Time to integrate global climate change and biodiversity science-policy agendas

This year’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) will be held in Glasgow in November. In the lead up to the conference, we’re asking our editors and authors to share their research at the interface of climate and ecology. In this post, Nathalie Pettorelli (ZSL) explains how the conference presents a clear window for developing coherent policy frameworks that align targets across the nexus of biodiversity and climate change.

COP26 is upon us, and expectations for the meeting to deliver on addressing the current environmental crisis are high. As climate change intensifies, bringing with it increasing devastation and the possibility that entire countries may disappear in just a few decades, the urgency of making decisions that honour the Paris agreement commitments is increasingly felt across the world, taking with it an incredible mental toll on today’s youth.

The thing is: the climate change crisis is intertwined with another much less talked about yet equally threatening crisis – the biodiversity crisis. We are losing wildlife at an incredibly fast rate because of habitat loss, pollution, and invasive species, but also because of climate change. This loss of biodiversity is however deepening the climate change crisis because we are destroying the Earth’s capacity to sequester and store the carbon we emit, while removing opportunities for our societies to adapt to the new climatic normal. Said differently, instead of just walking towards a disaster, we are running towards it as fast as we can.  

We’ve so far scientifically and politically treated these two crises as independent entities, arguing over which one is more urgent, which one is the most severe, which one we are most certain of. In a recent paper published in Journal of Applied Ecology, we argue instead that it’s time to start tackling the climate change and biodiversity crises in unison.

COP26 will be a failure without radical plans to address our dependency on fossil fuels: we need to reduce emissions, and we need to rapidly transition economies around the world to a sustainable, low-carbon future. We argue that COP 26 will also be a failure if there is no clear acknowledgement that, to get out of the climate change emergency, we need to bend the curve of biodiversity loss and rebuild our natural world. Nature, not just trees, must be at the heart of global decision making at COP26.

In Glasgow, we thus want the world to address the substantial and chronic underfunding of global biodiversity conservation. We want financial incentives that negatively impact biodiversity and/or climate change to be history, because deliberately encouraging environmental destruction can no longer be justified. And then we want to see joined-up thinking, because we can’t afford more division: we need to see higher levels of scientific, financial and political integration between the biodiversity and climate change agendas.

Yes, it won’t be easy; yes, it’s going to be costly (but much less costly than delaying action); yes, it demands major changes in how we live. And yes, there are challenges ahead, including scientific ones. But we can do this, and we must: we should not give up on our future, the future of our youth, and the future of generations after that.

For more information on this year’s COP26 meeting, read the handy BES Guide to COP26.

Read the Open Access Policy Direction Time to integrate global climate change and biodiversity science-policy agendas in Journal of Applied Ecology.

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