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Landmark report links Earth’s 2 greatest existential threats

Smoke and flames rise from an illegally started fire in the Amazon Rainforest Reserve, south of Novo Progresso in Para state, Brazil, August 15, 2020.

The Amazon rainforest is a crucial carbon sink and is also one of the most biodiversity places on Earth.
Photo: Carl De Souza (Getty Images)

Mass extinction and the climate emergency each pose an existential threat to life as we know it. A landmark new report shows they must be approached in tandem to give nature – and by extension, us – the best chance at survival.

The report, released Thursday morning, was written by 50 top climate and extinction experts for the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Thursday morning. This is the first-ever joint collaboration between these two organizations, both of which have published seminal reports in recent years on the climate crisis and the collapse of nature. Their collaboration shows the urgency of these problems as truly catastrophic impacts loom.

So far, the authors say, most international politicians have treated biodiversity loss and global warming as independent issues, and world leaders have formed separate intergovernmental conventions and bodies to s ‘attack everyone. But leaders need to take a closer look at how the issues intersect if they are serious about solving crises.

It’s not as if scientists have never discussed the interdependence of these two crises before. But some extinctions have so far been clearly linked to climate change, major biodiversity reports noted that the climate crisis is a growing threat.

“[W]We find that while organisms have remarkable abilities to cope with changing and warming environments … biology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and author of the report wrote in an email.

It is clear that the warming waters and atmospheric temperature are becoming less welcoming for many Marine and earthly similar creatures. Ocean acidification, another impact of increasing carbon pollution, poses a problem equally serious threat to marine habitat. More chaotic weather, scorching droughts and rising seas are also adding pressure.

As biodiversity declines, this in turn can push critical ecosystems to the point of collapse. This includes, as climatologists have long warned, greenhouse gas sequestering ecosystems such as Coral reefs, mangroves, and tropical forests, as well as carbon regulation freshwater lakes, wetlands and rivers.

“Climate change would be much worse right now without this natural sink function that nature offers us; it’s a free grant that we really haven’t appreciated enough, ”Pam McElwee, associate professor of human ecology at Rutgers and one of the report’s authors, wrote in an email.

But understanding and appreciating the link between extinction and climate crises, according to the new report, is not enough. Policymakers must find solutions that take into account the effects of both. Otherwise, strategies to tackle each could end up exacerbating the other.

“Generally, most of the things we could do for biodiversity, like expanding protected areas or instituting species protection, are either good for the climate or at least neutral,” McElwee said. “But the reverse is not true; some climate policies are likely to harm biodiversity or at least cause serious compromises. “

For example, planting crops that absorb carbon and help the soil to do the same can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But prioritizing this as a climate change mitigation strategy could also wipe out wildlife habitat and disrupt native practices. If crop growth is aided by pesticides and fertilizers, the effect can be even worse. Likewise, building renewable energies requires elements that are often found in delicate parts of the world. If we’re not careful, extract these materials could harm ecosystems and cause some species will disappear.

Scientists are making specific recommendations for policies that better tackle both of these issues, including halting the loss of carbon-sequestering ecosystems and biodiversity. Many of the world’s crucial greenhouse gas sinks, such as the Amazonian and Congolese rainforests, coastal mangrove forests and the Pantanal wetland in South America, are also among the most biodiverse regions in the world. .

The authors also suggest adopting more sustainable agricultural and forestry practices. Crop diversification and phasing out the use of harsh pesticides and fertilizers can both protect species and allow soils and plants to suck in more carbon dioxide. The report also notes that reducing deforestation and forest degradation can not only protect rich ecosystems, but result in 5.8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent being removed from the atmosphere each year. This represents about 15% of all human emissions each year.

But beyond these specific suggestions, the authors say that a truly comprehensive response to climate and biodiversity crises will require world leaders to change their understanding of how human society should relate to the rest of the world. .

“Resolving some of the strong and seemingly inevitable tradeoffs between climate and biodiversity will lead to a collective profound change in individual and shared values ​​regarding nature,” Hans-Otto Pörtner, a climatologist who co-chaired the scientific steering committee of the working group on the report. , said in a statement.

This includes deprioritizing GDP growth first and foremost, and instead taking the natural world into account in all economic decisions. It also includes the recognition of the rights and sovereignty of indigenous peoples, whose studies show that communities better suited to protect biodiversity and the climate.

It all sounds pretty radical. Today the world is locked in a race for growth and profit above all. Harnessing human and non-human life in this quest is seen as the way things work. But the reality is that this system doesn’t work for the natural world (to say nothing of the billions of people around the world), and it could collapse completely if we don’t change course.

“Tackling climate and biodiversity together (…) is going to be a different task than any we’ve attempted before,” said McElwee. “It’s really everyone on the bridge.”

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