Climate change and biodiversity loss represent fundamental challenges that must be addressed in order to maintain a functioning planet on which people can have a good quality of life. Yet, these two issues exist within a complex system, where their interactions complicate the formation of an effective response. This could partly explain why, up to now, climate change and biodiversity solutions have often been managed independently thorough their international Conventions (the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity), and intergovernmental knowledge-assessing bodies (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services). However, this could now be changing.
In their first-ever collaboration, the IPCC and the IPBES co-sponsored a workshop, bringing 50 climate and biodiversity experts together to study relationships and identify solutions for solving these crises. The result of this meeting was a peer-reviewed workshop report that went live this week! In this blog post, we will discuss some of the workshop’s findings at the intersection of climate, biodiversity, and human society.
How do these factors interplay? Underlying anthropogenic drivers, such as economic production and consumption, give rise to direct impacts like land use change, pollution, and overexploitation of natural systems – all of which contribute to climate change and biodiversity loss. These declines, in turn, can reinforce each other. For instance, climate change effects such as temperature increases, precipitation shifts, or extreme events can cause extinctions and erode ecosystem resilience. Associated biodiversity loss then influences the climate system via changes in nutrient cycling, for example. All of this also gives rise to impacts on human livelihoods and well-being, with consequences to across sectors like public health and food production and security.
Minimal tradeoffs, maximal benefits
Some interventions come with tradeoffs. For instance, a common idea is that the planting of forests stores carbon, thus lowering atmospheric C concentrations and limiting climate change. However, the solution is not quite so simple. Large swaths of monoculture forests can increase the risk of pests and diseases as well as limit productivity and take up space for habitat, damaging biodiversity and ecosystem services. At the same time, solutions exist that can benefit both climate and biodiversity by restoring and protecting carbon- and species-rich ecosystems.
There are ways that we can combine measures in order to both limit tradeoffs and gain benefits. A good example is the use of solar farms to generate clean energy, which is necessary for climate objectives. At the same time, these solar farms use large amounts of land, potentially contributing to the clearing of important habitat. However, by implementing grazing and cropping around panels, we can benefit soil carbon stocks and pollinators, while also providing food (and still gaining clean energy). The integration of climate and biodiversity allow us to support solutions that complement each other by balancing tradeoffs and promoting co-benefits.
It is clear that we need to explicitly consider connections between climate, biodiversity, and people in governance and policy decisions in order to develop the most efficient solutions. However, the report notes that this integration will require transformative change in governance systems and in policies, to support higher levels of intersectoral cooperation and inclusive decision-making as well as to create effective incentives. Ultimately, this coincides with a need for an overall shift in society’s collective values. This can involve, for instance, changing from a focus on “development” defined by ever-increasing economic growth to a focus on just, equitable, and resilient development within planetary boundaries.
For more detailed information on the climate-biodiversity nexus and how this interacts with human well-being, take a look at the full scientific outcome from the workshop!
 Pörtner, HO et al. 2021. IPBES-IPCC co-sponsored workshop report on biodiversity and climate change; IPBES and IPCC. DOI:10.5281/zenodo.4782538. Access here, full outcome here.
 Images generated by IPCC and IPBES. Access here.