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Blog: COP26 – What is it and what does it mean for zoos and aquariums??

Posted: 27th October, 2021

Wondering where to start with COP26? Nicky Needham, Senior Manager at BIAZA explains all...

It feels as though we’ve been talking about COP26 for a long time. We’ve been vaguely referencing it and looking forward in the hopes that it’ll mark a turning point, a point at which things come to a head, agreements are reached and strong decisions are made to ensure the future wellbeing of our planet.

Now here we are, just days away from the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (31st Oct-12th Nov), with 25,000 world leaders and climate experts descending upon Glasgow, and a growing sense of the critical nature of the climate talks which will soon be underway.

Climate COPs happen each year, bringing together the 197 nations and territories which have signed up to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, but this one is especially important. This year all countries will be asked to submit their new long-term goals and ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ (NDCs), which together must limit global temperature rises to “well below” 2oC, working towards 1.5oC, as laid out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The scale of the change required is mind-boggling; scientists estimate that emissions must be reduced from 2010 levels by 45% by 2030, and then to net zero emissions by 2050, if the world is to have a chance of remaining within this 1.5oC threshold. Worryingly though the UN reported this month that the most recently updated NDCs are nowhere near enough, and would result in just a 16% decrease in emissions, far below the 45% cut needed. So, there is much to be done.

With the UK holding Presidency for the first time, there is an opportunity for our policy-makers and scientists to take centre-stage in the discussions, and to show-case the UK’s commitments. These include targets for all electricity to come from low carbon sources by 2035, increasing industrial carbon capture, moving home heating and transport away from fossil fuels and trebling tree-growing by 2024. Alongside cuts in emissions, the UK Presidency hopes to push for further progress around international carbon markets and climate finance, the phasing out of coal and development of nature-based solutions.

It all sounds very worthy and high-level but what does it mean for BIAZA and its members?

From our perspective it’s an opportunity. The inextricable link between the biodiversity and climate crises means our community is well-positioned and well qualified to be at the very forefront of the work to reverse the terrible trends which populate our headlines. It is timely then that this year has seen the launch of both the BIAZA Conservation and BIAZA Sustainability Policies, supported by BIAZA’s Sustainability Guidelines and Field Conservation Guidelines and a host of other resources and tools, all available on the members’ area of our website. These documents lay a clear pathway for each zoo and aquarium to achieve maximum possible contributions in these fields.

Many of our members are already leading the way here. Marwell Zoo expects to achieve net zero emissions in 2022. We’ve seen fantastic examples of alternative energy source development on our sites; solar panels (including ambitious plans at ZSL Whipsnade for a solar lion!), wind turbines, biomass boilers (at Marwell powered by animal poo briquettes!) and increasing numbers of zoos and aquariums switching to renewable-only energy providers, such as Ecotricity and Bulb. We’re seeing innovative sustainable design in new developments and facilities, installation of electric car charging points in our car parks and use of recycled materials in construction, such as recycled plastics and tyres in decking and play equipment at Paignton Zoo. Collections are reviewing their supply chains – removing excessive plastics, unsustainable palm oil and soy, and moving towards local produce and local business support wherever possible. Some sites are trialing new concepts such as the reverse vending machines at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park who are testing a deposit return scheme which will be introduced in Scotland from June 2022.

And the impact we can have extends far beyond our own sites; Chester Zoo has provided a blueprint for other zoos to step up as community leaders – supporting their local towns and cities in moving away from products resulting from unsustainable deforestation. ZSL has led on the #Oneless campaign, tackling single use plastics in London. But advocacy can be equally impactful at the individual level. Welcoming 35 million visitors each year, BIAZA zoos and aquariums have the opportunity to inspire and empower every one of those guests with the knowledge to make even a small change. 35 million small positive changes could pack quite a punch.

So, we challenge all our members to lead by example here; make that change. Use the BIAZA Sustainability Policy and Sustainability Guidelines to consider and assess your own operations. Log in to our members’ area and capitalise on our other sustainability resources to develop or review your own site sustainability or environmental policy, to source plants and horticultural resources sustainably with help from our Sustainable Plant Procurement Guidelines, to reduce your use of unsustainable palm oil and also timber/wood pulp products with our guidance from the FSC. Attend our Carbon Footprint assessment Workshop on December 1st. Boost your educational programmes with free resources such as the COP26 Twinkl teaching resources. Join the BIAZA swap shop to reduce waste of surplus animal feed and supplies. Join our Environmental Impact and Sustainability Working group Facebook Page to share your successes and to reach out to the experts within your community with queries, and don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have initiatives which we might be able to support.

So let’s embrace this opportunity and recognise COP26 as a chance for BIAZA, for our individual zoos and aquariums and for each individual staff member to step up and deliver on our shared sustainability values and goals, to celebrate sustainability successes and achievements and to inspire and empower others to follow suit. COP26 presents a chance for us all to join the conversation and make sure we’re at the table. We are proud of the zoos and aquariums who will be attending the conference, demonstrating their amazing work and flying the flag for our community, but the challenge extends to us all.

By Nicky Needham, Senior Manager BIAZA

All blogs reflect the views of their author and are not a reflection of BIAZA's positions. 

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