Climate Crisis: Fear and Resolve to Act
On the Climate crisis, “the fear is there. But I think there’s also a resolve to turn not to panic, but to turn that to very concrete actions this decade.” Nigel Topping, UN High level Champion for #Cop26 was speaking to TTU’s Nik Gowing in Nature’s Newsroom at COP-26 on 2 November 2021. This followed the announcement of a significant agreement on funding an end to deforestation globally starting in 2030.
This is a lightly edited version of their conversation.
NG: How significant is this deforestation agreement?
NT: It’s a huge deal. We know that there’s no route to Net Zero without ending deforestation and returning forests to being (carbon) sinks. And for the first time, we’re seeing practical commitments from governments, from the entire value chain of food companies, commodity traders, and the commodity producers, and crucially, the finance sector as well.
NG: But a lot of deforestation has happened by the evasion of regulation. Impunity is a problem, and companies who are self-governing themselves and not really being honest; can that be stopped?
NT: Well, if governments aren’t implementing their own regulations, that’s a problem. But the exciting thing, I think, now is that technology has got to the point where we’ve got much better ability to trace commodities and to know where they’ve come from, and whether they’ve come from a place, which has been illegally logged, or they’ve come from a legal sustainable production practice. So I think it’s the combination of the commitments and our ability to credibly and transparently track them that we didn’t have five years ago: that is going to be the key to this business.
NG: What does the $12 billion agreed (on deforestation) go to? What does it buy?
NT: Well, it buys the transformation from unsustainable practices to sustainable practices. Crucially, we’re seeing now these big commitments to restore land. And of course, one way that you can reduce pressure on deforestation is to invest in restoring degraded land, which has become unproductive. So, we take the pressure off the need to create new farmland, and then that money, some of that money has to flow to the smallholder farmers who are producing commodities in a regenerative way. Because if they don’t have the incentive to change their farming practices, why would they do that?
NG: So the loggers as well have to be given an incentive. It’s as blunt as that?
NT: I think that you could look at Costa Rica, for example. Costa Rica pays for standing forests. So, how can you expect somebody who owns land not to take the easy economic choice of cutting down logs, which are worth more to them chopped, than standing - if you don’t create the right economic incentive? So that that that incentive shift is a crucial part of this transformation as well.
NG: But what about the big companies who are making vast amounts of money by exploiting the jungles? Do they feel obliged? Will they feel obliged to change?
NT: I think, now that we’re seeing trillions of dollars of financial capital, committing to ending agricultural commodity-driven deforestation; from their portfolios, the finance starts to dry up for anyone who’s not able to demonstrate that they are only financing commodities, which are produced in a sustainable way. Some companies will commit in good faith, others will need the policy signals and the finance signals to nudge them towards complying with this, this process.
NG: Two quick things while you’re with us. Methane; how significant is the movement there, which you’re detecting?
NT: It’s huge.
NG: Are we actually gonna get an agreement here?
NT: Well, there’s gonna be a lot of countries committing and a lot of companies committed to reducing methane leakage. And, as you know, that the crucial thing about methane is that it’s a very powerful greenhouse gas, particularly in the short term. So the crucial thing is that we really need action now, to get that every type of methane that’s leaked, is accelerating global warming much faster than a tonne of Co2, particularly in the short term. So yes, I think we’re going to see some exciting announcements today. (80 countries have now agreed on November 2 to reduce methane by signing the Global Methane Pledge)
NG: And last question, what would you say is the mood? Is there a feeling of a last minute to midnight, because last minute to midnight was, of course the warning about nuclear war as well? In other words, in the language from Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General; this is a catastrophe?
NT: I think I think the fears there, but I think there’s also a resolve to turn not to panic, but to turn that to very concrete actions this decade. And that’s so whether it’s on deforestation, or methane or some of the technological commitments we’re going to hear later today. It’s about what do we do this decade to keep 1.5 alive?
NG: You’ve got a large number of people sitting the other side of the glass waiting to hear from you, Nigel, thanks for joining us.
NT: You’re welcome. Thanks a lot.