We are facing a climate and biodiversity crisis... but nature can help us solve it
Unsustainable human activities are wrecking the natural world we depend on.
We have seen approximately a 1.0°C increase in global average temperatures since pre-industrial times. This is already damaging the planet’s ecosystems in ways that are harmful to biodiversity; and dangerous to people. Climate change impacts are being felt across biomes and systems - from the polar regions, to our freshwater, oceans, grasslands and savannahs, forests, and food.
Nature is a critical ally in the fight against the climate and nature emergencies. Evidence shows that strong, and healthy national ecosystems can help to fight climate change as well as build resilience and help us adapt to climate impacts. It is vital we decarbonise our economy as well as promote and support these “nature-based solutions”.
Climate, Nature and our 1.5°C Future: A Synthesis of IPCC and IPBES Reports
The Climate, Nature and our 1.5°C Future report brings together the findings of four recent authoritative reports on climate change and biodiversity from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). These are the IPCC special reports on global warming of 1.5 ºC, land, the ocean and cryosphere and the IPBES’ global assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services.
The Climate, Nature and our 1.5°C Future report illustrates the impacts and risks to people and nature, as well as the solutions that nature can provide to human development, the climate crisis, and the decline in biodiversity.
These are just some of the climate impacts, risks and solutions - more details are available in the full Climate, Nature and our 1.5°C Future report.
Climate change is already causing dramatic changes to polar landscapes and seascapes, with rising temperatures driving major ice loss in both polar regions and wildlife suffering as polar habitats change.
Keeping the polar regions as we know them with ice, snow and permafrost, requires urgent and ambitious global action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Integrating climate change implications into the governance of the polar regions, establishing networks of protected areas and improving fisheries management can help to preserve ecosystems for the future.
The ocean is under pressure from human activities and absorbs more than 90% of the earth’s excess heat, making it less hospitable for marine life. The ocean is acidifying and the amount of oxygen is decreasing, while rising sea levels are impacting coastal communities, habitats and biodiversity.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting and restoring ecosystems like oyster banks, seagrass beds, coral reefs and mangroves can help shield coastal areas and protect ‘blue carbon’ habitats. Implementing effective networks of marine protected areas, along with better governance and improved finance, can help protect the ocean against climate change.
Freshwater ecosystems are witnessing declines in biodiversity even worse than those on land. They are threatened by unsustainable agriculture, river fragmentation due to hydropower dams, and the loss of the runoff from snow cover, glaciers and permafrost in the high mountain regions.
Limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C could reduce the pressure on water supply, while restoring degraded ecosystems and limiting agriculture expansion and optimising water use could help protect freshwater systems. Better governance and an emergency recovery plan can help to secure freshwater ecosystems into the future.
Grasslands and savannahs are being lost and degraded faster than any other biome on the planet, as a misunderstanding of their importance has led to poor management and conversion to other land uses. They are threatened by crop production and overgrazing, while climate change is changing their composition.
Reducing emissions will prevent further climate-related decline of grassland and savannah ecosystems, as will scaling up their protection to help prevent the further conversion of natural habitats.
Forests are being destroyed at an alarming rate, with the damage driven by the consumption and food production patterns of a growing human population. Meanwhile, practices like unsustainable logging to produce timber and pulp is leading to their degradation, and impacting the richness and abundance of forest species. Exceeding temperature limits could trigger forest dieback in future, causing dramatic changes to the landscape.
Halting conversion and protecting standing forests from deforestation and forest degradation can preserve biodiversity. Supporting the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities can help conserve forests, while expanding and restoring forests can also help to tackle climate change.
Agriculture has underpinned the development of civilisations, but has also led to vast nature loss and contributed to climate change. Many of today’s methods of food production are also harmful to nature. The food system is responsible for up to a third of global emissions, while food production is in turn vulnerable to climate impacts due to a decline in diversity among domesticated plants and animals. Food loss and waste contributes to unnecessary strain on the planet’s natural resources.
Eliminating natural habitat conversion from food supply chains will help to preserve biodiversity in our ecosystems. By rethinking the way we farm and the food we eat, we can feed the world and use the planet’s natural resources sustainably. Systems to cut back on food waste can reduce food insecurity, agricultural expansion, greenhouse gas emissions and wasted money.
What must we do?
Our choices matter more than ever. We need huge changes across society at large to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and allow humanity, wildlife and ecosystems to thrive. These urgent changes to our current systems need to reduce emissions, while also promoting sustainable development to help people and protect nature.
For governments, this means implementing more ambitious climate plans that will limit global warming to 1.5°C. They must support nature-based solutions; align their actions on climate, biodiversity and development; and direct finance into projects that support these goals and away from harmful activities.
Businesses, investors and local governments must take action to cut emissions to net zero in line with a 1.5°C world, advocate for national governments to do the same, and work to advance the science on nature-based solutions.
Individuals and communities have an important role to play through shifting their lifestyles and making more sustainable choices in areas like consumption and travel to reduce their climate impact.
What is WWF doing?
WWF is calling for a New Deal for Nature and People. World leaders need to set ambitious global nature targets, matched with ambitious national biodiversity commitments and, on the climate side, strong nature-based solutions in climate pledges and country plans, that can reverse the loss of nature by 2030 for the benefit of people and the planet.
Add your voice for the planet to call for world leaders to take urgent action!