Climate change and biodiversity loss should be tackled together

More than 200 world leaders are gathering in Glasgow, Scotland for the United Nation’s climate summit to discuss climate change.


Described as the world’s best last chance for action, the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) formally opens on 31 October after a one-year delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The two-week negotiations, which begin on 1 November, are the most important since the landmark Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, when countries agreed to limit global warming to 1.5 o C.

COP26 is a crucial summit for global climate action. Delegates will discuss progress on delivering the goals set out in Paris, but world governments are also expected to raise their climate ambitions and discuss how to increase the capacity to adapt to climate change.

The situation is critical as more and more countries in Europe and around the world are already feeling the impacts of climate change – from longer periods of drought to more and fiercer storms, heat waves and wildfires. These threats are directly linked to a second challenge: biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation.

Tackling these twin crises will require coordinated, global efforts and local actions addressing both issues. This will be discussed at the  Fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15)  to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which is being held in Kunming, China in two phases ‒ in October 2021 and in April 2022. It should decide on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and was also postponed due to the pandemic.

Biodiversity, the unique variety of life on our planet, underpins our cultural, economic and social well-being. However, human-induced changes to ecosystems and the extinction of species have been more rapid in the past 50 years than at any time in human history.

Human impacts on the evolution of life are responsible for the sixth mass extinction according to many scientists. Today, around one million species of an estimated 8 million animal and plant species are already threatened with extinction.

Furthermore, the global rate of species extinction is already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than the average rate over the past 10 million years and is accelerating. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) population sizes of vertebrate species, for example, have declined by an average of 68% over the last five decades.

In a two-way process, climate change is one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss, but destruction of ecosystems undermines nature’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and protect against extreme weather, thus accelerating climate change and increasing vulnerability to it. This explains why the two crises must be tackled together with holistic policies that address both issues simultaneously and not in silos.

Halting and reversing the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services is now a top priority for the EU, next to climate action. Its response includes the Biodiversity strategy for 2030, which aims to take better care of nature so it can take better care of us. The strategy forms a core part of the European Green Deal, our blueprint to make Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050 and a pathway towards a green and inclusive recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic .

This month Horizon magazine examines the links between climate change and biodiversity loss, how this affects all of us and how to tackle them together. We speak to scientists who are seeking a better understanding of how these two challenges interact so they can better support decision-making with tailored guidance and tools. We also learn how improved knowledge of greenhouse gas (GHG) sources and sinks, including natural ones, will be used to track progress of EU efforts to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

We discover the importance of negative emission technologies and solutions that help achieve emissions targets by capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and how they are linked to biodiversity and healthy ecosystems.  Finally, we investigate the use of nature-based solutions to restore ecosystems, providing win-win outcomes within economic sectors like agriculture, water and the insurance industries, as well as for local communities.

Why the EU supports environment research and innovation

Return on Monday 1 November to read the first of four new articles on how EU research is addressing the joint threat of climate change and biodiversity loss.

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