In A Pandemic, When ‘Climate Meets Biodiversity’ Crisis

COVID-19 is a rude awakening for us and business cannot resume as usual. There is urgency in getting all parties and stakeholders to agree and arrest the rapid environmental degradation.

Planet Outlook
Ananda Banerjee - June 19, 2021
In A Pandemic, When ‘Climate Meets Biodiversity’ Crisis

With the coming together of two major scientific groups there is some hope for current trends to reverse. While the climate clock ticks away at New York’s Union Square, highlighting the number of days left to cut greenhouse gas emissions and prevent the climate catastrophe, 50 experts from the two global scientific bodies, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), met in a virtual four-day workshop to agree that “biodiversity loss and climate change are both driven by human economic activities. Neither will be successfully resolved unless both are tackled together.” This is the first time two groups of scientists are joining hands to find a solution.  The plenary session of the IPBES is currently underway, (14 to 24 June 2021), to fine-tune the outcome of the scientific meet. And it acknowledges the fact that all previous work on climate change and biodiversity loss was happening in isolation of each other. This needs to change now.

While the climate crisis has drawn the bulk of the media attention, there has been a growing demand that it is time for the biodiversity crisis to get amplified too. For all major scientific reports point to a mass extinction of species and that the global biodiversity loss is at its worst with over one million species facing extinction. And the factors driving this crisis are pollution, land and sea use change, climate change, species overexploitation, invasive species and disease.

IPBES-IPCC now stands together in addressing the synergies between mitigating biodiversity loss and climate change, while considering their social impacts, offers the opportunity to maximize benefits and meet global development goals.

“Changes in biodiversity, in turn affect climate, especially through impact on nitrogen, carbon and water cycles. The evidence is clear – a sustainable global future for people and nature is still achievable, but it requires transformative change with rapid and far-reaching actions of a type never before attempted, building on ambitious emissions reductions. Solving some of the strong and apparently unavoidable trade-offs between climate and biodiversity will entail a profound collective shift of individual and shared values concerning nature – such as moving away from the conception of economic progress based solely on GDP growth, to one that balances human development with multiple values of nature for a good quality of life, while not overshooting biophysical and social limits,” said Professor Hans-Otto Portner, Co-chair of the Scientific Steering Committee, IPBES-IPCC.

The second half of 2021 will see three major meets (all reschedule from 2020) where the IPBES-IPCC workshop report will be the focal point of debate and discussions to chart a road map for environmental mitigation.

The three conclaves are, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress  (3 to 11 September, 2021, in Marseille, France), the UN Biodiversity Conference (11-24 October, 2021, Kunming, China) and the Conference of the Parties (COP 26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), (1-12 November, 2021, Glasgow, UK).

This series of global meets are not new to those who are fighting for climate justice or saving habitats and species. However, previous editions of these meetings have ended in disappointment with no mutually agreed targets achieved to date to reverse the trend. Last year, the United States, the biggest stumbling block to progress on climate change targets, walked out of the climate treaty. Earlier this year the Biden administration has announced it will re-join the climate pact but hasn’t yet committed to ratifying its signing on the Convention on Biological Diversity, which aims to protect species, habitats, and ecological processes important to human well-being. 

The good news is in a preparatory meet on the UN Biodiversity Conference for this week, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel sounded that alarm, “There is nothing to sugar-coat. The rapid loss of biodiversity has catastrophic consequences for all of us worldwide," while emphasising a need for a "trend reversal". For climate change and biodiversity, the decline is largely driven by the rapid rise in the consumption of materials and energy. 

According to IPBES-IPCC report, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the fundamental interconnections among human health, biodiversity and climate change a stark reality. Disruption, degradation and fragmentation of natural ecosystems alongside growing wild animal trade has brought wildlife, such as bats, which carry viruses that can cross species boundaries, into close proximity with domestic animals and humans. Climate change has engendered habitat loss that contributes to this proximity and has also amplified through floods, heatwaves, wildfires and food insecurity the suffering of humans during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While some may brush of Merkel’s speech as another piece of political rhetoric, but the fact of the matter is more world leaders should rise to the occasion, address the crisis and find a way out with the help of science. Political will is the need of the hour for there is no imminent solution.

 

‘Planet Nama’ is an exploration of our impact on the natural environment