Climate change

Sustainable Development Goal 13

Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Overview

Climate change is a threat to human well-being and development in all countries, and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment identifies it as one of five global drivers of biodiversity loss. Climate change is already forcing biodiversity to adapt either through shifting habitat, changing life cycles, or the development of new physical traits in species. Climate change is also projected to reduce economic growth and reduce the livelihood assets of vulnerable people, especially those dependent on biodiversity and ecosystem services for access to food, water and shelter. It will have impacts on these basic needs to all people. Further, climate change will increase the vulnerability of populations to perturbations such as drought, flood and disease. While biodiversity plays a major role in mitigating and adapting to climate change by contributing to long-term sequestration of carbon, and reducing the impacts of extreme events such as droughts and floods, it is also highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Challenges

Climate change is a key challenge to both sustainability and biodiversity. The linkages between climate change and biodiversity threats are increasingly being recognized, with clear evidence that the challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change are intertwined. Consequently, combined efforts are needed in implementing the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. Climate change needs to be clearly highlighted as one of the most important and urgent challenges for development and poverty eradication. The world’s poor-- over 1 billion people who live on less than US$1 a day-- are the most disproportionately affected by climate change due to their dependence on ecosystem services for their subsistence.

Going forward, the role of healthy, resilient ecosystems in both adaptation and mitigation needs to be firmly placed within climate change and sustainability discussions. In fact, addressing climate change requires restoring, protecting and maintaining the natural ecosystems that enable us to cope with climate variability and extremes. It is also important to shift perception of responses to climate change from burden-sharing to benefit-sharing, and to highlight the potential for co-benefits.

Positive incentives to take climate action are often powerful tools for implementation on the ground. For example, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development. One way to maximize REDD+ co-benefits is by making use of national ecological gap analyses completed for protected area networks, which show key areas of importance for biodiversity, to understand where these areas overlap with high carbon areas.

Messages

  • Biodiversity both contributes to mitigating and adapting to climate change and is profoundly impacted by climate change.
  • In the absence of strong actions for mitigating climate change, its impacts on biodiversity will escalate. Therefore, there is a need to promote the integrated and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems and take mitigation and adaptation action.
  • Biodiversity can support efforts to reduce the negative effects of climate change. Biodiversity conservation and ecosystem restoration can strengthen the resilience of ecosystems, thus improving their ability to remove and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  • Healthy ecosystems act as buffers against natural hazards, providing valuable yet under-utilized approaches for climate change adaptation, enhancing natural resilience and reducing the vulnerability of people.
  • Reducing habitat destruction and degradation and enhancing carbon stocks through conservation and restoration in forests, drylands, coastal areas, rangelands and croplands, is not only a cost effective way to mitigate climate change but it also generates other social and economic benefits. For example, protecting ecosystems and ensuring access to ecosystem services by poor and vulnerable groups are essential parts of poverty eradication.
  • Ecosystem-based adaptation, which integrates the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services into an overall adaptation strategy, can be cost-effective and generate social, economic and cultural co-benefits and contribute to the conservation of biodiversity.
  • Reducing non-climatic stresses, such as pollution, over-exploitation, habitat loss and fragmentation, and invasive alien species, together with wider adoption of conservation and sustainable use practices, including through the strengthening of protected area networks, can help species and ecosystems adapt to accelerating climate change.