2021 is “absolutely critical” for climate and nature – Expert Reaction

The biodiversity and climate emergencies can’t be solved in isolation, says a new UN-backed report – we either solve both or we solve neither.

The IPBES report – which includes New Zealand authors – highlights actions that will benefit both the climate and biodiversity, like saving wetlands, increasing protected natural areas, and improving sustainable farming.

It also points out some climate policies could harm biodiversity, such as reforesting areas with a single exotic tree species, or increasing mining for metals to be used in wind turbines and electric car batteries.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the peer-reviewed report that resulted from this workshop.

Dr Carolyn Lundquist, Principal Scientist, Marine Ecology, NIWA; and Associate Professor, School of Environment, University of Auckland, comments:

Note: Dr Lundquist is Co-chair, IPBES task force on scenarios and models

“It is encouraging to see the summary report from this landmark activity – a first-ever collaboration between two UN intergovernmental bodies – the IPCC for climate change, and the IPBES for biodiversity and ecosystem services. It is particularly noteworthy for the development of novel scenario approaches to support global biodiversity and climate change assessments, tools that we use for exploring how different choices we make can result in a better – or worse – future.

“The climate change community has an extensive history of developing climate scenarios for exploring future pathways, though typically they only have limited consideration of biodiversity and of interactions and feedbacks between nature and society.

“Within the biodiversity community, new scenario approaches (such as the Nature Futures Framework that has been catalysed by IPBES) provide a new scenarios framework that integrates drivers of change (including climate drivers), Sustainable Development Goals, and societal-ecological feedbacks.

“I look forward to ongoing collaborations initiated through this first workshop, resulting in novel climate-biodiversity scenarios that can be used to determine both synergies and trade-offs between those activities required for climate mitigation and for reducing biodiversity loss. These co-developed scenarios can explore and identify the transformative changes required to move toward a sustainable future for nature and for society.”

Conflict of interest statement: I serve as co-chair of the IPBES task force on scenarios and models, and 8 members of our 24 person task force were directly involved in the IPBES/IPCC workshop.

Dr Jonathan Tonkin, Senior Lecturer & Rutherford Discovery Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, comments:

“What is clear from the report is the overwhelming need to tackle these two issues together. Biodiversity loss and climate change are intricately linked – and we need to treat them that way. As the world warms, the key contributions that nature makes to people will be disrupted, including food supplies and drinking water – climate change exacerbates biodiversity change. Similarly, as we lose species due to other human-induced threats, ecosystems begin to unravel, altering key processes that can directly impact the climate.

“To reach the sustainable future we are seeking for people and nature, which is still possible, requires transformative change. We cannot reach these goals following business as usual. The report lays out a series of actions we can take to help us get there.

“Many of these actions come with multiple co-benefits, including flood or coastal protection, improved water quality, improved pollination, and even creating jobs. However, the report also lays out potential climate mitigation strategies that could negatively affect biodiversity, including widespread planting of monocultures or planting in areas that were previously not forested.

“The key take-home for me is that taking action to slow climate change is part of the solution to the global biodiversity crisis and, equally, preserving and restoring nature is part of the solution to the climate crisis. Without an holistic approach we may fail to solve either issue. So it’s important we make these changes and focus on the win-win strategies outlined in the report.

“The report highlights the importance of restoring ecosystems, but correctly acknowledges the fact that re-establishing pre-existing ecosystem conditions may not be possible under climate change. For instance, sequences of floods and droughts in rivers are changing due to altered rainfall and snowfall regimes across the globe. This changing physical template will limit our ability to restore these ecosystems to prior states, and will require flexibility regarding restoration end-goals.

“The report also stresses that the distribution, functioning and interactions of organisms, and ecosystems, will increasingly change as the climate continues to alter. Human-induced fragmentation of landscapes, seascapes and freshwater-scapes exacerbates this threat by altering the ability of organisms to redistribute and find suitable habitat. Moreover, while we often focus on how organisms are shifting their distributions in response to shifting climates, research has demonstrated that the performance of species suffers when not in their optimal environment. This has implications for the functioning of ecosystems and, in turn, for the services that ecosystems provide.

“So, providing nature-based solutions such as protected area networks (or various other green and blue infrastructure) that enable species to redistribute under future climate scenarios is fundamentally important moving forward. These nature-based solutions can provide several other co-benefits for both biodiversity and climate change issues.”

No conflict of interest.

Dr Sandra Lavorel, Portfolio Leader, Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, comments:

Note: Dr Lavorel is a co-author of this report.

“Transformative change in society and governance of socio-ecological systems can help create climate- and biodiversity-resilient development pathways.

“Changes in per-capita consumption, shift in diets, and progress towards sustainable exploitation of natural resources, could make substantial contributions to addressing the biodiversity crisis, climate change mitigation and adaptation. In the presence of strong and apparently unavoidable trade-offs within the biodiversity-climate-society nexus, a viable joint solution requires promoting social tipping interventions to modify the ways society and nature interact.

“Goal-based governance is now the norm for climate, biodiversity and sustainable development, but can create challenges in implementation. While integrated solutions for jointly addressing biodiversity and climate exist that also have co-benefits in terms of sustainable development and meeting basic needs of the poor and vulnerable, governing and financing these approaches is challenging.

“Multi-actor and multi-scale governance is an appropriate approach to the management of multi-functional landscapes and seascapes at different scales. A key outcome for successfully integrated governance of climate, biodiversity and good quality of life will be to help identify solutions for stewardship that deliver the highest co-benefits while avoiding trade-offs.

“When considering biodiversity-climate-society interactions, it is important to examine how the linkages between policy decisions and consequences unfold over time and how they act beyond the specific spatial context. Better tools for multi-sectoral scenario planning and modelling can help map pathways to simultaneously meeting Sustainable Developments, Paris Agreement targets and a post-2020 biodiversity agenda in the medium and long term.

“Measures narrowly focusing on protection and restoration of biodiversity have generally important knock-on benefits for climate change mitigation, but those benefits may be sub-optimal compared to measures that jointly account for biodiversity and climate.

“Protected areas are an important instrument to address biodiversity loss, with climate mitigation and adaptation co-benefits. Active management in conservation, such as through altering wildfire frequency, reintroducing key species or managing pests can be beneficial for both biodiversity and climate mitigation and adaptation, but not in all contexts. Locally motivated biodiversity conservation actions can be incentivized, guided and prioritized by global objectives and targets, such as climate benefits. Every local initiative matters, since the benefits of many small, local biodiversity measures accumulate at the global level.”

Conflict of interest statement: Dr Lavorel is a co-author of this report.