Climate Group: Emission reductions must go hand in hand with actions around adaptation and NbS
By Climate Group | December 12, 2022
The more we learn about the climate crisis, the more we realise that it is inextricably linked with biodiversity loss. Climate change affects biodiversity, and biodiversity affects how nature can mitigate and adapt to climate change.
At Climate Group our mission is to drive climate action – fast. As such, our main focus is the mitigation of harmful emissions to keep global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees. It’s why we have corporate campaigns focused on renewable energy, zero-emission vehicles and net zero steel production. It’s also why the Under2 Coalition of states and regions, for which we act as Secretariat, has a goal of becoming net zero by 2050 or earlier.
However, we recognise that emission reductions need to go hand in hand with actions around climate change adaptation and nature-based solutions. Mitigation alone can’t solve the issues we collectively face, and neither can any one group: it takes all of us.
Biodiversity loss contributes to increasing greenhouse emissions, not least because the carbon stored by functioning ecosystems instead enters the atmosphere once those ecosystems are destroyed. Forests, for example, store carbon, cool their surroundings and help regulate local climate. Without this regulation, new and often unpredictable patterns emerge. This is evident in places like the Amazon rainforest, where deforestation has led to fires, which in turn have released carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. At the same time, both deforestation and fires are decimating local species, many of which have ecosystem functions we don’t yet understand.
We have seen a catastrophic reduction not just in the number of species Earth but in the population size of most species as well. WWF estimates this as a 68% reduction since 1970. In an interconnected global system, this has clear and lasting consequences for humanity. However this is also a highly complicated system, and actions to reverse historic declines are difficult to introduce and implement. The careful balance between species means that one course of action can have many unforeseen repercussions on others.
Thinking in terms of biodiversity and climate change together offers one way of reaching solutions, and there has been a growing shift in recent years to thinking about these as two connected crises. At COP26 there was a major pledge to reduce deforestation and nature-based solutions made it into a COP cover text for the first time last month at COP27. This has helped to build a bridge between these annual summits and the UN’s biodiversity summits in a way that makes clear how much the solutions to one issue can support solutions to the other.
The Under2 Coalition has been working closely with other non-State groups to make sure we consider this broader context and that we reflect the wide-ranging concerns of all our members. Through our ‘What’s at State?’ campaign with Regions4, we’ve been highlighting the complicated environmental issues states and regions face today. For example, the Balam Kú reserve in Campeche, Mexico, supports enormous biodiversity – including many endangered species. But its water catchment is decreasing year on year due to climate change, putting its future at risk. On the other side of the world, Western Cape is seeing an increase in wildfires and droughts, which are changing the region’s ecology and threatening agricultural production. Addressing these problems will have a positive impact on local water security and food supplies as well as biodiversity.
Through our projects we also regularly encounter cross-cutting climate and biodiversity issues that can’t be seen in isolation. Our Climate Footprint Project supports state and regional governments in creating greenhouse gas inventories – where they identify those industries emitting the most before taking targeted action to improve them. In Antioquia, Colombia, the government found that intensive farming is responsible for significant global emissions every year and developed a tool to calculate what could be saved through small-scale afforestation and reforestation efforts. Such efforts would capture carbon dioxide emissions while providing habitats and enhancing biodiversity at the same time.
Our members take actions individually to address both the climate and biodiversity crises as well. The Scottish Government, for example, has taken a leading role through its biodiversity strategy, which sets out the major steps needed to improve the state of nature more locally in support not just of the nation’s ecology but climate change and the economy too. It has also called on other non-State actors to sign the Edinburgh Declaration on a post-2020 global biodiversity framework and therefore recognise the critical role of nature in supporting human health and sustainable livelihoods.
Ultimately, we need an integrated approach to the climate crisis with actions that recognise mitigation, adaptation and nature. Every system, from energy to agriculture, relies on a functioning natural world that is resilient to change. If international agreements start to acknowledge this, then there is the potential to go much further in tackling the crises we face – and faster too.
States, regions and cities are increasingly highlighting the connections that exist between climate change and biodiversity loss and have turned up in force at COP15 in Montreal to demonstrate their commitment to addressing both. It’s now vital that these efforts are amplified at all levels so that we can turn the tide on biodiversity loss – and climate change – before it’s too late.