Tackling Climate Change Only Way to Halt Species Extinction Crisis and Declines

An IPCC for Species Needed

By Stephen Leahy

NAGOYA, Japan, Oct 26, 2010 (IPS)

A major change in the direction of economic development is essential to avoid the catastrophic unraveling of Earth’s ecosystems that support all life, a new global analysis published in the journal Science revealed Tuesday.

Climate change, pollution, deforestation and other forms of land use change are pushing species into extinction, reducing their abundance and home ranges.

Human societies and infrastructures have evolved with and rely on particular sets of species and ecosystems and now these are being reshuffled,” said Paul Leadley of the University Paris-Sud in France who led the study.

“Even optimistic scenarios for this century consistently predict extinctions and shrinking populations of many species,” Leadley told IPS by telephone from France.

The goal of halting the loss of biodiversity by 2020 is under intense negotiation this week in Nagoya at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. However, based on five recent global environmental assessments, Leadley says that ending biodiversity loss by 2020 is sadly “unrealistic”.

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Leadley and colleague Henrique Miguel Pereira led a 23- member scientific team from nine countries that compared results of recent global environmental assessments and a wide range of peer-reviewed literature examining likely future changes in biodiversity. The analysis [abs only] found inevitable continuing decline of biodiversity during the 21st century, but offers new hope that it could be slowed if emerging policy choices are pursued.

“Biodiversity” is the term used to describe the wide variety of living things – trees, insects, plants, animals – that comprise the planet’s biological infrastructure and provide us with health, wealth, food, water, fuel and other vital services. Many people fail to understand how dependent humanity is on the many natural services provided by nature and how fast this is changing, Leadley says.

Although there has been a public focus on extinctions, it is changes in species distribution and population sizes that are more critical to human well-being and better short-term indicators of the pressures of humans on ecosystems, the study says.

In the oceans, a combination of climate change resulting from carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels and overfishing are quickly shifting marine life to the point where there will be few large fish left to catch, researchers found. Jellyfish may be the main seafood item on the menu in future, he said.

On land deforestation, conversion of natural landscapes and climate change are transforming landscapes. A recent million-dollar assessment of the Amazon forest discovered that if global temperatures rise two degrees C., as seems likely, the combination of deforestation of roughly 20 percent of the original forest and forest fires will undermine the Amazon’s unique ability to produce half of its own rainfall. Without that rainfall, the rainforest will convert into dry grasslands (cerrado), resulting in massive release of carbon and the loss of many species.

That’s a solid finding, and even if deforestation stops after 20 or 22 percent is gone, the study shows most of the Amazon will be inevitably lost in 50 to 60 years, says tropical biologist Thomas Lovejoy, chief biodiversity adviser to the president of the World Bank and member of the Global Environment Facility science advisory panel.

“Two degrees of warming will be hard on many ecosystems. Tropical forests will be in trouble, there will be few coral reefs left and temperate forests will be very different then they are today,” Lovejoy told IPS in Nagoya.

A solution to cool the planet and save the Amazon is to restore forests and grasslands so they remove carbon from the atmosphere, he said. Economic growth has to shift profiting from land conversion to profiting from restoration.

Tackling climate change can be a game changer for the decline in biodiversity, agrees Leadley. Scenarios show that if a price were put on all forms of carbon, including carbon emitted from deforestation and agriculture, it could go a long way to fixing the problem, he says. Deforestation and agriculture account for 35 to 50 percent of all carbon emissions into the atmosphere. They are also the biggest direct drivers of biodiversity in terms of conversion of natural ecosystems.

A strong carbon tax that both levies a cost for carbon emissions and rewards carbon sequestration, combined with effective protected areas, is what will be needed, Leadley said. Simply protecting 20 percent of the land and 15 percent of the sea as originally proposed as the international 2020 objective by the CBD would not be enough to halt biodiversity loss based on the analysis without action on climate change.

But action must be taken quickly, as the study indicates the window of opportunity is closing rapidly. Differences in policy action taken now could either lead to an increase in global forest cover of about 15 percent in the best case or losses of more than 10 percent in the worst case by 2030.

Getting policy makers to understand these realities remains a major challenge. Scientists hope the creation of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)-like mechanism for biodiversity called the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) will make the difference.

“The issues are so urgent and the stakes for humanity so important, scientists need to coalesce through the IPBES to inform policy-makers with a unified, authoritative voice,” stated Pereira, of the Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal.

Governments here in Nagoya say they are in favour of the creation of IPBES but some are withholding full support as a bargaining chip in the highly contentious debates over Access and Benefit Sharing. While “the nature panel”, as it’s called in the hallways, would have to be formally approved at some future meeting at the U.N. General Assembly, strong endorsement here at COP 10 is considered a necessity to make that happen.

Global biodiversity assessments are extremely hard to do at present and we cannot speak with one voice without an organisation like IPBES, Leadley said.

“I’d like to remind delegates in Nagoya that business-as- usual development pathways will lead to catastrophic biodiversity loss,” he said.

First published as Tackling Climate Change Could Save Biodiversity – IPS ipsnews.net.

One thought on “Tackling Climate Change Only Way to Halt Species Extinction Crisis and Declines

  1. Hello Stephen,
    This is the first time I have visited your website, I don’t know how I overlooked it! There are so many now – wheels spinning and we’re going backwards. I’m just going to reprint my comment that followed yours’ at CP in case you don’t get back to see it. I really would have loved to go to that conference in Japan but I didn’t have the money or the time.

    Anyhoo, I really think the biodiversity folks should start taking a very serious look at the inexorably rising levels of tropospheric ozone, because I believe it is a good – maybe the best – way to get the public to understand how critical it is that we start conserving and switching to clean energy asap, because the fumes we are emitting are killing plants, which are the base of the food chain, and a whole lot more personal for the those with the biggest carbon footprint than butterflies in Borneo.

    Here’s my comment:

    Hi Dan #1,

    I agree with you whole-heartedly that we are in an emergency and should use any means at our disposal (aside from violence), especially including the courts. Actually I would like to see the President declare war on climate change and ration fuel, restricting its use to only the most necessary activities, and do the same thing with water. I also agree with what you said in your talk, that Al Gore’s more tepid approach isn’t going to be effective – at least, not in the time frame we have left – and it’s time to scare people out of their wits with the unvarnished truth.

    I don’t know if you have visited my blog where I write about ozone, but I would like to suggest it because I think the “other” greenhouse gas problem might be actionable in court since the damages are so widespread – dying trees with all that implies, and a significant diminishment in crop yields. Potential complainants are farmers, consumers who pay higher prices for food, homeowners or businesses who have to cut down and replace trees that have been damaged, or fallen on property such as cars and buildings – even killed a mounting number of people.

    The harm wrought from ozone seems much more immediate than climate change and has basically everyone as its victim, including people who are part of the epidemics of cancer, emphysema, and asthma.

    NASA, the EPA, the Department of Agriculture and the Forestry Service openly publish information (much of which is linked on my website along with academic research) that links ozone to all of the effects I mentioned, so there really shouldn’t be any issue about whether real damage is being caused. The energy companies are actively engaged in spending money to contradict the science and derail regulations on ozone levels, so perhaps there is an action on that basis.

    Lastly, I saw on your website that you are giving a talk on algae and biofuels. If you know of anyone who is testing to see whether the emissions from biofuels are better – or worse – for the health of humans and the biosphere, I would be very interested. The only information I have been able to find on this topic indicates ethanol causes more caustic ozone than gasoline, which might be one reason trees are dying at a rapidly accelerating rate.

    Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, suggestions, or can think of any way I could be useful.

    Stephen Leahey, THAT is the most depressing thing I have seen since Copenhagen.

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