Climate and biodiversity experts worked together to determine the best measures to advance the SDGs in both areas simultaneously.
Unprecedented changes in climate and biodiversity, driven by human activities, are synergistically and increasingly threatening nature, human lives, livelihoods and well-being worldwide. Biodiversity loss and climate change are both driven by human economic activities and reinforce each other.
Neither problem will be successfully addressed unless they are tackled together. This is the message of a workshop report released today by 50 of the world’s leading experts on biodiversity and climate.
The peer-reviewed workshop report is the result of a four-day virtual workshop with experts selected by a 12-person Scientific Steering Committee. The Steering Committee was formed by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the first ever collaboration between these two intergovernmental bodies.
The report notes that previous policies have tended to address biodiversity loss and climate change separately. Instead, addressing the synergies between mitigating biodiversity loss and climate change, while taking into account their social impacts, will maximize benefits and achieve global development goals.
A profound change is needed
“Human-induced climate change is increasingly threatening nature and all that it provides to humanity, including its ability to help mitigate climate change. The warmer the world gets, the less nature can, in many areas, provide us with food, clean water and other resources essential to our lives,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the scientific steering committee.
“Changes in biodiversity, in turn, affect climate, including impacts on the nitrogen, carbon and water cycles”, he said. “The facts are in: a sustainable global future for people and nature is still achievable, but it requires profound change through rapid and far-reaching actions of a kind never before attempted, underpinned by ambitious emissions reductions.”
Decisive and unavoidable trade-offs
“Resolving some of the decisive and seemingly inevitable trade-offs between climate and biodiversity will involve a profound collective shift in individual and shared values about nature – such as moving from a view of economic progress based exclusively on GDP growth to one that balances human development with the multiple values of nature for a good quality of life without overstepping biophysical and social boundaries,” he continued.
The authors also warn that narrowly focused actions to combat climate change can directly or indirectly harm nature and vice versa, but that there are many actions that can make significant positive contributions in both areas. Among the most important potential actions identified in the report:
- Stop the loss and degradation of carbon and species rich ecosystems on land and in the ocean
Reducing deforestation and forest degradation can help reduce human-induced greenhouse gas emissions by a wide range of 0.4 to 5.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.
- Restore carbon and species rich ecosystems.
Restoration is one of the cheapest and fastest nature-based climate mitigation measures to implement. It provides much-needed habitat for plants and animals, building biodiversity resilience to climate change, with many other benefits such as flood regulation, coastal protection, water quality improvement, soil erosion reduction, and pollination.
Ecosystem restoration can also create jobs and income, especially if the needs and access rights of indigenous peoples and local communities are considered.
- Develop sustainable agricultural and forestry practices
This improves the ability to adapt to climate change, enhances biodiversity, increases carbon storage and reduces emissions. This includes measures such as crop and forest species diversification, agroforestry and agroecology.
Improving cropland management and grazing systems together, including soil conservation and reduced fertilizer use, has an annual climate change mitigation potential of 3-6 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent.
- Strengthen and better target conservation actions, coordinating them and supporting them with strong climate adaptation and innovation.
This will include a significant increase in the extent of protected areas, which currently represent about 15% of the land and 7.5% of the oceans, and their level of protection and effectiveness. Global estimates of the exact need for protected areas to be effective in ensuring a livable climate, self-sustaining biodiversity and a good quality of life range from 30 to 50% of the total ocean and land area.
Options for improving the positive impacts of protected areas include increased resources, improved management and implementation, and better distribution with increased interconnectivity between these areas. Conservation measures beyond protected areas are also highlighted, including migration corridors and climate change planning, as well as better integration of people with nature to ensure equitable access and use of nature’s contributions to people.
- Eliminate subsidies that support local and national activities that harm biodiversity.
Activities such as deforestation, overfertilization, and overfishing can also contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, as can changing individual consumption patterns, reducing waste and litter, and shifting diets, particularly in rich countries, to more plant-based options.
But also actions harmful to biodiversity
Among the targeted climate change mitigation and adaptation measures identified by the report as harmful to biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people are:
- The planting of bioenergy crops in monoculture on a very large portion of the land.
Such crops are detrimental to ecosystems when deployed on a very large scale. They reduce nature’s contribution to people and hinder the achievement of many sustainable development goals.
At small scales, along with large and rapid reductions in fossil fuel emissions, bioenergy crops for electricity or fuel production can have co-benefits for climate change adaptation and biodiversity.
- Planting trees in ecosystems that were not previously forests and reforestation with monocultures – especially with exotic tree species.
This practice can contribute to climate change mitigation, but is often detrimental to biodiversity, food production and other contributions of nature to people. It has no obvious benefits for climate change adaptation and can displace local populations due to competition for land.
- Increase in irrigation capacity.
This common response to adapt agricultural systems to drought often leads to water conflicts, dam construction and long-term soil degradation due to salinization.
- All measures too narrowly focused on climate change mitigation should be assessed holistically in terms of their respective benefits and risks.
Some renewable energies generate mining spikes or consume large amounts of land. The same is true for some technical measures that are too narrowly focused on adaptation, such as building dams and dykes.
There are important opportunities for climate change mitigation and adaptation, but these can have significant negative environmental and social impacts, such as interference with migratory species and habitat fragmentation. These impacts can be minimized, for example, by developing alternative batteries and long-life products, efficient recycling systems for mineral resources, and approaches to mining that place sufficient emphasis on environmental and social sustainability.
Ambitious emission reductions
The report’s authors emphasize that while nature offers effective ways to mitigate climate change, these solutions can only be effective if they are backed by ambitious reductions in all human-made greenhouse gas emissions. “The land and ocean already do a lot – they absorb nearly 50% of the CO2 from human emissions – but nature can only do so much,” said Ana María Hernández Salgar, IPBES Chair.
“Deep change in all parts of society and our economy is needed to stabilize our climate, halt biodiversity loss, and chart a course to the sustainable future we want,” she continued. “To do this, we will also need to address the two crises together, in a complementary way.”
Cross-border collaboration and joint planning
Highlighting the importance of this workshop, Hoesung Lee, IPCC Chair, said, “Climate change and biodiversity loss combine to threaten society-often amplifying and accelerating each other. By focusing on the synergies and trade-offs between biodiversity protection and climate change mitigation and adaptation, this workshop advanced the debate on how to maximize benefits for people and the planet. It also represented an important step in collaboration between our two communities.”
“Achieving win-win synergies, or even managing the trade-offs between climate and biodiversity actions in every patch of a landscape or seascape, may be impossible,” said H. O. Pörtner. “But achieving sustainable outcomes becomes progressively easier if a combination of mixed actions is integrated on a larger spatial scale, through transboundary collaboration and joint consultative spatial planning, which is why it is important to also address the lack of effective governance arrangements and mechanisms to improve integration between climate change and biodiversity solutions.”
This article was first published by IRD.