The UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said the impacts of the crisis caused by human activity had far reaching implications for the natural world and unless urgent action is taken will continue to threaten livelihoods and food security, particularly for the most vulnerable.
“Climate change has altered marine, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems all around the world,” the scientists said.
“Climate change has caused local species losses, increases in disease, and mass mortality events of plants and animals, resulting in the first climate-driven extinctions, ecosystem restructuring, increases in areas burned by wildfire, and declines in key ecosystem services.”
As well as the rising level of greenhouse gas emissions from humans, the report focused on the vital role which preserving and regenerating natural ecosystems can play in addressing the climate crisis.
“Safeguarding and strengthening nature is key to securing a liveable future,” the report’s authors said.
The scientists also examined the potential for the natural world not only to reduce climate risks but also to improve people’s lives.
“Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to climate change and provide life-critical services such as food and clean water”, said the IPCC’s Hans-Otto Pörtner.
“By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50 per cent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development, but adequate finance and political support are essential.”
But action must be taken to preserve and expand ecosystems before the impacts of the climate crisis destroy them before they can help us recover from the damage being done.
“Conservation, protection and restoration of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and ocean ecosystems, together with targeted management to adapt to unavoidable impacts of climate change, reduces the vulnerability of biodiversity to climate change,” the report said.
Speaking about the way the report addressed the intersection of climate action and preservation of the natural world, Professor Dr Kate Jones, chair of Ecology & Biodiversity, at University College London said the links between the climate and biodiversity crises need to become even stronger in order to be solved together.
She said: “The pandemic really brought home the interaction between how global biodiversity loss and land-use change meant we’re in closer contact with other species, and then we have these zoonotic leaps of diseases into human populations. All of this builds a growing appreciation that we need to think about this holistically – that human health and wellbeing is intimately connected to natural health.
“That’s one of the positive messages from the report: that some of the solutions are to do with restoring nature and natural ecosystems.”
The IPCC’s “factsheet” on the impacts of the climate crisis on biodiversity concluded: “Without urgent and deep emissions reductions, some species and ecosystems, especially those in polar and already-warm areas, face temperatures beyond their historical experience in the next decades.”
The scientists said this would affect more than 20 per cent of species on some tropical landscapes and coastlines at 1.5C of average global warming.
Meanwhile they warned that “unique and threatened ecosystems are expected to be at high risk in the very near term at 1.2C of warming”.
They said this was “due to mass tree mortality, coral reef bleaching, large declines in sea-ice dependent species, and mass mortality events from heatwaves.”