‘Biodiversity loss and climate change need to be tackled together as both reinforce each other’

Global experts suggest reduction of fertiliser use, eliminating subsidies for deforestation, over-fertilisation and over-fishing; shifting diets toward more plant-based as some of the means to combat climate change.

Gaon Connection
| Updated: June 10th, 2021

A village woman struggling to find water in coastal Bangladesh. Photo: Rafiqul Montu

Biodiversity loss and climate change are driven by human economic activities. They mutually reinforce each other. Neither will be successfully resolved unless both are tackled together. This is the message of a workshop report, published today June 10, by global biodiversity and climate experts.

A virtual workshop was held between experts selected by a 12-person Scientific Steering Committee assembled by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Both these international organisations are working on climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies.

“The warmer the world gets, the less food, drinking water and other key contributions nature can make to our lives, in many regions,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the Scientific Steering Committee. “Changes in biodiversity, in turn, affect climate, especially through impacts on nitrogen, carbon and water cycles,” he added.

Meanwhile, Ana María Hernández Salgar, Chair of IPBES suggested that transformative change in all parts of society and economy is needed to stabilize climate, stop biodiversity loss and chart a path to a sustainable future. “This will require us to address both crises together, in complementary ways. Land and ocean are already doing a lot – absorbing almost 50% of CO2 from human emissions – but nature cannot do everything,” said Salgar.

A family assesses the damage caused to their house in the aftermath of cylone Yaas in Odisha, India. Photo: SEEDS India

Action for climate change 

The experts warn that narrowly-focused actions to combat climate change can directly and indirectly harm nature and vice-versa. However, several measures can make significant contributions in both areas.

Following are the important possible actions identified in the report:

  • 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 highlighted 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. 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 fertiliser 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.
  • Eliminating subsidies that support local and national activities harmful to biodiversity – such as deforestation, over-fertilisation 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. 
Coffee plantation in Meenagadi, Kerala. Coffee is thermo-sensitive crop. Photo: Eco India

Climate mitigation and adaptation

The group of international experts also highlighted some focused climate mitigation and adaptation measures as harmful to biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people. These include:

  • Planting bioenergy crops in monocultures over a very large share of land areas.
  • Planting trees in ecosystems that have not historically been forests and reforestation with monocultures – especially with exotic tree species.
  • Increasing irrigation capacity.

Also Read: Baoris, Bijli Swaraj and Biomass Plants: How the states are responding to climate change