New Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report shows the importance of addressing nature loss as part of the fight against climate change and how nature-based solutions (NBS) offer a way forward. EcoAct’s Research and Innovation team looks at the benefits of tackling these two together.
While climate and biodiversity issues have been managed separately for a long time, there is now a growing interest in developing an integrated management approach to accelerate the action of policy and corporates decision-makers. Released in June 2021, the “Biodiversity and Climate change – Scientific outcome” report is the first collaboration between experts from the IPCC and the IPBES, financed by the governments of the United Kingdom and Norway. It stresses that biodiversity loss and climate change need to be dealt with together if we are to achieve our global climate and environmental ambitions.
From sustainable development to tackling biodiversity loss and climate change together
Since the 1970s, sustainable development has been raising international concerns, gravitating around climate change and biodiversity issues. In the Brundtland report (1987), it was described as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This macroscopic approach had the ambition to curve past trajectories towards a resilient future for all.
Nevertheless, today, huge gaps remain between theory and the real world. Greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere increase, whereas biodiversity collapses. The two environmental topics have been managed separately for a long time, which has had a detrimental impact on both. This report could mark a turning point where the two topics can be tackled together to greater effect. It demonstrate the necessity to merge such challenges, citing multiple drivers such as pollution and land/sea-use change that have significant affect on both climate and biodiversity.
Figure #1: Indirect and direct drivers of biodiversity loss and climate change due to human activities
IPCC & IPBES highlights co-benefits of climate action and biodiversity protection
According to the report, “protection and restoration of carbon rich ecosystems is the top priority from a joint climate change mitigation and biodiversity protection perspective”. Four pillars of actions are identified as key to scale up co-benefits for climate and nature:
- Protect: reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation coupled with the increase of biodiversity richness, conservation of non-forest carbon-rich ecosystems on land and sea, including freshwater systems and coastal areas
- Restore: restoration of degraded ecosystems, such as wetlands which are efficient carbon sinks, flood prevention ecosystems and home of biodiversity
- Manage: climate- and biodiversity-friendly agricultural, forestry and fishing practices, changes in consumption to reduce pressure on lands, optimise localisation of supply chains (about 30% of global species threats are associated with the international trade of commodities);
- Create: urban greening and biodiversity support to reduce energy consumption and enable cities to become carbon sinks, mitigation opportunities on newly emerging habitats combining low-carbon materials and spaces for biodiversity reintroduction in the city, combined technology and nature-based mitigation options.
Combining climate and biodiversity focuses shows that it can result in climate mitigation, adaptation, and protection of biodiversity as ecosystem services.
Towards a life-cycle vision of climate change mitigation
However, though some actions benefit climate and nature, it is false to extrapolate the findings by advancing that all mitigation actions improve ecosystem services and vice-versa. The IPCC and the IPBES clearly warn that reducing emissions can sometimes contribute to the collapse of biodiversity:
- Poorly managed reforestation and afforestation: reforestation and afforestation are considered relatively cost-effective climate change mitigation options. However, if implemented poorly, they may also promote the usage of the planted forests as sources of bioenergy, which has detrimental effects to existing ecosystems’ carbon storage, water balance, biodiversity, and food security. This is why international standards are essential
- Solar power and land-use change: large-scale solar plants require land area, which can involve clearing or conversion of otherwise managed land, limiting biodiversity
- Wind power and species migration: onshore wind turbines can interfere with migratory or soaring birds as well as bats, with mortality rates that can be of similar magnitude to those caused by other human infrastructures (industry, cars)
- Hydropower and alteration of ecosystems: the building of dams for freshwater storage and hydropower creation alters habitats for all freshwater organisms and blocks fish migration, leading to range contraction and population decline
- Rare and critical minerals impact on marine ecosystems: with increasing demand for rare and critical metals for low-carbon technology-based products, deep ocean mining has raised concerns around its impact on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, in a field that is largely under-researched
Figure #2: Diagram mapping the positive and negative effects of actions to mitigate climate change on actions to mitigate biodiversity loss (top), and of actions to mitigate biodiversity loss on actions to mitigate climate change (bottom)
Blue lines represent positive effects, while orange lines represent negative effects.
This shows that the large majority of actions imply positive co-benefits in both directions. The main warnings deal with afforestation, bioenergy, BECCS and hydropower as mitigation actions, with the potential to harm biodiversity (loss of natural ecosystems, fire management, pressure on ecosystems). Nevertheless, biodiversity actions almost always create beneficial impacts on climate.
That is why it is essential to lead life-cycle assessments on mitigation and biodiversity-focused projects. Only a multi-criteria approach will ensure robust co-benefits for climate and nature. Knowing and acknowledging the trade-offs will enable an intelligent integrated management for an optimum greenhouse gas emissions reduction paired with biodiversity conservation.
The year for climate action
Globally 2021 is set to be a watershed year for climate, with the organisation of the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Congress in September (France), the COP15 on Biodiversity in October (China) and the COP26 for Climate in November (UK). In the private sector, companies are being encouraged to combining climate and nature issues, and with science-based targets for nature expected to come in 2022, it’s a first step toward integrated SBTs for all aspects of nature as biodiversity, climate, freshwater, land, and ocean.
This report clearly demonstrates that it is far more effective to tackle biodiversity loss and climate change together rather than the historic siloed approach. Its message is plain, the longevity of our societies and economies depends on us being able to change our approach. Here at EcoAct, we strongly hope the report will be taken seriously and that its guidelines are incorporated into the resilience strategies of both businesses and governments so global climate ambitions can be achieved.