Artistic rendering of ecological crisis
Every day there seems to be more news about how climate change is impacting communities around the world, particularly those communities least responsible for greenhouse gas pollution. Scientists, advocates, and communities marginalized by environmental injustice continue to raise their voices, demanding action to stop the worst impacts of climate change. Scientific reports are very clear: we need to act and we need to act now.
While addressing climate change is urgent, we must also be mindful that our planet and the lives of thousands of species are also in danger because of biodiversity loss. Biodiversity loss and climate change are interconnected as part of a bigger planetary crisis and we should address them simultaneously.
Biologists estimate that human activity is driving species to extinction at a rate of 100 to 1,000 times their usual rate. The World Economic Forum (WEF), in its Global Risks Report 2021, cited biodiversity loss as one of the top global risks society faces. According to the report, biodiversity loss means irreversible consequences for the environment and humankind as a result of species extinction and/or reduction. But what is biodiversity? And what is causing biodiversity loss?
What is Biodiversity?
Biodiversity is the web of all forms of life on earth. It includes bacteria, algae, fungi, plants and animals living through all ecosystems. This web is so complex and interconnected that it makes all species dependent on each other. Biodiversity is the basis for the function of any ecosystem. When biodiversity is disturbed, all services and species of the ecosystem can be severely impacted.
In recent decades, biodiversity has been under threat. The WWF Living Planet Report of 2014 showed a decline of 52 percent in the population of vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibian and fish species) between 1970 and 2010. Later in 2019, the IPBES Global Assessment Report, estimated that a million species of plants and animals would be at risk of extinction within a matter of decades. The same report confirmed that almost three quarters of land and 66% of marine environments have been significantly altered by human activity and that more than 85% of wetland areas have been lost.
What is causing biodiversity loss?
From 2001 to 2005, more than 1,360 scientists and other experts examined the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being and delivered the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. The report showed the dramatic change of all ecosystems due to human activity. For instance, it was reported that more land was converted to cropland in the 30 years after 1950 than in the 150 years between 1700 and 1850, and that 20% of known coral reefs have been destroyed and another 20% had been degraded in the last decades due to human activity. As the world population increases, cities expand and human consumption patterns continue to scale up, the extraction of natural resources and the destruction of ecosystems also continues to increase. In 2014, the 4th GBO Report demonstrated that the agriculture sector is responsible for 60% of the world’s deforestation and 70% of the projected loss of terrestrial biodiversity. In addition to indirect drivers, other direct drivers such as overexploitation, pollution and climate changes are causing the acceleration of biodiversity loss.
Biodiversity Loss & Climate Change
Both crises, biodiversity loss and climate change, are caused primarily by human activity. This tells us that there are solutions that can help address both crises at the same time.
For example, we know that agriculture contributes to climate change through greenhouse gas pollution from engines and cattle, and through the conversion of forests to agricultural land. The conversion of forests in turn destroys habitats and their biodiversity. Measures and standardized protocols to agriculture can have a positive impact in stopping the course of these two crises.
At the recent UN Climate Change Convention of the Parties (COP26), world leaders participated in a series of meetings during October-November of 2021.The conference had several goals meant to address the worst impacts of climate change. Although advocates and the scientific community called the final COP26 agreements insufficient, there were still some wins for the work on biodiversity loss. For instance, more than 100 global leaders signed a pledge and made a commitment to halt deforestation by 2030 and begin restoring and regrowing the world’s forests. The pledge will see 110 nations, which represent 85 percent of the world’s forests, work towards six goals, which include developing sustainable agriculture, investing in and facilitating trade which prevents land use change, and supporting communities across the globe.
The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15), also initiated meetings in 2021 to work on the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which aims to reverse the current loss of biodiversity and ensure that biodiversity is put on a path to recovery by 2030. This 10-year plan will be finalized and approved by world leaders at the second part of COP15 scheduled for later in 2022. It is hoped that this plan will help accelerate global action to address both biodiversity loss and climate change. The Missionary Society of St. Columban as an accredited organization by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity has been engaging in the meetings leading to the enactment of the Framework.
What can you do?
You might ask yourself what can you do to help? If you live in the United States, you can engage in advocacy efforts to ensure the United States commitments become a reality. You can also support efforts to ensure climate action occurs domestically. As a person of faith, living in any part of the world, you can sign the Healthy Planet, Healthy People Petition. This petition calls on world governments to set ambitious targets that protect God’s creation at the critical United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15). You can also learn more about biodiversity loss and reflect on the care for creation by listening to our biodiversity podcast here.