Biodiversity Loss and Climate Change – Twin Challenges of the 21st Century

  • 2022/02/09     Dresden, Germany

    Image: Laura Hoffmann/UNU-FLORES

    Led by the question “What Does Climate Change Mean for Biodiversity?”, the Saxon Dialogue on Biodiversity discussed the interdependence of biodiversity loss and climate change.

    By Laura Hoffmann

    Biodiversity loss and climate change are interdependent. The overexploitation of natural resources and the subsequent transformation of land- and waterscapes have led to changes in climate and biodiversity. For a good quality of life on Earth, both a stabilised climate and healthy ecosystems are needed. However, the global temperature continues to rise, and humans maintain their environmentally unsustainable habits (IPCC, IPBES 2021).

    Opening the seminar, Dr Kirsten Thonicke (Potsdam Institute for Climate Change (PIK)) described the global scope of the relation between climate and biodiversity. Biodiversity builds the foundation for healthy ecosystems with the water and biochemical cycles connecting the biosphere and the atmosphere. Climate change affects these cycles and the growth conditions of plants, thus, influencing ecosystems negatively. In addition, anthropogenic drivers such as land-use changes impair the conditions for species. For example, the deforestation of rainforests threatens biodiversity and changes the water cycle worldwide with significant consequences for our climate.

    Dr Josef Tumbrinck, Deputy Director General for Nature Conservation at the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and member of the entomological society based in Krefeld elaborated on the climate change effects in Germany. The change of seasons and more frequent extreme weather events influence the fitness and competition of species. As an example, he mentioned the Baltic Sea, where warming water changes the reproduction of fish and consequently negatively influences the fishing sector. To mitigate climate change, the German government has developed various strategies to increase wilderness areas and to protect moors, and projects to rewet areas. In addition, the newly opened national monitoring centre for biodiversity shall connect actors investigating the importance of biodiversity with practitioners.

    Images: Anja/Instagram (@travelobsessed_08)







    Nature-Based Solutions to Mitigate Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss

    The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration calls for the prevention and reversal of the degradation of ecosystems and our experts agree that this goal can only be achieved with nature-based solutions. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), nature-based solutions are “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits” (IUCN 2016).

    To restore ecosystems, certain areas need to be protected and human intervention minimised. In the biodiversity strategy of the European Union, 30 per cent of land and sea areas shall be protected until 2030. Germany has achieved that goal by far with 37 per cent land and 45 per cent coastal and marine area being protected (BMU 2014). However, the quality of most of the protected areas is not sufficient to protect biodiversity and restore the ecosystem. Many areas are too small, and experts call for bigger core zones without any human interaction or more extensive buffer zones, because changes around the protected area also influence the ecosystem within the core zone. We need to stop believing that protected areas are not all affected by what happens around them.

    Our society needs to understand that today’s climate change is anthropogenic. Using case studies or past experiences, which people can imagine very well, to demonstrate climate change and biodiversity loss is an effective instrument to educate about the anthropogenic drivers. When the well-known study by the entomological association from Krefeld was published, the picture of fewer insects on the cars stayed on people’s minds and made them realise “something is wrong here”. These images created the idea that we have to change our habits to mitigate climate change and biodiversity loss.

    Yet, it is not too late to start acting to prevent further biodiversity loss. Decision makers, academia, practitioners, the economy, and citizens have to take action and promote a sustainable lifestyle. Biodiversity loss and climate change may be the most significant challenges our society has faced so far, but together we can influence the drivers of change to sustain life on our planet.