The twin threat: biodiversity and climate change

Biodiversity is the most complex and vital feature of our planet. However, despite its importance, biodiversity has been in trouble for some time, with humans interfering with, and damaging valuable ecosystems.

From changing land use and overexploiting of resources, to converting natural habitats and moving animals and plants around the world, humans have significantly disrupted the balance of biodiversity.

Putting the biodiversity agenda at the same level of importance as the climate change crisis has been a key topic of conversation at COP26.

 A twin threat

It is impossible to talk about climate change, without acknowledging the tragic biodiversity losses that we are also currently experiencing. We have been in an ecology crisis for many years, and it’s not just impacting animals and their natural habitats. It is also threatening the ecosystems that we as humans depend upon for survival.

As Leah Gerber, director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes at Arizona State University, pointed out in a pre-COP26 interview, “nature is in a state of collapse, and science shows that we face a surging climate crisis and an unprecedented biodiversity crisis.”

Of course, reducing our emissions and cutting our carbon footprint are chronically important. But they go hand in hand with addressing biodiversity losses. Climate change is now the third highest cause of biodiversity loss. Yet land uses, such as agriculture and forestry, cause almost 25 per cent of global emissions, raising the planet’s temperature.

Put simply, one cannot be tackled without acting on the other. We need to take a co-ordinated approach to tackling climate change and biodiversity loss – the issues are intrinsically linked.

Protecting and restoring nature for the benefit of people and climate has been one of the central focuses at COP26. One of the four goals set at the start of the summit was to ‘adapt to protect communities and natural habitats’ and ‘protect and restore ecosystems’.

 Steps forward for biodiversity at COP26

A major step forward was marked during the first week of COP26 with the global commitment to halt deforestation. More than 100 world leaders have pledged to stop the damaging process by 2030 and begin restoring and regrowing the world’s forest.

In addition to their biodiversity and environmental benefits, forests are highly efficient and cost-effective removers of carbon from the atmosphere. They absorb around 30 per cent of global emissions, slowing global warming. By destroying them, we are damaging the ecological balance of the planet.

The pivotal pledge will see 110 nations, which represent 85 per cent of the world’s forests, work towards six goals. These include developing sustainable agriculture, investing in and facilitating trade which prevents land use change, and supporting communities across the globe.

Canada’s Environment Minister has also committed 20 per cent of its $5.3 billion international climate fund to nature-based solutions in developing countries over the next five years to limit biodiversity losses.

Biodiversity beyond COP26

The build-up to COP26 has dominated the headlines for months now, slightly overshadowing COP15, which saw its first part take place virtually (due to Covid) in October. The summit saw global governments sign the Kunming Declaration; a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which aims to reverse the current loss of biodiversity and ensure that biodiversity is put on a path to recovery by 2030.

Paving the way for global biodiversity negotiations, details of the 10-year framework will be the topic of discussion at the second part of the conference, which is due to reconvene in Kunming in China in April next year.

It is hoped that these commitments, coupled with the targets established at COP26, will accelerate global action against both climate change and biodiversity loss.

As Sir David Attenborough said in his opening speech at COP26, “What we do now, and in the next few years, will profoundly affect the next few thousand years”.

It has never been more important to use our power of influence on the planet to do good and reverse some of the devastating impacts of the past few decades.

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