To mark the halfway point of COP26, we’re taking a look at what’s happened at the conference so far and what promising actions may be coming up…

Six days into climate talks, the biggest moment for us at Chester Zoo came in the latter hours of Monday 1 November, on day two of COP26 activity. This was the commitment to tackle the issue of forest exploitation by 2030.

As of the time of writing, 131 of the world’s nations have signed the declaration to “halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030, while delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation”.

Last week we outlined deforestation as one of our key expectations of topics to be addressed at COP26, so this has the makings of a potentially landmark moment. But how significant is it really?

Simon Dowell, Chester Zoo Science Director..

“While wishing the deadline of 2030 could be sooner, this declaration is a significant development and one we welcome. It is particularly pleasing to see increasing demand for sustainable commodities (such as sustainable palm oil), highlighted within the declaration as one of the mechanisms needed to make this happen. This is something we have actively campaigned for over many years and we are delighted that our lobbying of Governments and other stakeholders is finally paying off.

“However, similar pledges have been made but not realised in the past. The change we must see this time is for this declaration to be followed up by governments enacting robust legislation that make these goals a reality, and tightening the rules on those that seek to cheat the system for their own gain. Empty promises will evaporate if we don’t hold our leaders to account for their words.

“Ending deforestation by 2030 seems a daunting task, but wholly viable solutions that address the needs of both wildlife and humans together already exist all around us in the modern world. You can find them in communities, and especially among the generation that is about to inherit this warming Earth.”

 

An aspiring start to the week

As Monday progressed, a few of our team headed out to Wales where children from 11 schools in the North of Wales presented inspirational TEDx talks about their solutions to climate change. Topics varied from cutting emissions in schools by using renewable energy, through to schools working with their local communities to utilise certified sustainable palm oil in products and supply chains.

Back in Glasgow, the atmosphere was one of aspiration and collective action. Questions remain though as to if those negotiating will hold up their end of the bargain. Will action be taken seriously, will governments recognise the power of communities and grassroots conservation to guide scaled-up conservation, and will we see a unified plan adopted worldwide?

It’s incredibly encouraging to see countries such as Indonesia and Brazil add their signature, but the absence of key developing nations with precious forest remaining, such as India and Malaysia, serve as a reminder that there’s still much to be done.

An optimistic end to the week

As we cautiously welcome signs that governments are aware of solutions to deforestation based in the reality of human and wildlife needs, another tentative cause for optimism arose early on Friday 5 November. UK Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi announcing plans for a new Duke of Edinburgh style climate award. He described the measure as one in a series aimed at “putting climate change at the heart of education”.

Followers of our broad conservation education & engagement programme will be familiar with our long-held ambition of placing conservation at the heart of the school curriculum, so does this align with what we see a key part of addressing wildlife issues?

Charlotte Smith, Chester Zoo Head of Conservation Education & Engagement:

 

“We‘ve been working for several years to support schools to build their curriculum around conservation issues and make their school grounds more wildlife friendly, so it’s pleasing to see a commitment to increasing environmental education and action in schools as part of the COP26 discussions.

We hope this will go beyond the science curriculum and climate change, and will enable teachers and pupils to engage with a broad range of environmental issues across multiple subjects and in ways that really inspire and empower young people to make a difference for themselves and the planet.”

 

While we’ll wait with baited breath for more detail on the Education Secretary’s plans, it’s critical that our government and those of other nations recognise that broader issues of biodiversity go hand-in-hand with those of climate change. One cannot be solved without the other, and we need to see this addressed at all levels, from tomorrow’s education strategy through to considering how we save ecosystems in the name of halting greenhouse gas emissions.

There’s still a week of COP26 discussion remaining, so let’s see yet if the world’s political and business leaders can demonstrate they’re serious about making change. Whether it’s phasing out the use of coal, finding sustainable opportunities for economic development, or halting the pumping of waste into our ecosystems, what we expect to see looking North from Chester to Glasgow is not just promises, but immediately actioned, enforceable, tangible plans.

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