Climate and biodiversity
1. Context and definition of the concept
- The term ‘biodiversity’ refers to the multiple forms of life that exist and the ecological processes that support them. It covers the diversity between species but it also goes above and below that concept. Below, there are breeds, populations, individuals and genes. Above, species act on an interlinked basis in communities and together with the physical environment, they form ecosystems.
- Any analysis of climate change needs to include biodiversity as a key element from the perspective of both the impacts and the possible solutions to the phenomenon:
Biodiversity as an element that is under threat from climate change:
- Climate change affects ecosystems and species because their ability to adapt to disturbances is limited. Species are under threat from effects such as the melting of the ice-caps (habitat loss), extreme climate with droughts, rising temperatures, rising sea levels and increasing acidification of the oceans.
- Climate change aggravates the status of biodiversity, which is already subject to significant human pressures (habitat loss, overexploitation, pollution, the introduction of invasive exotic species).
Scientific evidence has highlighted the vulnerability and decline of biodiversity. The Living Planet Index 2016 reveals that the world population of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles dropped by 58% between 1970 and 2012, due to human activities. A decline of up to 67% is predicted in just half a century (between 1970 and 2020). Biodiversity is being lost at the fastest rate in the last 65 million years. It is estimated that climate change may be the main reason behind the extinction of about a quarter or more of all the species on earth by the year 2050 and that it may even overtake habitat loss as the greatest threat to life on earth.
Source: WWF, 2016; Living Planet Report
Biodiversity as a key element in combating climate change:
- The imbalance caused to biodiversity as a consequence of climate change and other human pressures ultimately leads to a drop in the quality of the goods and services provided by ecosystems (climate regulation, air and water quality regulation, erosion control, soil fertilisation, pollination, etc.), all of which are essential for maintaining the right balance on the planet and sustaining human activities. Healthy ecosystems with a high degree of biodiversity act as a buffer and combat climate change.
Fuente: WWF, 2016; Informe Planeta Vivo
- It is also important to highlight that many of these ecosystems (particularly forests and oceans) act as sinks and reservoirs for carbon, thus helping to reduce the concentration levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Therefore, emissions will rise if they are degraded and destroyed. This is not just because the amount of carbon in storage will fall, but also because the natural capacity to absorb carbon will be reduced (it is estimated that these ecosystems may capture about 30% of CO2 emissions of anthropogenic origin). This in turn limits the role of biodiversity in reducing and acting as a buffer against climate change:
Source: WWF, 2016; Living Planet Report
2. Progress (existing initiatives and compliance with goals)
The international community has undertaken important commitments to preserve biodiversity and effectively acknowledged its connection to climate change:
- At the Nagoya Convention on Biological Diversity (Japan) in 2010, the Strategic Plan for Biological Diversity 2011-2025 was approved, with 5 strategic goals and 20 targets, known as the Aichi Targets. These goals (ii and iv) were the first direct reference made to the link between biodiversity and climate change.
Structure of the Strategic Plan for Biological Diversity 2011-2020:
- Biodiversity is an important cross-disciplinary issue on the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Of the Sustainable Development Goals, it should be noted that goals 14 and 15 refer, respectively, to the conservation of ecosystems at sea and on land. In the latter case, the ability of forestry ecosystems to mitigate climate change is highlighted. Other goals acknowledge the importance of biodiversity in eradicating poverty, supplying food and fresh water and enhancing life in cities.
- The Paris Agreement signed at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2015 acknowledges the importance of striking a balance between the emissions that are generated and the planet’s capacity for absorption. Forests and oceans, as the main sinks and reservoirs for carbon, are the priority resources in need of protection. Their conservation is declared to be mandatory for the countries that signed the agreement.
“This Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 demonstrates that with concerted efforts at all levels, we can achieve the goals and targets of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020. Success will significantly contribute to the broader global priorities of eliminating poverty, improving human health and providing energy, food and clean water for all”. Ban Ki-moon.
“We cannot address biodiversity loss without tackling climate change, but it is equally impossible to tackle climate change without addressing biodiversity loss. Protecting and restoring ecosystems can help us reduce the extent of climate change and cope with its impact.” European Commission.
Sonia Castañeda, directora de la Fundación Biodiversidad del Ministerio de Agricultura y Pesca, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente, destaca que “la biodiversidad es esencial para el desarrollo de la vida, clave para mantener nuestro bienestar y una oportunidad para la generación de riqueza y empleo. Desde la Fundación Biodiversidad trabajamos para su protección luchando contra los efectos que el cambio climático pueda generar en ella”.
4. Challenges to be faced
- Despite the multiple commitments undertaken, the status of biodiversity continues to decline in all regions. Analysis of national action plans on biodiversity reveals that just 15% of the countries that are parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity are properly positioned to attain the 20 Aichi Targets, and that additional measures need to be adopted. The progress achieved as regards the majority of the goals is insufficient.
- The most recent report on Biodiversity Status (Global Biodiversity Outlook, 2014) focuses on the following challenges:
- Forecasts point towards a worsening decline in biodiversity at least until 2020, as a consequence of the increasing pressures affecting it (climate change, intensive farming, overfishing, uncontrolled tourism, etc.). To be more specific, it has been identified that pressures linked to agriculture account for 70% of the projected loss of biological diversity on land. This draws attention to the importance of agrifood systems and consumption patterns moving towards a more sustainable model.
- Although the pace of deforestation has slowed down in some tropical areas, significant regional variations persist.
- Despite the trend towards more efficient use of natural resources, this progress is not enough to offset our high overall consumption levels. If they continue to increase, it is unlikely that it will be possible to keep ecosystems within safe ecological limits.
- Although the proportion of protected areas is increasing, they are very often mismanaged. Apart from some specific success stories, the average risk of extinction for birds, mammals and amphibians continues to increase.
5. Call to Action
- It is important to promote greater public awareness of the services and goods provided by biodiversity and the link with climate change. Biodiversity management needs to be incorporated into climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, including assessment of the synergies and side effects of the various measures. It is important to involve the private sector and society at large.
- It is crucial to promote initiatives that are geared towards transforming our systems for the production, distribution and consumption of foods, goods and services into sustainable models, based on the concept of the circular economy.
- The management and conservation of forests is crucial for mitigating climate change and protecting biodiversity. In this context, it is important to highlight the Mechanism for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) set up by the United Nations. Its goal is to reduce GHG emissions derived from deforestation in developing countries by creating carbon credits. For this initiative to be successful, the support of governments and the involvement of the private sector are important.
6. Information Sources