The crucial intersection of climate and biodiversity: a look back on COP28

6 min readJan 12, 2024

By Margherita Barbieri, Standards Manager, GRI

At first glance, Dubai seemed like the least suitable city to host the UN COP28 climate change conference (held 30 November to 13 December 2023). As I experienced for myself, almost everything in the city is artificial; a paradoxical place to talk about protecting the natural world. In Dubai, you can ski inside a shopping mall when it’s 40 degrees Centigrade outside. Even the islands are artificial, and the Emirates are building a coral reef — 200 square kilometers capable of hosting more than a billion corals and 100 million mangrove trees, to be completed by 2040.

Yet the economy of the Emirates is not based on tourism nor on the existence of manmade reefs. On the contrary, it is powered by fossil fuels that cause immense damage to the very environment they are apparently committed to rebuilding.

From Glasgow onwards, nature has started to make an appearance in climate COPs, but it is in Dubai that the topic became most prominent. This has meant that, during COP28, there were daily high-level events and discussions about impacts on nature, with GRI regularly involved.

Ensuring the objectives in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework — signed in Montreal just over a year ago — are integrated into the negotiating agenda of climate conferences is fundamental. In fact, it will not be possible to reach the Paris Agreement objectives and keep temperatures below the 1.5 degrees threshold without the absorption of CO2 that comes from the ecosystem services provided by nature. This is why it was encouraging that this issue was at the center of the COP28 negotiations, and ‘the importance of conserving, protecting and restoring nature’ positioned in the final text of the COP28 Global Stocktake.

Reaching planetary limits to withstand climate change

The COP 28 leaders’ event, Protecting Nature for Climate, Lives and Livelihoods, emphasized that the protection of nature is an important objective of this COP. For too long nature has been ignored in the debate on climate change and is considered only as a mere tool for mitigation. During the meeting, the Swedish ecologist and researcher Johan Rockström set out how scientific evidence reveals that we have exceeded six of the nine planetary boundaries (the limits to the impact of human activities on the planet) and we are losing the capacity to adapt to climate change.

The global temperature is racing towards an anomaly of +1.5 degrees too quickly and it is critical to rely on nature to slow down this dangerous escalation.

Oceans and forests can help absorb up to a third of the global emissions necessary to keep the Paris Agreement goal alive: if it weren’t for nature, we would have already lost all hope. Key themes on this topic were very evident at this climate COP.

Sustainable agriculture and food systems

The Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action[FM1] was launched at COP28, signed by over 130 countries, representing 5.7 billion people and consuming 70% of the world’s food resources. This is an important step forward because from now on countries will have to include agriculture and food systems when developing their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs).

Furthermore, over 2.5 billion US dollars was mobilized to support the food systems most vulnerable to climate change. As stated by the COP Presidency, addressing global emissions and protecting the lives and livelihoods of farmers on the front lines of climate change are key elements of this COP28 food systems agenda.

Consensus on safeguarding our seas

French President Emmanuel Macron recalled that the next UN Ocean Conference will be held in Nice next year. The French goal, therefore, is to bring together the scientific community on the topic of oceans and reach a scientific consensus, in the same way that climate science is brought together with the IPCC.

The hope is also to achieve ratification of the UN Agreement on the High Seas, signed last September. These are waters beyond 200 nautical miles from the coasts, and which do not fall under any national jurisdiction. Regulating their exploitation is particularly important because they are home to a huge variety of marine species and play an essential role in supporting biodiversity.

The other important areas of focus in this area are achieving universalization of agreements on illegal fishing, the negotiations on the binding agreement on plastics, as well as the work being carried out on the protection of the seabed. Achieving transparency on issues such as these is addressed within the GRI Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fishing Sector Standard (which as of this month is in effect for reporting organizations in these sectors).

Climate action has a mountain to climb

A new agenda item at COP28 was to highlight the need to protect vulnerable mountain ecosystems, while strengthening the resilience of mountain populations and economies to reduce loss and damage. The idea of ​​including this topic on the agenda was brought forward in a proposal from Andorra.

The reasons are that mountains cover a quarter of the earth’s surface, and are home to 15% of the world’s population, as well as hosting half of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Furthermore, they are the main reserve of natural waters and play a crucial role in food security. However, mountains are one of the ecosystems most impacted by climate change, given that the increase in temperatures occurs at a higher rate in the mountains than in other areas, causing negative impacts for the populations who live there, but also for all those who benefit from the ecosystem services provided by mountain areas.

Taking stock of nature

At COP 28, the importance of bringing nature to the negotiating tables and including it in the Global Stock-take negotiations was prominent. In this regard an open letter (organized by Nature4Climate) was published with the aim of bringing nature and biodiversity to the center of COP Stocktake.

Key points included announcing and publishing plans for implementation of nature based solutions, with political, regulatory and budgetary commitments for the next five years. It also set out the need to protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. It is worth remembering that indigenous populations represent only 5 percent of the world population yet have an important role given the lands they inhabit account for 80 percent of global biodiversity. Respecting the rights and leadership of Indigenous Peoples is a matter of social justice, but it is also the only possibility of making the Kunming-Montreal Agreement a success.

We need transparency to achieve climate goals

The climate and biodiversity challenges are two sides of the same coin. This is why we must accelerate and bring nature into the global discussion, ensuring that the objectives in the Kunming-Montreal Agreement are achieved.

Yet progress is contingent on accountability, both from governments but importantly from companies and other organizations. It’s is highly significant, therefore, that GRI is developing a new global reporting standard for climate change, which is out for public comment until the end of February, alongside a revised Energy Standard. Q&A webinars for all interested parties take place soon, on 18 January and 24 January.

The Climate Change draft incorporates the interrelation of climate change and biodiversity, something unique in the current reporting landscape. When final, this new standard will complement a revamped GRI Biodiversity Standard, set to launch in the coming weeks.

With the ink barely dry on the COP28 declaration, we need to remember that safeguarding nature, with transparency achieved for the impacts of organizations around the world, is absolutely non-optional if we are to stand any chance of turning the commitments signed last month in the concrete jungle of Dubai into reality.

· This text has been adapted from an article originally published by National Geographic Italia in December 2023.




GRI is the independent international organization that helps businesses and other organizations communicate and understand their sustainability impacts.