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Biodiversity and climate change: interlinkages and policy options

11 October 2021

Coral colonies growing in clear shallow waters surrounding a tropical islet in the Majuro Atoll of the Marshall Islands, Pacific Ocean
Coral colonies growing in clear shallow waters surrounding a tropical islet in the Majuro Atoll of the Marshall Islands, Pacific Ocean © Tane Sinclair-Taylor

Climate change and biodiversity decline are major challenges of our time. Both are predominantly caused by human activities, with profound consequences for people and the ecosystems on which we depend. 

Some actions we can undertake are beneficial in both areas, helping to mitigate and adapt to climate change as well as conserve and restore biodiversity. However, this is not guaranteed, and some climate actions can undermine biodiversity goals. 

The Royal Society has compiled evidence in a briefing (PDF) which highlights how climate change and biodiversity are interlinked and sets out the key actions and principles to guide a UK response that addresses the climate and the biodiversity crises together. 

In collaboration with the InterAcademy Partnership, the global network of science, engineering and medical academies, the Royal Society has also produced an international statement (PDF) highlighting how policymakers globally can address biodiversity decline and climate change.

Actions with great benefits for the climate and biodiversity include:

  • Building a sustainable food system with climate and biodiversity friendly agricultural practises, responsible food trade, and equitable food distribution;
  • Reducing rates of natural ecosystem loss and degradation;
  • Protecting, restoring and expanding natural ecosystems;
  • Increasing landscape connectivity;
  • Ensuring that expansion of renewable energy systems has positive biodiversity benefits built into its design;
  • Discouraging ecosystem-based approaches to climate mitigation that have negative outcomes for biodiversity, such as tree planting in inappropriate ecosystems, monocultures, and unsustainable energy crops.

Applying the following principles will help ensuring the successful implementation of the above actions:

  • Transformation. Mitigation at the scale needed to keep the rise in global temperatures to 1.5°C, or to reverse global biodiversity decline, requires a transformative change in the way our societies consume and produce resources.
  • Collaboration. Governments alone cannot achieve the transformations needed – coordinated climate and biodiversity actions from multiple stakeholders, including the private sector and civil society are essential.
  • Integration. Greater understanding of the biodiversity-climate relationship should help ending the separation between the national and international policy frameworks that currently address climate change and biodiversity decline. 
  • Additionality. Where Nature-based Solutions are implemented to help mitigate climate change, they should not delay or lower ambition to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels or reduce energy use through more energy efficient technologies. 
  • Best practice. The success or failure of Nature-based Solutions and other responses to climate change and biodiversity issues is dependent on the adoption of best practice. They should therefore be evidence based and tailored to the location.

Reversing biodiversity loss

Today, the Earth is losing biodiversity at rates not seen in the modern era. Sir David Attenborough describes the purpose and plight of biodiversity in a short video, and we've also answered key questions on biodiversity - what it is, what's happening, and what can be done.

Discover biodiversity
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