Slowing global warming and stemming the loss of biodiversity have been viewed as independent challenges for years. But a new landmark report concludes that climate change and the rapid decline of natural ecosystems are intertwined crises that should be tackled together if international efforts to address either are to succeed.

The report, released Thursday, was written by 50 of the world’s leading experts on biodiversity and climate change, representing two major international scientific groups collaborating for the first time: the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The findings emerged from a workshop held in December and months of subsequent research, and come as leaders gear up for two major upcoming United Nations conferences, one focusing on biodiversity and the other on climate change.

“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” said Prof. Hans-OttoPörtner, co-chair of the Scientific Steering Committee. “Changes in biodiversity, in turn, affect climate, especially through impacts on nitrogen, carbon and water cycles,” he said.

“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. Solving some of the strong and apparently unavoidable trade-offs between climate and biodiversity will entail a profound collective shift of individual and shared values  concerning  nature –  such  as  moving  away  from  the  conception  of economic  progress  based  solely  on  GDP  growth,  to  one  that  balances  human  development  with  multiple  values  of  nature for  a  good  quality  of  life,  while  not overshooting biophysical and social limits.”

The  authors  also warn  that  narrowly-focused  actions  to  combat  climate  change  can  directly  and  indirectly  harm  nature and  vice-versa,  but  many  measures  exist  that  can  make significant  positive contributions  in  both  areas.  Among  the  most  important  available actions identified in the report are:

  • Stopping the loss and degradation of carbon – and species-rich ecosystems on land and in the ocean, especially forests, wetlands, peatlands, grasslands and savannahs; coastal  ecosystems  such  as  mangroves,  salt  marshes,  kelp  forests  and  seagrass  meadows;  as  well  as  deep  water  and  polar  blue  carbon  habitats. The report highlights that reducing deforestation and forest degradation can contribute to lowering human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, by a wide range from 0.4-5.8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent every year.
  • Restoring species-rich  ecosystems.  The authors  point  to  evidence  that  restoration  is  among  the  cheapest  and  quickest  nature-based climate mitigation  measures  to  implement  –  offering  much-needed  habitat  for  plants and animals, thus enhancing resilience of biodiversity in the face of climate change,  with  many  other  benefits  such  as  flood  regulation,  coastal  protection,  enhanced   water   quality,   reduced   soil   erosion   and   ensuring   pollination. Ecosystem restoration can also create jobs and income, especially when taking into consideration the needs and access rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.
  • Increasing sustainable agricultural and forestry practices to improve the capacity to adapt to climate change, enhance biodiversity, increase carbon storage and reduce emissions. These include measures such as diversification of planted crop and forest species, agroforestry and agroecology. Improved management of cropland and grazing systems, such as soil conservation and the reduction of fertilizer use, is jointly estimated by the report to offer annual climate change mitigation potential of 3-6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.
  • Enhancing and better-targeting conservation actions, coordinated with and supported by strong climate  adaptation  and  innovation. Protected areas currently represent about 15% of land and 7.5% of the ocean. Positive outcomes are expected from substantially increasing intact and effectively protected areas. Global estimates of exact 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 ocean  and  land surface  areas.  Options to improve the positive impacts of protected    areas    include    greater    resourcing, better management    and    enforcement, and improved   distribution   with   increased inter-connectivity between these areas. Conservation measures beyond protected areas are also spotlighted – including migration corridors and planning for shifting climates, as well as better integration of people with nature to assure equity of access and use of nature’s contributions to people.
  • Eliminating subsidies that support local and national activities harmful to biodiversity – such as deforestation, over-fertilization and over-fishing, can also support climate change mitigation and adaptation, together with changing individual consumption patterns, reducing  loss  and  waste, and  shifting  diets, especially in rich countries, toward more plant-based options.

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 Ana María Hernández Salgar, Chair of IPBES. “Transformative change in all parts of society and our economy is needed to stabilize 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.”

Highlighting the significance of the co-sponsored workshop, Dr. Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC, said: “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.”

Unprecedented changes in climate and biodiversity, driven by human activities, have combined and increasingly threaten nature, human lives, livelihoods and well-being around the world. Biodiversity loss and climate change are both driven by human economic activities and mutually reinforce each other.  Neither will be successfully resolved unless both are tackled together.

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