UN summer climate talks: what progress for nature and the climate?

UNFCCC negotiating chamber, (c) Melanie Coath

Today’s blog is written by Melanie Coath, Georgina Chandler and Alex Mackaness who represented the RSPB at two weeks of intense UN climate negotiations this month.

 When the world’s climate negotiators reconvened in Bonn, Germany, for the first time since COP27 in Egypt, they had their work cut out for them. While the Sharm el Sheikh Implementation Plan agreed at COP27 included a ground-breaking deal on finance for countries on the front line of climate impacts, it made little progress on the urgent need to tackle the causes of climate change. As such, we can expect this to be a major focus of political attention at COP28 in December this year. However, the talks will take place in Dubai under the new Presidency of UAE, a major oil-producing nation, so we can expect the sparks to fly as countries seek to negotiate on fossil fuel phase out. While the June Bonn negotiations focused on unpicking these issues on the road to COP28, the RSPB was there to encourage countries to place nature at the heart of their discussions.

The big picture

Unsurprisingly, progress on tackling critical issues such as fossil fuel phase out and money for developing countries to make a just energy transition was slow in Bonn. On one hand the science shows that every country needs to take action to mitigate climate change and phase out fossil fuels as soon as possible. On the other, developing countries quite rightly highlight that rich countries have caused the problem of climate change over 200 years of industrialisation from which they have benefited considerably. Yet developing countries are on the frontline of climate impacts and finance is needed from industrialised nations to help poorer nations address climate change. Despite significant pressure from the NGO community, countries struggled to break the deadlock.

Progress on nature – the Global Stocktake 

Meanwhile, things were looking a little more positive on nature's role within the negotiations. A particular focus for the RSPB and BirdLife International is a process called the Global Stocktake. This provides a critical opportunity for all countries to take stock of the world's collective progress (or lack thereof!) in delivering the goals of the Paris Agreement – to keep temperature rises within safe limits. The Global Stocktake also provides an important chance for us to highlight the essential role of nature in climate action. By protecting and restoring our ecosystems such as forests, peatlands and coastal wetlands, not only can they lock up carbon into the future but also help vulnerable peoples adapt to the changing climate.  

Using this approach – delivering high quality nature-based solutions to the climate crisis – alongside not instead of rapid fossil fuel phase-out can benefit communities and wildlife.  This is in stark contrast to investing in damaging bioenergy, poor quality offsetting schemes or large-scale tree planting with just one species of tree which should not be part of the solution! We highlighted how the design of the UN Climate Convention and Paris Agreement rules can incentivise damaging bioenergy and called for this to be urgently addressed. 


Melanie Coath delivering an intervention on the importance of nature on behalf of eNGOs, (c) Rhiannon Niven

Oceans play a crucial role in the global climate system 

Oceans were also an important focus of the discussions in Bonn. The Ocean and Climate Change Dialogue focused on coastal ecosystem restoration alongside fisheries and food security. Negotiators joined with civil society, scientists and academics to discuss ocean's crucial role in the global climate system. They flagged the need for resources and funding for critical issues such as ocean acidification and deoxygenation alongside the need to address damaging practices such as deep-sea mining. We hope the Ocean and Climate Change report will convey clear messages to COP28 for clear biodiversity protection and restoration objectives, ocean inclusion in the global climate agenda, and concrete actions to address the ocean crisis.

Agriculture discussions fall short 

With food systems responsible for around a third of planetary emissions and unsustainable agriculture one of the biggest drivers of deforestation and biodiversity loss, agriculture is a critical sector for tackling both the problems and solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises. The UNFCCC is one space we can potentially make progress on this. We underlined that for the best climate and nature outcomes we must make sure that the whole food system (both production and consumption) is addressed in the negotiations and that approaches support ecosystems. However, Bonn discussions fell short of shaping a meaningful plan of action for food and agriculture so there is much work still to be done at COP28.  

Nature’s Voice 

In Bonn, we worked closely together with BirdLife International and also coordinated the NGOs working on the role of ecosystems within climate action at the talks. We engaged many country representatives on nature’s role in ambitious climate action and were pleased to hear a number of them championing our issues on the floor of the negotiations, on occasion even using the words from the briefings we had put together!  

What next? 

The talks may now have concluded but we will continue our work reaching out to key countries to raise our key priorities for nature with them in the build up to COP28. We will be working hard to ensure that COP28 and the Global Stocktake in particular delivers the best outcome for people and nature. 

Talking about these complex issues is so important. The negotiations are difficult and progress can seem slow but only through engagement with all parties will we see change. You can help by talking to your elected representatives about the importance of tackling both the nature and climate crisis