COP26: Despite clear scientific proof, political ambition falls short

The Glasgow Climate Pact recognises the efforts by civil society and local communities to focus global attention on climate change but also that progress now must accelerate rapidly

Published on 16th November 2021

The Linnean Society of London is devoted to the support and study of the world around us, a world we know is at risk. As Fellows who attended COP26 over the last couple of weeks we welcome the important steps made by the Glasgow Climate Pact towards a sustainable future, while at the same time recognise that efforts must accelerate rapidly if a habitable world is to emerge safely from the current planetary emergency.

Of course, the document resulting from the final sessions in Glasgow is complex, and it will take time for all the implications to become clear – but in our view the Pact, while far from perfect, gives definite reasons for optimism.

As Fellows of the world’s oldest natural history society, we particularly welcome the recognition that the climate and biodiversity crises are deeply interlinked, and the emphasis on protecting, conserving, and restoring nature and ecosystems as a key strategy for keeping the 1.5 °C target alive.

Healthy ecosystems not only store carbon, they also provide countless other benefits to people worldwide including, for example, soil fertility, medicines, improved mental health, regulation of freshwater, defence against storms, and removal of air pollution. With an estimated million animal and plant species currently threatened with extinction, the need could not be more urgent to not only strengthen protection of natural environments, but also to develop habitat restoration programs at scale that will both sequester carbon long-term and rapidly benefit nature.

"The commitment by parties to more frequent assessment will hopefully focus minds and commitments to achieve the 1.5°C target – where there is a will, there can be a way."

Sandra Knapp and Andy Purvis

Although it is good to see nature front and centre in the climate discussions, we are dismayed that, despite the best efforts of some delegations and the crystal-clear scientific evidence, no more ambitious, strongly worded commitments could be agreed for reduction of emissions from fossil fuels. Some parties seem to be under the dangerous delusion that tactics used to delay action will prove equally effective in delaying climate change itself. They will not. But at least the acknowledgement that fossil fuels are the problem is in the document! So, although the 1.5°C target is still alive, many people on the front-line of climate change damage are quite rightly fearful. So are we.

The commitment by parties to more frequent assessment will hopefully focus minds and commitments to achieve the 1.5°C target – where there is a will, there can be a way.

The Glasgow Climate Pact recognises how the spotlight put on climate change by civil society and local communities worldwide has been an important driver of the progress made so far. There is also widespread recognition that progress from now on – on biodiversity as well as climate – must accelerate rapidly. We agree completely.

The Linnean Society, through its Linnean Future initiative, is fully committed to accelerating our own actions and to helping others to rise to this challenge that affects us all – working together so that there is a thriving future for a world where nature is understood, valued, and protected.

The Society’s work is rooted in the enthusiasm and diversity of our Fellowship. So, if you are a Fellow, please engage with us to help deliver our vision. If you are not, please consider becoming one. Our Society may be over 200 years old, but our purpose has never been so critical, and we need your help.

Sandy Knapp PLS, Andy Purvis FLS