Image credit: UN Convention on Biological Diversity - Photo: 2018

Conserving Biodiversity is Key to Mitigating Climate Change

By J C Suresh

TORONTO (IDN) – An area almost the size of Australia – up to 724 million hectares in all – will be required by 2050 for cultivating bioenergy, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Platform on Climate Change (IPCC) on limiting climate warming to 1.5C.

Models foresee that demand for bioenergy to reduce CO2 emissions from fossil fuels could cause a 10- to 30-fold increase in green energy-related land use in years to come, adding crushing pressure on habitat for plants and animals and undermining the essential diversity of species on Earth.

But where would this land come from? Is there currently such a large amount of ‘marginal land’ available or would this compete with biodiversity?

“This important issue needs to be clarified, but the demand for land for energy will almost certainly increase, with negative consequences for biodiversity,” said Dr. Anne Larigauderie, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

Dr. Larigauderie made these remarks at the start of the two-day High-Level Segment November 14-15) of the 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 14), convened with the Government of Egypt in Sharm el Sheikh.

From November 17-29, negotiations will take place among 196 Parties to the CBD on the following main themes: Achieving the globally-agreed Aichi Biodiversity Targets (2010-2020); mainstreaming biodiversity issues; and the beginning of two years of negotiation of the post 2020 global framework for biodiversity, scheduled for final agreement at CBD COP15 in China in 2020.

Dr. Larigauderie said meeting strong climate mitigation goals without massive bioenergy is possible, she added, but scenarios indicate that this requires substantial reductions in energy use and rapid increases in low carbon energy production from wind, solar and nuclear sources.

Safeguarding plant and animal species diversity and the services nature provides is itself key to the mitigation of planetary warming, she said. For example: Land ecosystems, with their diverse plants and soils, today sequester about one third of annual CO2 emissions. Similarly, the ocean sequesters about a quarter of annual carbon emissions.

Besides, reforestation is better at mitigating climate than most bioenergy crops. In temperate climates, one reforested hectare is four times more effective in climate mitigation than a hectare of corn used for biofuel. 

“All methods that produce healthier ecosystems should be promoted as a way to combat climate change,” she said. “This includes afforestation and reforestation, as well as restoration – implemented properly using native species, for example.”

The latest IPCC report, she said, “has given a sense of extreme urgency for these exchanges on tradeoffs and synergies between climate, biodiversity and land degradation.”  

Efforts are underway to enhance much needed inter-disciplinary collaboration, she added, between the IPCC and IPBES, in the context of the second work programme of IPBES to be approved in 2019. 

“In the background to all of these discussions is the need to elevate the topic of biodiversity much higher on the political agenda – to the same level as climate. I sense that we may be closer … but we have to intensify our efforts as a community even further over the next couple of years.”

In separate remarks to business leaders at the UN meetings, Dr. Larigauderie said that COP 14 was expected to make a decision to request from IPBES a report on criteria, metrics and indicators of the impacts different business sectors have on biodiversity and ecosystem services, which could be undertaken in 2019 if approved by the next IPBES Plenary.

Businesses have several compelling reasons to protect and use biodiversity sustainably, she noted. One of these is that many businesses depend directly or indirectly on biodiversity and the health of ecosystem services.

They are often responsible for the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services and consumers will increasingly favour companies with a biodiversity policy, just as they make choices now that reflect climate and pollution concerns

Proper management of the impact on biodiversity would not only minimise operational, regulatory, reputational and market risks, but also bring business opportunities for companies in the form of new markets, efficiencies in production, staff buy-in, and competitive advantage.

Recently published IPBES assessments of regional biodiversity and ecosystem services reports contain case studies, policy options and opportunities for mainstreaming biodiversity in different economic sectors, she noted. 

“They show in particular that proactive environmental action by businesses is fundamental and needs to increase, but also that they must be supported by complementary regulatory measures as well as economic incentives / disincentives by governments.” 

A stronger emphasis on this is expected in a major global assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services being prepared for release in Paris next May, said Dr. Larigauderie. It will be the first such report since the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of 2005.

Often described as the “IPCC for biodiversity” IPBES is an independent intergovernmental body comprising 130 member Governments. Established by governments in 2012, it provides policymakers with objective scientific assessments about the state of knowledge regarding the planet’s biodiversity, ecosystems and the contributions they make to people, as well as the tools and methods to protect and sustainably use these vital natural assets. [IDN-InDepthNews – 15 November 2018]

Image credit: UN Convention on Biological Diversity

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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