Tackle nature and climate crises in concert, say global experts

An unprecedented collaboration between ecologists and climate scientists has pleaded for the world’s governments to address biodiversity loss and global warming in concert.

“Limiting global warming to ensure a habitable climate and protecting biodiversity are mutually supporting goals, and their achievement is essential for sustainably and equitably providing benefits to people,” says the report released by a 50 scientists assembled by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

It is the result of a four-day online workshop held in December, launched by a speech from environment minister Zac Goldsmith and co-hosted by the Norwegian government.

This year, “With the UN biodiversity conference in Kunming, and the Glasgow climate change conference in the UK, we have an opportunity and responsibility to put the world on a path to recovery. This hugely valuable report by the experts of IPBES and IPCC makes it clear that addressing biodiversity loss and climate change together offers our best chance of doing so,” said Goldsmith.

The report says that addressing the common factors between the crises  together, while considering their social impacts, offers the best route to meet both environmental and development objectives.

“Human-caused climate change is increasingly threatening nature and its contributions to people, including its ability to help mitigate climate change. The warmer the world gets, the less food, drinking water and other key contributions nature can make to our lives, in many regions. Changes in biodiversity, in turn, affect climate, especially through impacts on nitrogen, carbon and water cycles,” said professor Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the report’s steering committee.

“The evidence is clear: a sustainable global future for people and nature is still achievable, but it requires transformative change with rapid and far-reaching actions of a type never before attempted, building on ambitious emissions reductions,” he added.Among its recommendations is stopping the loss and degradation of ecosystems rich in both carbon and species, particularly forests, wetlands and peatlands, seagrass meadows and polar habitats. Halting deforestation would stop anything between 0.4 and 5.8 billion tonnes of CO2 entering the atmosphere each year, it says.

Furthermore, “Restoration is among the cheapest and rapidly implemented nature-based climate mitigation measures” for the climate, the report adds, providing further benefits in terms of jobs, flood management, reduced soil erosion and improved water quality.

Much of it echoes previous recommendations from the Climate Change Committee and the Treasury’s Dasgupta Report.

The IPCC/IPBES report further proposes:

  • Increasing sustainable farming and forestry to improve adaptation to climate change and enhance biodiversity, including crop diversification and reduced use of fertiliser.

  • Raising the proportion of protected land and seas, with better management and enforcement.

  • Eliminating harmful subsidies that promote over-fishing and deforestation, while promoting more plant-based diets, especially in rich countries.

It also suggests ending certain climate mitigation and adaptation practices that it identifies as harmful to nature, notably vast tracts of monoculture bioenergy crops, planting trees (especially non-native species) on unsuitable land, self-defeating irrigation projects. The report also notes the conflict of needing certain minerals for batteries and wind turbines and the impacts from the mining required to obtain them.

The report authors stress that while nature offers effective ways to help mitigate climate change, these solutions can only be effective if building on ambitious reductions in all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. “Land and ocean are already doing a lot – absorbing almost 50% of CO2 from human emissions - but nature cannot do everything,” said IPBES chair Ana María Hernández Salgar. “Transformative change in all parts of society and our economy is needed to stabilise our climate, stop biodiversity loss and chart a path to the sustainable future we want. This will also require us to address both crises together, in complementary ways.”

“Climate change and biodiversity loss combine to threaten society – often magnifying and accelerating each other. By focusing on synergies and trade-offs between biodiversity protection and climate change mitigation and adaptation, this workshop advanced the debate on how to maximize benefits to people and the planet. It also represented an important step in collaboration between our two communities,” said IPCC chair Hoesung Lee.

The short workshop report is accompanied by a far more detailed 232-page scientific report.

Stephen Cornelius, chief adviser on climate change at WWF, said:  “The science is clear: climate change and nature loss are two sides of the same coin. Their impacts are already being felt by people and wildlife on every continent across the globe, and if not addressed could lead to irreversible damage to the key ecosystems that sustain a healthy planet.  

“This year must be a turning point. If we are to safeguard our future, world leaders must urgently ramp up efforts to protect and restore nature alongside rapid and deep cuts to harmful greenhouse gas emissions. The UK, as hosts of G7 and COP26, can lead the way by outlining the steps it will take to limit global warming to 1.5°C and make nature our climate hero.” 

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