Climate crisis cannot be tackled without attention to biodiversity
As the world meets again for a Climate Conference, it is a good opportunity to remind about the vital interconnection of the nexus climate and biodiversity, one of the projects of the INTOSAI WGEA Workplan 2023-2025. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) have identified climate change and biodiversity loss as the two major threats to humankind.
Climate-related hazards, such as increasing temperatures and extreme weather events, are projected to increasingly affect all regions of the earth posing risks to both humans and ecosystems. At the same time, the global biodiversity, which forms the foundation for ecosystem services that we humans depend on for our food, medicine, water – our survival – is increasingly being lost as ecosystems degrade and species are driven to extinction. Protecting biodiversity is needed so that ecosystems remain resilient to climate change and continue providing ecosystem services, especially since climate change further exacerbates biodiversity loss.
Due to the interconnectedness of climate change and biodiversity loss, these crises must be addressed together.
How could auditors address the twin-crisis?
A literature review on Climate - Biodiversity Nexus conducted to support the WGEA nexus climate and biodiversity -project found that environmental auditors can play a significant role in solving these two crises and ensuring that climate change and biodiversity loss are addressed together. However, the risk is that auditors might concentrate too narrowly on specific climate policy area or measure overlooking the broader impact these have on biodiversity.
The literature review screened over 200 scientific articles and reports and viewed examples of climate change mitigation measures affecting biodiversity and biodiversity measures affecting the climate. We included four broad ecosystem types in the review; boreal forests, coral reefs, deserts and grasslands and freshwater ecosystems. Our findings emphasize the need to increasingly find win-win solutions for addressing climate change and biodiversity loss.
Climate change mitigation measures, such as the transition away from fossil-fuel based energy production, are absolutely vital for curbing climate change. However, the literature review found that mitigation measures may come with negative impacts for local biodiversity. For example, renewable energy development, such as solar, wind and hydro power may negatively impact all of the examined ecosystem types. For example, renewable energy projects may cause habitat loss and fragmentation, negatively affect the living conditions, such as foraging opportunities of local species and cause mortality of animals. Also, biofuel production can cause direct loss and alterations of habitats but it can also negatively affect freshwater ecosystems through nutrient and pesticide runoff in the catchment area. Ocean-based biofuel production can change nutrient levels in marine ecosystems and result in algal blooms, which may have detrimental impacts on local biodiversity, including coral reefs. However, nature-based solutions, such as “blue carbon” and other sustainable ecosystem management actions that support healthy ecosystems in carbon sequestration were found to support both biodiversity protection and climate change mitigation.
Environmental auditors can play a central role in identifying these negative impacts of climate change mitigation measures on biodiversity through their quality impact assessments, comparison of alternatives and evaluation of effectiveness to support adaptive management. Environmental auditors can help in identifying win-win solutions that support both climate change mitigation and biodiversity protection and promote addressing this twin crisis together.
To learn more, please read the literature review report on Climate – biodiversity nexus: Relationship of climate change mitigation and biodiversity policy measures. A literature review (wgea.org)
Tiina Piiroinen, Uula Saastamoinen and Marianne Aulake, Finnish Environment Institute (Syke)