioritise headlines over concrete action on major Environment Act targets and biodiversity commitments made last year.

Concerns over UK government backsliding

However, the UK’s delegation arrives embroiled in controversy. Recent policy changes by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, including delays to bans on new petrol vehicles and transferring homes from gas boilers along with issuing more North Sea drilling licenses, have been criticised as backsliding on climate action.

The UK had previously claimed global leadership on pushing for ambitious emissions reductions. Now at COP28, former UK COP26 president Alok Sharma pointedly stated that the world is noticing these reversals, urging Sunak to “step up to the plate” particularly on phasing down fossil fuels.

Linking climate and nature

While the spotlight is on reducing greenhouse gas emissions at this COP, climate and nature are intricately connected. As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres emphasised on a visit to Antarctica this year, the devastating impacts of climate change on habitats and biodiversity create rippling catastrophes worldwide.

We have all been moved by the plight of Tuvalu, a people and culture who have not contributed to climate change but are victims. Are world leaders not listening? How can we play our part, join the dots and make a difference?

Last December at COP15 on biodiversity, held in parallel to the annual climate COPs, nearly every nation agreed to targets aimed at restoring natural ecosystems and halting human-caused extinctions by 2030. But according to our partners at Wildlife and Countryside Link, one year later the UK risks missing these vital nature restoration goals, with progress stalled or reversing across nearly all measured categories.

 Where change happens: local empowerment

Grand diplomatic agreements mean little if not translated into on-the-ground change in people’s daily lives.

The relationships people have with the natural world are what will make the difference for the future of our green spaces, and our planet.

Our goal at Earth Trust is to connect people with nature, inspiring everyday action to nurture biodiversity and combat climate change.

As we have argued previously empowering local communities to implement climate and nature policies, while overcoming barriers to engage all groups, is the only path to a just and sustainable future.

We cannot wait for top-down solutions. We must show leadership, drive change from the grass roots and through growing a community hungry for change we can alter society and the health of our planet. People must be given the knowledge, tools and decision-making power to drive this urgent transformation themselves. COP28 leaders would do well to recognise that dynamic grassroots action, not lofty rhetoric, will determine whether we halt climate and ecological breakdown.

Our living planet depends on ordinary people demanding and creating change. More people than ever are recognising the urgency of supporting nature – we’ve seen an overwhelming response this week to our Christmas appeal to support our work to nurture the nature in local green spaces.

But there is even more we can do –  you can also raise your voice for ambitious climate and nature commitments by signing the Nature 2030 epetition – asking all parties to put nature firmly on their agendas. And you can support our hands-on work to care for, and connect more people with accessible natural green space across Oxfordshire by getting involved with our community

Together, our local action creates ripples – building to the tsunami of change we need world leaders to catch up with.