Nature Based Solutions: Key to Climate Solutions at COP28

15.08.2023 —

H.E. Razan Al Mubarak champions NbS as an essential climate solution and calls on non-state actors and the private sector to embrace NbS, especially Blue NbS, as the centerpiece of climate strategies and investments.

razan image

By H.E. Razan Al Mubarak,
U.N. Climate Change High-Level Champion for the leadership team of COP28 UAE, which will take place in Dubai from November 30 to December 12, 2023

Healthy marine ecosystems and climate stability have always been closely interlinked. The impacts of one affect the other, and we are seeing this play out at a planetary scale. When we acknowledge that climate change is partly the result of the extended mismanagement of oceans, we realize that the inverse is true as well. With concrete measures to preserve, restore and sustainably manage ocean ecosystems, nature becomes a powerful ally that breathes life into climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience efforts.

Mangrove NbS

Average ocean surface temperatures have already broken records multiple times this month alone, with no signs of slowing down. We must seize the opportunity to embrace Nature-based Solutions (NbS), and especially Blue NbS, as the centerpiece of national and global climate strategies with utmost urgency.

NbS offer effective opportunities to strengthen mitigation and adaptation action for countries as they enhance their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in accordance with the Paris Agreement’s global stocktaking process, and as more and more countries commit to net zero emission targets.

While many nations have made significant progress towards their NDCs, the results of the first ever Global Stocktake at COP28 are expected to confirm that the world is far off course to achieving our targets. As negotiations continue under the Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh Work Programme on the global goal on adaptation (2022-2023), it is critical to keep in view the role that ecosystems including Blue Carbon ecosystems and NbS, play in the achievement of adaptation outcomes.

In fact, we insist on NbS to help us combat climate change. Nature is an essential tool we should leverage more, and we must insist on the protection and restoration of nature to ensure its effectiveness and increase its capacity to function at scale.

NbS can cost-effectively provide over one-third of climate mitigation needed between now and 2030 to stabilize warming to below 2°C, achieving nature’s mitigation potential of 10–12 gigatons of CO2 per year

This COP is thus of particular significance in bringing the world back on track towards the Paris Agreement, and integrating a Nature Positive approach into the forefront of global campaigns, policies and updated NDCs.

NbS for Climate, Biodiversity and People in the UAE

The UAE is home to over 150 km2 of mangroves[1] that store 3.3 million tonnes of carbon[2]. The vast majority of these mangroves have been intentionally planted as part of previous and ongoing conservation measures to strengthen natural ecosystems and implement NbS. Millions more will be planted as part of the nationwide plan to plant 100 million mangroves by 2030.

Along with saltmarshes, sea grasses and other associated habitats, these mangrove forests act as cost-effective natural coastal defenses against rising sea levels and coastal inundation – providing essential ecosystem services beyond the vital climate mitigation benefits they offer. Around 80 percent[3] of the global fish population depends on healthy mangrove ecosystems; and the fish populations in UAE are no different.

It’s worth noting that blue carbon ecosystems can sequester up to 10 times more carbon dioxide that boreal, temperate or tropical forests[1]. Furthermore, the benefits of mangrove restoration to industries such as fisheries, forestry and recreation are up to 10 times the cost[2].

There will be no resilient, net zero future without halting and restoring nature loss.

From global ambition to local action

National level case studies play a pivotal role in advancing global dialogues on climate change mitigation and biodiversity loss. Not only do they provide valuable insights into local challenges and solutions but also serve as practical examples of how global policy outcomes can be successfully implemented at a national and local level.

The NbS project is an important example of a local initiative to address climate change and biodiversity loss, that brings together government, subnational entities, the private sector and non-state organisations, to work collectively towards a common goal; and needs to be championed globally. Through the NbS project, we are contributing to the national net zero target, undertaking a science-based approach that aims to assess UAE’s natural capital including blue carbon, with a focus on the coastal lagoons in the emirate of Abu Dhabi and Umm Al Quwain.

The project’s activities and outcomes are strongly related to the ongoing global dialogue on climate adaptation that covers targets, monitoring and evaluation, key indicators as well as means of implementation, and supports the UAE’s recently updated Second NDC to cut emissions by 40% by 2030 as well as the strategic initiative to reach Net Zero by 2050, and the global 30 x 30 goal to safeguard 30% of critical ecosystems and species on land and seas by 2030.

Integrating Nature into Public and Private Climate Investment Strategies

COP28 is a momentous occasion to urgently mobilize greater investments, resources and expertise into the field of NbS. Nature-positive solutions—such as diversifying diets, fishing with sustainable ecosystem management and deploying precision agriculture technologies—present $10.1 trillion in business opportunities and could create 395 million jobs by 2030, according to the World Economic Forum. For the food and agriculture sector alone, it is a $4.5 trillion opportunity, according to analysis commissioned by the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions. And this represents more than ever an opportunity in the UAE where Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) employ more than 80% of the labour force in the private sector and make up more than 60% of the GDP[1].  Investments in NbS are prudent for the long-term success of UAE businesses and the multiple vital economic sectors that rely on a thriving marine environment.

Annual investments in nature need to triple by 2030 and rise four-fold by 2050 in order to tackle the climate, biodiversity and land-degradation crises, according to the UN Environment Programme. We need to fill this gap—and now we have the tools with which to do it and to reap the benefits of speedy, local and large-scale action. Non-state actors including cities, regions, businesses, investors, and others can and must also partake in driving accelerated momentum for nature and climate, alongside nation states.

I invite non-state actors to do their part and to elevate their ambitions and actions by joining global United Nations campaigns such as the Race to Resilience which puts people and nature first in pursuit of a climate adapted resilient world, as well as the Raze to Zero campaign and UN Global Compact. Non-state actors and local businesses in the UAE can also access extensive resources on credible decarbonization and sustainability through the domestic-tailored UAE Alliance for Climate Action (UACA) which supports entities in all stages of their decarbonization journey.

As the host of COP28, all eyes are on the UAE to deliver realistic, impactful, and ambitious goals to reduce emissions and keep global warming within the pre-agreed upon thresholds. And COP28 will be our first opportunity to respond to the UN’s Global Stocktake of progress on the Paris agreement. We must use this opportunity to strengthen the continued legacy of the nation as an important voice for climate and nature action.