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Biodiversity Solutions Also Fight Climate Change • The Revelator

Biodiversity Solutions Also Fight Climate Change • The Revelator

Mangrove Galapagos

Under the sea, mass extinction is possible. This was the grim message from a StudyPublished in April in The Journal Science, which found that continuing to emit greenhouse gases unchecked could trigger a mass die-off of ocean animals that rivals the worst extinction events in Earth’s history.

The findings serve as just the latest reminder that climate change and biodiversity loss are interconnected crises — even if they’re rarely addressed in tandem by policymakers.

To that end, the ScienceThe study contained some hopeful news: It was possible to reduce the extinction risk by 70% by taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius.

Additional research published in Global Change BiologyAnother encouraging finding is: The study, by an international team of scientists, found that not only can we do better at addressing biodiversity issues — we can do it while also targeting climate change.

“Many instances of conservation actions intended to slow, halt or reverse biodiversity loss can simultaneously slow anthropogenic climate change,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Their work looked at 21 proposed action targets for biodiversity that will be the focus of this fall’s international convening of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming, China — a meeting delayed two years by the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers found that two-thirds of those biodiversity targets also support climate change mitigation, even though they weren’t explicitly designed for that goal.

These crises can be solved together if we take steps to prevent deforestation and to restore degraded eco-systems. The study found that coastal ecosystems, such as those found in the coast, should be given special attention. MangrovesSeagrass, salt marshes and seagrass can store large amounts carbon and support a variety of animals.

Mangrove Galapagos
A Galapagos pelican perches on a mangrove stand. Photo: Hans Johnson (CC BY 2.0)

It is important to restore forests and woods. However, it is essential that you do this with native species. Planting monocultures of nonnative trees won’t boost biodiversity, the researchers point out, despite such endeavors being incentivized as a climate change solution.

Another target is reducing runoff into rivers, lakes and coastal waters from excess nutrients — including nitrogen and phosphorus — that cause algal blooms and oxygen-depleted waters. Eutrophication and warming may increase greenhouse gas emission in freshwater bodies. This can also harm fish and other animals.

Another mutualistic goal is expanding and connecting the network. Globally, we’ve protected about 15% of land and 7% of marine habitats. But we need to continue. To increase those numbers significantly. Researchers behind the Global Change Biology study put it, “There is a substantial overlap of 92% between areas that require reversing biodiversity loss and the areas needing protection for enhancing carbon storage and drawdown.”

These issues can be tackled together to increase the benefits.

We’re also spending large sums of money in all the wrong places. The study lists the reduction or elimination of subsidies that are harmful to biodiversity and the climate as “one of the most important and urgent reforms.”

Researchers note that we spend 10 times more on subsidies to environmentally harmful practices than we do on biodiversity conservation. Brazil, for instance, spends 88x as much on subsidizing activities related to deforestation as on those that might help stop it.

Other areas that can be targeted to increase biodiversity and climate work are: recovering and conserving wild animals; greening cities; eliminating overfishing; reducing agricultural waste; and shifting diets towards more plant-based foods rather than meat and dairy.

And, the researchers say, we need to “mainstream” the issues together — embedding both climate and biodiversity targets and metrics into policy, business and consumer practices.

These issues need to be understood early. A study of 46 countries’ school curriculums revealed that less than half of them addressed climate change and only one-fifth mentioned biodiversity. Researchers recommend that both of these subjects be more widely covered and integrated together.

It’s not possible, after all, to tackle one crisis without addressing the other.

To combat climate change, we need functioning ecosystems that support healthy populations native plants and animals.

“And climate change is damaging this capacity,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, a study coauthor and climate researcher at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research. “Only when we succeed in drastically reducing emissions from fossil fuels can nature help us to stabilize the climate.”

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The deputy editor of The RevelatorShe has been a digital editor and an environmental journalist for over a decade. Her focus is on the intersections between energy, water, and climate. Her work has been published in The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific StandardAmong others. She is also the editor of two books about the global water crisis.if(typeoffbq!= “undefined”)

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