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‘Low-cost solutions to climate change are in our grasp, but are being ignored’

Jesus PhD student Michael Overton (2019) gives an insider’s perspective on COP27.

Building on his PhD’s focus on ‘rewilding’, Michael attended and spoke at COP27. He was there as lead delegate for Scientists Warning Europe, a climate action organisation whose 2020 paper World Scientists' Warning of a Climate Emergency is the most endorsed scientific paper ever with more than 14,000 signatories. He tells us more in this first-hand account:

The United Nations annual COP (Conference of the Parties) was held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt between the 6 and 20 November 2022. It is the largest conference in the world with an unofficial mandate to ‘solve climate change’. COP27 is being declared both a ‘good cop’ and ‘bad cop’ as over 30,000 attendees reflect on its successes and shortcomings relative to their own agendas. At a high level, while promises were made to direct funds to those most vulnerable, emissions reductions fell by the wayside. Other discussions progressed around the future role of the World Bank and reducing deforestation, while there was little progress on the importance of nature for climate.

My attendance in the second week was as lead delegate for Scientists Warning Europe, which publishes and creates media campaigns around widely endorsed scientific papers to promote specific solutions and recommendations to leaders. Scientists Warning pushes for actions to achieve ‘climate recovery’ focussing on real Net Zero by 2030. I became involved in the campaign with my own particular concerns that low-tech, low-cost solutions to climate change are in our grasp, but are being ignored.  

Rewilding, the subject of my PhD, holds promise as a low-cost, low-tech natural solution for climate recovery. I offered a short-hand definition as a provocation. Rewilding is the de-management of land or sea, removing it from schemes which demand direct intervention to shape its species, habitats, processes, or commercial products. Other definitions vary and often explicitly refer to human culture and economies. My presentation to journalists and delegates, Rewilding for Climate Recovery, focussed on rewilding via land-abandonment.

On a wider point, both in Europe and globally, solutions to climate change are at risk of becoming over-complicated, over-engineered, and over-priced. Versions of rewilding may also work on other continents to combat this trend.

In Europe by 2030, 5.6 million hectares (ha) of agricultural land will be abandoned with a further 20 million ha with high potential for abandonment. Locking in or fostering these gains could make a big dent in Europe’s net emissions.

The message ‘we need to simplify solutions for climate recovery’ was well-received, with clear benefits for empowering local communities rather than companies and governments in the global north. It was the first time many international delegates had heard of rewilding so establishing awareness and interest was the main aim.

Next year, COP is again in the Middle East and North Africa region, hosted by one of the world’s largest oil producers. Surprisingly, the United Arab Emirates (and Saudi Arabia) are also advancing largescale plans for rewilding, specifically greening the desert and re-populating it with wild animals. Conversations around scaling up natural solutions may be particularly vibrant at COP28 where I hope to leverage experiences from Egypt.

Read more on Michael’s blog.