Protecting biodiversity and combating climate change: critical actions for a sustainable future

Protecting biodiversity and combating climate change: critical actions for a sustainable future
This new review identifies key environmental and societal challenges that nature-based solutions could play a critical role in addressing

Climate change and biodiversity loss are deeply intertwined crises that are threatening the well-being of humans and nature, reducing Nature’s Contributions to People that sustain livelihoods, economies, and development prospects, as well as efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Failing to take action will increase human vulnerability, including poverty, food insecurity, displacement, and political instability and conflict. In a new paper just out in Science, Pörtner et al. review the results of a joint meeting of members of the International Panels on Climate Change and Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. They highlight key advances in understanding the interconnected challenges and identify critical actions needed to address them. We summarise these here.

Key advances

Climate change, biodiversity loss, and societal challenges are deeply interconnected. Though this is increasingly recognised, they are still often treated as separate issues. However, if carefully implemented to ensure local biodiversity and community thrives, nature-based solutions can address these challenges simultaneously and yield long term benefits across multiple sectors. Healthy, intact and functional ecosystems are highly effective at capturing and storing carbon, but this capacity is dependent on limiting global warming to 1.5°C or below through ambitious emissions reductions (also discussed here ). It is also influenced in how humans interact with and manage those ecosystems. Protecting and adaptively managing the biosphere, including land, freshwater, and ocean ecosystems, can help with climate change mitigation, whilst building social-ecological resilience, protecting biodiversity and supporting human well-being, and livelihoods.

A growing body of robust scientific evidence demonstrates the need to prioritize the protection of remaining intact carbon- and species-rich environments, such as peatlands and old growth forests, as well as the implementation of targeted restoration projects that effectively sustain biodiversity while ensuring equitable distribution of societal benefits.

Spatial planning should prioritize three critical objectives for the future:

  1. a habitable climate,
  2. self-sustaining biodiversity, and
  3. sustained provisioning of Nature’s Contributions to People to support development and a good quality of life for all.

Critical actions

New global targets for biodiversity, climate, and sustainability for 2030 and 2050 will fail unless the underlying drivers of climate change and biodiversity loss are effectively addressed, and concrete actions to meet current political agreements and goals are accelerated in pace and scale. In particular, we need:

Ambitious emissions reduction combined with effective equitable adaptation measures: It is imperative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to 1.5°C or below, while also implementing effective adaptation measures to minimize the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and human societies.

Effective equitable community-led protection of 30 to 50% of surface areas across interconnected land, ocean, and freshwater ecosystems: This should encompass a mosaic of areas ranging from pristine ecosystems to spaces that are shared by humans and wild species and sustainably used, to urban areas that can still harbour significant biodiversity in terrestrial and aquatic environments. Efforts should take into account the specific spatial demands of healthy ecosystems which varies from place to place. It is also essential to ensure that efforts to protect and restore ecosystems does not delay or distract from the imperative of keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

Building development pathways based on collective responsibility, sustainable and circular use of natural resources, avoidance of overconsumption and waste, and equitable and participatory development: Political, economic, and social institutions, including norms and rules, should be aligned with visions that promote sustainability for nature and people at regional and global scales.

Enabling just and equitable access to and benefits from natural ecosystems: Ensuring that all societies, groups, and individuals have fair access to and can benefit from natural assets will contribute to a good quality of life for all, while addressing social inequalities and promoting social justice.

Getting beyond silos to secure a sustainable future

The authors conclude that addressing the coupled global climate and biodiversity crises requires transformative action that goes beyond siloed approaches and involves institutional and individual changes. Achieving sustainability for nature and people, securing human, ecosystem, and planetary health, requires a collective effort from governments, businesses, civil society, and individuals alike. It is crucial to recognize that human well-being is intricately linked to the health of our planet and that we must act urgently and decisively to protect and restore the interconnected systems that support life on Earth. This includes taking bold urgent steps to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect and restore biodiversity-rich ecosystems without greenwashing, adopt sustainable and circular practices for resource use, and promote equitable access to and benefits from natural assets.

For other peer-reviewed articles about issues and solutions at the nexus of climate change and biodiversity loss, see our bibliography.