If science, politics and the real world connect, nature can be our climate hero

Posted on June, 10 2021

(10 June 2021) - Global biodiversity loss and the climate crisis are both driven by human economic activities, and mutually reinforce each other. But neither will be successfully resolved unless both are tackled together, according to a new report by the two UN scientific bodies responsible for biodiversity and climate change.


The report, published today, finds that previous policies have largely tackled biodiversity loss and climate change independently of each other, and that addressing the synergies between mitigating biodiversity loss and climate change, while considering their social impacts, offers the opportunity to maximize benefits and meet global development goals, according to 50 of the world’s leading biodiversity and climate change experts from IPBES (the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) and the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

Commenting on the report, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, WWF Global Lead Climate & Energy said: “The report offers us a very useful reflection on the connection between climate and biodiversity. But what is most significant is the fact that these two UN scientific bodies have, for the first time, produced a joint report, bringing together in the political world what is already evident in the real world – the incontrovertible interconnectedness of climate and biodiversity.

"The global effort to protect nature is getting traction, even though it is not yet sufficient. This report contributes to this effort and should lever more actions, resources and support to address nature loss and ecosystem degradation, and move the planet into a nature positive vision. 

"Biodiversity is, at last, rising to the top of the international policy agenda and finding its rightful place alongside climate change.”

Dr 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.”

Gavin Edwards, Global Coordinator, Nature & People said, “With the world’s foremost natural science bodies – IPBES and IPCC – both stating that climate and nature are interdependent and one cannot be addressed without tackling the other, then the science has never been more clear.

"To secure a nature positive, net-zero carbon and more equitable world, governments must agree a plan to ensure there is more nature in the world in the next decade at the upcoming Convention on Biological Diversity negotiation in Kunming, China. 

"Protecting 30% of land and sea with the full consent and support of Indigenous Peoples, agreeing a goal to halve the impact of all the food we produce and consume, and agreeing actions to bring species back from the brink of extinction are essential if we are to tackle the twin crises of runaway climate change and the collapse of biodiversity. The next generation deserves clean water, healthy sustainable food and a stable climate.”

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.

Notes to Editors:

1. The workshop report has not been subjected to IPBES or IPCC review, and that IPBES and IPCC co-sponsorship of the workshop does not imply IPBES or IPCC endorsement or approval of the workshop or its conclusions.

2. Climate mitigation and adaptation measures identified by the report as harmful to biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people include:

  • Planting bioenergy crops in monocultures over a very large share of land areas. Such crops are detrimental to ecosystems when deployed at very large scales, reducing nature’s contributions to people and impeding achievement of many of the Sustainable Development Goals. At small scales, alongside pronounced and rapid reductions in fossil-fuel emissions, dedicated bioenergy crops for electricity production or fuels may provide co-benefits for climate adaptation and biodiversity.
  • Planting trees in ecosystems that have not historically been forests and reforestation with monocultures – especially with exotic tree species. This can contribute to climate change mitigation but is often damaging to biodiversity, food production and other nature’s contributions to people, has no clear benefits for climate adaptation, and may displace local people through competition for land.
  • Increasing irrigation capacity. A common response to adapt agricultural systems to drought that often leads to water conflicts, dam building and long-term soil degradation from salinization.
  • Any measures that focus too narrowly on climate change mitigation should be evaluated in terms of their overall benefits and risks, such as some renewable energies generating surges of mining activity or consuming large amounts of land. The same applies to some technical measures too narrowly focused on adaptation, such as building dams and sea walls. Although important options for mitigating and adapting to climate change exist, these can have large negative environmental and social impacts – such as interference with migratory species and habitat fragmentation. Such impacts can be minimized, for instance, by developing alternative batteries and long-lived products, efficient recycling systems for mineral resources, and approaches to mining that include strong considerations for environmental and social sustainability.

3. The authors caution that narrowly-focused actions to combat climate change can directly and indirectly harm nature and vice-versa, but among the most important  measures that can make significant positive contributions in both areas 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 carbon- and 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.

For further information, contact Mandy Jean Woods mwoods@wwfint.org 

Group of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) swimming in kelp forest (Macrocystis pyrifera), California, USA
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