Climate Emergency and Nature Loss

Jan 05, 2024

It is abundantly clear that humanity is experiencing twin crises, climate breakdown and nature loss. What is perhaps not as clear, is that they are in fact, much more intricately linked than would first appear. They are two sides of the same coin. Human induced climate disruption is causing global average temperatures to rise at an alarming rate. At the same time there is a mass extinction taking place. Nature, biodiversity, and ecosystems are declining faster than at any other time in human history. According to a report by the WWF species populations have declined on average by 69% globally since 1970(1).

Biodiversity Lose

(Image courtesy of HOME | WWF (panda.org) 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has estimated that over 42,000 species are threatened (2), but The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)(3) believe this could be as high as 1 million. The drivers of both are linked. Unsustainable patterns of production and consumption are driving both. Razan Al Mubarak, President of the IUCN, speaking at Climate Week in New York, said she sees climate change as the consequence of our mismanagement of nature. Human-induced climate disruption, due to the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, is heating the worlds atmosphere beyond the stable limits within which the planet and humans have evolved and thrived.

Climate breakdown is also among the drivers of nature loss, along with land and sea use change, overexploitation of resources, pollution, and invasive species. These drivers are the causes of the extreme and potentially devastating disappearance of species, habitats, and ecosystems. In addition, increasing urbanisation and intensification of agriculture and industry are compounding all these drivers of both the climate emergency and nature loss. But despite the obvious connections between the climate emergency and nature loss, they have, until very recently, been seen and treated separately. On the one hand The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has dealt with climate and on the other The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has dealt with nature. This division of approach in addressing the two has come about for a number of reasons. Firstly, to tackle complex problems, humans tend to break them down into manageable parts.

The climate crisis, more than being complex, has been described as a Wicked Problem. Nature loss is no less wicked. Secondly the climate emergency is ultimately about the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, something which is measurable. Nature loss however is more subtle and multifaceted, the metrics are not as clear, something which has delayed awareness and action until now.  

Thankfully, awareness of and actions on both are now coming together. At the very highest levels there is growing acknowledgment of the connections, linkages and synergies between the causes but also the responses to both, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to The Irish Wildlife Trust. ‘Climate change and biodiversity loss are intimately related’ according to a report commissioned by the UK Government. The solutions to both are mutually beneficial ‘mitigation against the worst effects of climate change will have significant benefits for biodiversity and avoiding biodiversity loss will have positive effects on climate change’(4).

In its submission to the Citizens Assembly on Biodiversity Loss The Irish Wildlife Trust stated ‘the link between biodiversity loss and climate change is such they can be seen as one issue: one driving the other, both rooted in our patterns of consumption. But each supporting the other’ in recovery. The World Economic Forum (WEF) completed a series of reports to highlight the need for the business world to take action to halt and reverse nature loss. In these reports they call out the fact that ‘climate change and nature loss are inextricably interlinked.’  Some of the ways in which human induced climate change is impacting nature can be seen in the disruption of weather patterns, from changes in seasonality to storm intensity, furthermore, these changes are in no way isolated, all ecosystems around the world are affected. Species ranges are migrating poleward as they go in search of new habitats and food. Whole biome changes are occurring in the seas, rainforests and beyond(5).

A report by Natural Capital Ireland points out that ‘potentially, higher temperatures and environmental or climate pressures could invite more problems with plant or animal pests or disease and reduce their resilience’. The evidence supporting a joined-up effort to tackle the climate crisis and nature loss together, as one, is mounting. The WEF outlines how the ‘destruction of mangroves, peatlands and tropical and boreal forests for agriculture and other uses will exacerbate the effects of climate change.’ And they advocate for climate change mitigation and adaptation approaches which are ecosystem based as these not only combat climate change but also support biodiversity and ecosystem services(6).

In their discussion paper Business for Nature outline how ‘actions to avoid negative impacts on nature as well as improve its management to restore ecosystems can help deliver at least a third of the climate mitigation needed to address the climate crisis and achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement’. In a similar vein, in their AR6 Synthesis Report the IPCC (7) present the co-dependency of climate and nature, both are used to assess the risks but also the long-and-near-term solutions.  

This is why it is critical there is a shift in mindsets and strategies, away from the divide and conquer approach taken until now, and towards a more integrated approach. The WWF spells this out clearly for us, ‘unless we stop treating these emergencies as two sperate issues neither problem will be addressed effectively’(8). We must design and adapt our transition plans to be both net zero and nature positive at the same time, they must go hand in hand. 

Article written by Eadaoin Boyle Tobin


References: 
1: HOME | WWF (panda.org) 
2IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 
3 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services | IPBES secretariat 
4: HM Treasury, 2021
5: HM Treasury, 2021
6 The World Economic Forum, 2020
7:  AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023 — IPCC
8: HOME | WWF (panda.org) 

 

 

Tags: