To save the planet, the world must face the crises of climate change and species loss together, taking action that fixes both and not one, United Nations scientists have said.
A joint report released Thursday by separate UN scientific bodies examining climate change and biodiversity loss found that there are ways to tackle both global problems simultaneously, but some solutions to warming could accelerate extinctions of plants and animals.
For example, measures such as expanding bioenergy crops like corn, or efforts to extract carbon dioxide from the air and bury it, could use so much land – twice the size of India – that the impact would be “quite catastrophic on biodiversity,” said co-author and biologist Almut Arneth at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany.
Policy responses to climate change and biodiversity loss have long been siled, with different government agencies responsible for each, said co-author Pamela McElwee, human ecologist at Rutgers University.
The problems worsen, intertwine and end up hurting people, the scientists said.
“Climate change and loss of biodiversity threaten human well-being as well as society,” said report co-chair Hans-Otto Portner, a German biologist who helps oversee the Intergovernmental Panel’s impact group on climate change from the UN.
Earth’s naturally changing climate shaped the development of life, including humans, but once people in the industrialized world started pumping fossil fuels into the air, it started cascading problems, a said Portner.
“It is high time to correct what is wrong,” he said. “The climate system is irrelevant and biodiversity is suffering. “
There are many steps that can fix both issues at once, according to the report.
“Protecting and restoring high-carbon ecosystems,” such as tropical forests and peatlands, should be a high priority, said co-author Pete Smith, a plant and soil specialist at the University of ‘Aberdeen.
While some climate solutions may increase species loss, scientists have said that efforts to curb extinctions are not really bad for the climate.
Yunne Shin, research director at the French National Research Institute, said much of the action taken to protect biodiversity will also help curb climate change. While she applauded the growing interest in nature-based solutions, she said, conservation measures “must be accompanied by clear reductions in emissions”.
“This report is an important milestone,” said Simon Lewis, chair of the science of global change at University College London, who was not part of the report.
“Finally, the global bodies that synthesize scientific information on two of the 21st century’s deepest crises are working together,” he said. “Halting the loss of biodiversity is even more difficult than phasing out the use of fossil fuels. “
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