Slowing global warming and stopping biodiversity loss have been seen as independent challenges for years.
But a new historical report concludes that climate change and the rapid decline of natural ecosystems are intertwined crises that must be tackled together if international efforts to address one succeed.
The report, released Thursday, was written by the world’s top 50 experts on biodiversity and climate change, representing two major international scientific groups collaborating for the first time: the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform for Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The findings come from a seminar held in December and months of subsequent research, and come as leaders prepare for two major United Nations conferences, one focusing on biodiversity and the other on climate change.
So far, the report’s authors say, global collaborative efforts to address climate change, through platforms including the IPCC and the Paris climate agreement, have operated in a different way from the biodiversity efforts undertaken through the UN Convention. for Biological Diversity and other international organizations.
For a long time we have tended to see climate and biodiversity as separate issues, so our policy responses have been very divided, said Pamela McElwee, one of the authors of the reports and an associate professor in the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University. The climate has simply received more attention.
Some key efforts can contribute to biodiversity conservation and global warming control, particularly in preventing deforestation in tropical areas, but also in preventing the degradation of other carbon-rich ecosystems, including mangroves, peatlands, savannahs and wetlands. The authors say sustainable agriculture and forestry, while cutting subsidies to destructive industries, will also be critical.
We are seeing multiple impacts of climate change on all continents and in all oceanic regions. These are increasingly putting great human pressure on biodiversity, said Hans-Otto Prtner, a climatologist and former IPCC author who co-chaired the collaborative workshop steering committee. So far conservation efforts have not been sufficient. Human society depends on the services provided by nature, but climate change has caused losses in natural resources, especially those that are excessive.
Prtner also noted that pandemics are linked to biodiversity loss because zoonotic diseases emerge from species that thrive when biodiversity declines. Climate change and the loss of biodiversity are threatening human well-being as well as society. They are closely intertwined and share common leaders through human activity, he said. They are reinforcing each other.
The authors warned that some efforts to address the climate crisis could be detrimental to biodiversity, and they urged policymakers, governments, and industries to avoid solutions that could effectively fail. These include planting monocultural, non-native trees or large areas of land with bioenergy crops.
Much has been done about climate change, especially about adaptation, and many of it can be negative for biodiversity, said Paul Leadley, a professor of ecology at the University of Paris Sud-France. There is a real danger that biodiversity could die from a thousand cuts.
Almut Arneth, one of the authors and a modeling expert at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, said one of those adaptation efforts, planting bioenergy crops, could eventually require land twice the size of India. On the other hand, they were using more than 50 percent [of the worlds land] for food and wood production, Arneth said. Just as you can imagine planting those large crops bioenergy will put great pressure on the existing natural soil, which would be catastrophic for biodiversity and food security.
Nature-based solutions are not enough
While the report noted solutions, including deforestation cutting, the authors stressed that nature-based solutions could only go that far.
An immediate conclusion is that biodiversity maintenance and its functions rely on the gradual removal of emissions from burning fossil fuels, Prtner said. Nature is offering solutions, which can be useful if done in parallel with strong emission reductions.
Rapidly executed policy and action will be essential to avoid twin crises, the authors said. They aim the report to provide the current state of mind on the issue, and said they hope it will prompt policymakers to press for conservation efforts like President Joe Bidens who plans to preserve 30 percent of U.S. land. The report called for a global effort to preserve up to half of the world’s oceans and lands.
Positive results are expected from the significant increase in untouched and effectively protected areas, the report said. Global estimates of accurate requirements for effectively protected and conserved areas to ensure a habitable climate, self-sustaining biodiversity and a good quality of life are not yet well established, but range from 30 to 50 percent of all lands and surfaces.
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Prtner added that successful implementation depends on rapid entry into action. In general, every particle of heat matters, and every lost species and every degraded ecosystem matters.
The private sector, especially financial institutions, will also be critical in the effort, the authors said.
McElwee noted the recent development of the Nature-Related Financial Disclosure Task Force, an effort to encourage banks to assess the financial risk of losing natural systems, similar to the Climate Financial Disclosure Task Force, which states that how banks should assess the risk of climate change.
The goal is for the private sector to think about how biodiversity loss actually creates risk and build that risk into decision-making, McElwee said. To handle these crises we need all hands on deck.
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