Efforts to conserve the environment and slow climate change should be tackled together rather than as separate issues, according to a joint report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
The report found biodiversity and climate change have often been addressed independently of each other, a strategy the authors say will not solve either problem. In some cases, they say narrowly focused strategies to reverse climate change can have repercussions for biodiversity efforts, and vice versa.
The UN-backed report is the first collaboration between the IPCC and IPBES, and came together through a four-day virtual workshop with 50 or the world’s top biodiversity and climate experts.
“The warmer the world gets, the less food, drinking water and other key contributions nature can make to our lives, in many regions,” says Professor Hans-Otto Pörtner, climatologist and co-chair of the Scientific Steering Committee.
The researchers outline several strategies that could simultaneously address conservation and climate change, including protecting and restoring carbon- and species-rich ecosystems like mangroves, salt marshes, wetlands and forests.
Dr Jonathan Tonkin from the Canterbury University’s School of Biological Sciences in New Zealand says there is an “overwhelming need” to tackle climate change and biodiversity together, and as the world warms humans are likely to experience serious ramifications of accelerated biodiversity loss.
“To reach the sustainable future we are seeking for people and nature, which is still possible, requires transformative change… the report lays out a series of actions we can take to help us get there,” Tonkin says.
“Many of these actions come with multiple co-benefits, including flood or coastal protection, improved water quality, improved pollination, and even creating jobs.”
The report also warns against climate change mitigation strategies that can be harmful to biodiversity.
Rick Stafford, Professor of Marine Biology and Conservation at Bournemouth University in the UK, says that technological solutions to climate change often had unintended environmental consequences, such as pollution caused by lithium mining to manufacture electric vehicles.
“Relying on technological solutions alone is unlikely to provide large carbon reduction benefits, and can even negatively affect biodiversity,” Stafford says.
University College London Professor Simon Lewis says preserving biodiversity is an even tougher challenge than phasing out fossil fuels in a global economy focused on endless growth.
“What governments need to realise is that while measures to protect biodiversity almost always benefit the climate, some climate policy can harm biodiversity,” Lewis says.
“Badly planned tree-planting programs and an over-reliance on energy production from trees and crops have been well-documented to harm biodiversity.”
The report also tackles the concept of GDP growth as the single most important measure of economic success, with the researchers backing a greater focus on balancing human development, nature and quality of life.
While a healthy natural environment can play a significant role in absorbing carbon emissions, the researchers say significant reduction in manmade emissions is essential for survival.
Dr Will Pearse from Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment says politicians and the general public need to rally behind reports like this to demand change in government strategy around the world.
“I beg anyone who reads [this report] and agrees with it to write, email, or call their local politicians to demand that they take action now,” Pearse says. “There is not a moment to lose, and this report provides a clear path for policy-makers to act upon.”
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Rachel McDonald is a journalist and media officer at the Australian Science Media Centre.
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