Biodiversity and climate change – the links and the conferences
Clare Taylor shares how climate change drives biosiversity loss and thus worsens climate change and the overall damage it causes. Clare also emphasizes the need to strengthen biodiversity and reducing waste.
About a year ago I wrote an article about biodiversity and mentioned a forthcoming global conference of the parties (COP) set to take place that autumn, when governments would be meeting to set new goals for protecting biodiversity. This had already been postponed twice from October 2020 because of Covid. It was yet again postponed, although interim meetings have been held.
The main meeting – the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) – is now scheduled to take place in December in Montreal, just a month after COP 27 on climate change in Egypt. An interesting juxtaposition, as the two topics are so closely linked. And for both, delaying taking action means that more is needed.
Biodiversity and climate change provide a mutual feedback loop: climate change drives biodiversity loss, and biodiversity loss exacerbates climate change and the damage it causes.
Take the food web – it’s a complex chain of events relying on pollinators being active when the flowers of the plants they pollinate are open, on the insects the birds eat being abundant when the chicks hatch, on the vegetation being ready for the herbivores, the rains at the right time to trigger fish migrations.
When co-dependent species have different triggers, they can go out of sync as climate change shifts events: when food availability is triggered by temperature, but birth cycles are triggered by day length, rising temperatures can cause a particular food to be gone too soon. There are other problems to the now-common false springs: when fruit trees bloom early because of unseasonable warm weather, they are vulnerable to late frosts. Heat waves, droughts and floods also damage vegetation and reduce food availability for all species, including us. Pollinators are among the species in decline, without them, we lose crops that rely on them. Phenology – the study of important recurring lifecycle stages and the way change is affecting them - has been part of research for a long time, and the results are disturbing.
Trees are an important part of managing climate change and its impacts, taking carbon dioxide from the air and providing shade to reduce temperatures (particularly noticeable in cities), retaining soil and preventing it washing away into rivers. But they suffer from climate change as well, and tree coverage is being lost.
Large-scale efforts are needed to strengthen biodiversity, especially as greater variation in species helps with resilience, and this is starting to happen, a recent example being the new Nature Restoration Law proposed by the EU.
This law is intended to address all types of ecosystems - including urban green spaces - monitoring, improving and increasing habitats, and restoring insect and bird populations, among a host of topics. One of the key aims is to protect and safeguard the services nature provides to us, such as cleaning water and air, pollinating crops, protecting us from floods and improving food security. And part of it is limiting global warming to 1.5°C.
Although action urgently needs to be taken at a global level, small actions will help if enough businesses and people take them. Purchasing policies can include biodiversity in their criteria for products ranging from the tea, sugar and coffee for staff breaks to paper and timber products, and the associated management of not just the agricultural context from which the product is sourced, but also the management of air and water emissions during manufacturing processes.
If you have a site where there is room for green space, planting for wildlife and insects and avoiding pesticides and herbicides adds to the main effort, as does managing your own waste and emissions. If you can’t plant your own site, you could support local conservation groups’ efforts by offering staff volunteering time, printing publicity material or even providing refreshments on the day.
Where it’s possible, trees and shrubs can help provide shade to reduce building overheating in summer and save a bit on energy for air conditioning, as well as being a shelter and source of food for wildlife. Providing a source of water will help birds and animals cope with heatwaves when the usual sources dry up and with cold spells when there is nothing but ice.
Reducing waste, and especially single-use plastics, also helps with both cutting carbon emissions and protecting nature by conserving resources and reducing contamination to where our wildlife lives.
Anyone whose policies use the United Nations Sustainable Development goals as their guide will already know how closely these topics are interlinked; for anyone who would like to know more, please read more here.
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