Editor’s note: This is the second of two articles S&S published concerning climate change and biodiversity. This week’s article looks at threats to biodiversity and potential solutions. Part one can be seen here.
Threats to Biodiversity
Temperature Increases: Many species will be psychologically affected by climate change, however, some species will not be able to control their body temperature as they are physiologically vulnerable to temperature increase. For example, the green-ringtail possum, an endemic species of Queensland’s tropical rainforests, cannot control its body temperature when the ambient temperature rises above 30 ° C.
Coral Bleaching: The most important reason for coral bleaching is shown to be warmer sea surface temperature. It is a bleaching that occurs when algae living in the coral tissues of corals and carrying essential nutrients are expelled. Coral is expelled when under stress from abnormally high water temperatures or environmental factors such as pollution. Since this alga helps corals in food production, loss of corals can affect coral growth and make the coral more vulnerable to disease. Major bleaching events occurred in the Great Barrier Reef in 1998, 2002 and 2006, causing significant coral death in some places.
Increase in Natural Disasters: Projected changes in the intensity, frequency and extent of disturbances such as fires, hurricanes, droughts and floods will stress existing vegetation and support species that can rapidly colonize bare areas. In most cases this would mean the spread of alien “weed” species and major changes in the distribution and abundance of many native species. Heatwaves can affect the biodiversity of marine ecosystems, as seen in the summer of 2010–11 in southwestern Australia. Prolonged warm sea temperatures caused the abalone industry to shut down and whale sharks and manta rays to migrate further south and east than usual.
Increased CO2 and Plant Growth: Key ingredients for photosynthesis include carbon dioxide and water. Increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes increased growth rates in many plant species. This is good news for farmers, but only if this carbon dioxide ‘fertilizing’ effect matches enough soil moisture and other nutrients. Leaf-eating animals like koalas may not be so lucky: Increased carbon dioxide concentrations can reduce the nutritional value of leaves.
Sea Level Rise: According to the latest IPCC report, sea level is predicted to rise by 26-98 centimeters by 2100 due to the thermal expansion of the oceans and the melting of polar glaciers and ice sheets. Combined with the effects of storm surges that are expected to be greater in a warmer world, this rise in sea level can threaten many coastal ecosystems.
How it hurts people
The UN-backed report details the enormous ways our species endanger others by destroying forests, polluting rivers, overfishing the oceans, killing insects and otherwise destroying their resources.
“Nature enables human development, but our relentless demand for earth’s resources is accelerating extinction rates and destroying the world’s ecosystems,” UN Environment President Joyce Msuya said.
The UN Report revealing species extinction rates accelerating finds that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history. The global extinction rate today is hundreds of times higher than the average for the last 10 million years.
More than a third of the world’s land surface and about 75% of freshwater resources are now used for crop or livestock production. Agriculture is particularly vulnerable and nine plant species and soils that currently account for more than two-thirds of global crop production are threatened.
Agriculture itself is one of the major causes of biodiversity loss, habitat destruction and sinking wildlife populations with pesticides, soil erosion and forest clearing. And in addition to its impact on food systems, the destruction of the earth’s soil reduces its ability to hold water, increasing water stress and flood frequency, hitting people.
According to the report, the repercussions of human activities on nature are exacerbated by climate change, which is exacerbated by damage to ecosystems, such as the loss of forests that convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.
A study published last year in the journal Science found that 49% of insects and 44% of plants would lose more than half of their geographic habitats by 2100, even if countries meet their commitments to limit carbon emissions.
What can we do to stop it?
In 2010, the United Nations declared “ten-year biodiversity” to reduce the loss of biodiversity. But according to today’s report, it has made good progress with just a few of the 20 goals it has set for its members, such as protecting marine areas and prioritizing invasive alien species. Each goal related to addressing the underlying drivers has made moderate or weak progress. However, the report said “urgent and intensive efforts” could still preserve and restore nature so that it can be used in a sustainable way.
The authors of the UN biodiversity regulation report stressed that avoiding the adverse effects of post-2050 biodiversity loss and the “transformative” policy requires change. They proposed a comprehensive set of policies that included effective fishing quotas and collaborative water management, promoting sustainable agricultural practices, consumption and waste reduction.
While the report’s recommendations are targeted at policy makers, scientists say many consumer options are needed to preserve ecosystems, such as reducing beef consumption and eating sustainably sourced fish. The authors also stressed the importance of developing global financial systems that move away from the “limited paradigm” of economic growth. The report also says it’s not too late to make a difference,” UN biodiversity chief Robert Watson said. “But now if we start at all levels, from local to global.
Image courtesy of Flickr. Originally published by S&S on May 5, 2021.