Biodiversity was a much discussed and debated issue at COP27, with a key focus on the impacts of climate change on nature.
These discussions set the tone for the upcoming Biodiversity COP15, due to take place in Montreal, Canada from 7th December 2022. This COP is overseeing the creation of a new ‘Paris-style’ agreement for nature and will see all nations committing to halt nature loss and bring the world into a period of widespread nature restoration.
The results of which will inevitably trickle down to the real estate sector as DJB Senior Partner Madeleine Davitt explains: “Both national and local Government are already developing and implementing planning policy and legislation in support of more global frameworks on biodiversity and we can expect more as a result of discussions at COP27 and the upcoming Biodiversity COP15. The recent Government Property Sustainability Strategy also makes improving biodiversity in the Government estate a key part of their plans. I would therefore encourage the commercial real estate sector to begin looking at nature based solutions as an opportunity rather than an unnecessary cost or box-ticking exercise.”
The key takeaway around biodiversity at COP27 was clear: Nations need to come together to halt biodiversity loss – and fast – not just to reverse the nature crisis but also to help achieve a global net zero future.
Understanding the biodiversity problem
The state of biodiversity both globally and the UK is not great. In fact, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 21 highlighted biodiversity loss as one of the biggest existential threats facing the planet over the next 5-10 years. A report from the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) states that 75% of the world’s land-based environment, and 66% of its marine environment, have been impacted by human actions. The same report indicates one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, potentially within decades.
Discussions at COP27 focused on the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and concluded that it is one of the big drivers of nature loss, adversely effecting oceans, endangered species and coral reefs for example with four of the architects of the Paris Agreement stating that, “The climate and nature agendas are entwined…Only by taking urgent action to halt and reverse the loss of nature this decade, while continuing to step up efforts to rapidly decarbonize our economies, can we hope to achieve the promise of the Paris Agreement.”
Solutions to the biodiversity problem
In addition to the proposed Paris Agreement for Biodiversity, numerous solutions and key announcements made at or during COP27 include:
1. Investing in nature and natures infrastructure is key. As well as protecting nations from high storms and providing a wildlife habitat, it also stores carbon, ensuring nature has a key role to play in mitigation and adaption.
2. The launch of ‘Enhancing Nature-based Solutions for Climate Transformation (ENACT)’ by the COP27 Presidency. The aim of the group is to drive collection action across climate, biodiversity and desertification to help close the finance gap for nature-based solutions. Approximately $11 billion has been invested since COP26 but experts state the reality is trillions of dollars need to be invested to support and restore nature. ENACT will serve as a hub for government and non-governmental organisations to foster collaboration, accelerate action, facilitate policy dialogue and bring global coherence to activities. ENACT should improve climate resilience for at least one billion vulnerable people – provided that action is scaled in the appropriate regions.
3. Beat the Heat: Nature for Cool Cities Challenge. Cities in developing countries are invited to participate in the challenge by pledging to increase nature based solutions in their urban areas by 2030 and demonstrate tangible progress by 2025. Participants will be supported via funding, technical assistance, partnership opportunities, and communications support. Cities are likely to warm more rapidly than regions, states and nations due to buildings, pavements and concrete trapping heat. Emissions from transport and operations are also higher in cities so this is a strategic offering.
4. The UK joined the Global Offshore Wind Alliance (GOWA), along with Belgium, Colombia, Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway and the US. The Alliance aims to be a global driving force for the uptake of offshore wind by bringing together governments, international organisations and the private sector to close the emissions gap and enhance energy security.
5. Brazil announced that it would be prioritising forest conservation and restoration. This was after WWF published a report which warned that Amazon could “cease to function” as a carbon-sequestering climate ecosystem within the next decade unless deforestation and land-use change rates are changed. Brazil is also seeking cooperation with Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo on forest conservation, as these are the three largest forest nations in the world. Between them, they host more than half of the world’s primary forests.
Impact on UK developments
Nigel Hewitson (Partner – Planning and Heritage) explains how this may impact UK developers in the immediate future: “In some senses UK domestic law and policy is ahead of the curve on biodiversity. The Environment Act 2021 introduced a requirement, which is anticipated to come into force in the course of 2023, for new developments to provide for a 10% increase in biodiversity over what was present on site prior to permission being granted. This is referred to as Biodiversity Net Gain or BNG. Many local authorities have, in advance of the change in the law, adopted policies on BNG and are already securing net gains on new developments. BNG will clearly often be easier to achieve on brownfield sites than on greenfield so this may become a driver for developers to favour brownfield sites. The other impact may well be on density. If space has to be set aside for biodiversity it may well be that less development can be got onto the site than would otherwise be the case.”