Climate Change Policy & Practice
Biodiversity and Climate Change
By Dr. Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
Ahmed Djoghlaf, CBD Executive Secretary
A number of assessments are now identifying climate change as the new great threat to biodiversity. As a result of climate change, up to 88% of reefs in Southeast Asia may be lost over the next 30 years while in the Amazon Basin, more than 40% of plant species studied could face extinction. If the projected rise in sea level occurs, American Samoa could lose 50% of their mangroves and an additional 15 Pacific islands could face a 12% reduction in mangrove cover. A projected 0.5 m sea-level rise in the Caribbean could cause a 35% decrease in turtle nesting habitat.

Biodiversity contributes to many of the essential goods and services upon which humans heavily rely, including the provision of food and water, the control of climate, and pollination. However, the role of biodiversity in sheltering us from the many projected impacts of climate change is often taken for granted. Unfortunately as biodiversity is being lost, we are seeing the consequences through increased losses from droughts and floods, higher damage from storm surges and less resilient livelihoods. As such, maintaining biodiversity and associated ecosystem functions is an important component of adaptation to climate change.

Biodiversity resources such as land races of common crops, mangroves and other wetlands and vegetative cover can form an integral part of adaptation plans. For example, coastal wetlands can provide coastal protection against storms and are an important habitat for fish and birds. Adaptation linked to agricultural biodiversity, such as changing varieties in cereal cropping systems, is expected to avoid 10-15% of the projected reductions in yield under changing climatic conditions.

Biodiversity also contributes to climate change mitigation. Forest ecosystems account for as much as 80% of the total above-ground terrestrial carbon while peatland ecosystems, which only cover 3% of the world’s terrestrial surface, store 30% of all global soil carbon or the equivalent of 75% of all atmospheric carbon. As such, healthy forests and wetland systems have the potential to capture a significant portion of projected emissions. Inversely, unsustainable use of biodiversity, through deforestation and degradation, can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Therefore, the links between biodiversity and climate change run both ways: biodiversity is threatened by climate change, but the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity can reduce the impacts of climate change.

However, mitigation and adaptation measures taken in the context of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) may have negative impacts on biodiversity. Hence, there is a need to link the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UNFCCC.

In response to the emerging links between biodiversity and climate change, the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, at the ninth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP), identified a number of priorities, such as the further consolidation of scientific and technical information on these links as a pre-condition for appropriate decision making and the identification of opportunities to achieve co-benefits for climate change mitigation and adaptation through implementation of the CBD. 

In this regard, the COP requested the establishment of an Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group (AHTEG) on Biodiversity and Climate Change with a mandate to develop scientific and technical advice on biodiversity, as it relates to climate change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Bali Action Plan and Nairobi work programme on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change. The first meeting of the AHTEG will be held from 17-21 November 2008 in London, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The work of this AHTEG, based on the participation of some of the world’s foremost experts, will fill the gaps that currently exist with regards to identifying and maximizing co-benefits. The AHTEG is expected to provide up-to-date scientific information on methods and tools to enhance mitigation through biodiversity management. It will also make available key information on the consequences of climate change responses on biodiversity and associated ecosystem services.

In recognizing the importance of achieving synergies between activities addressing biodiversity, combating desertification/land degradation and climate change, the Parties also adopted options for mutually supportive actions addressing climate change within the three Rio Conventions.

In addition, the Convention is embarking on a renewed effort to ensure that both the risks and opportunities from climate change are integrated into National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plans (NBSAPs). As the principle planning tool for implementation of the Convention and with a strong focus on stakeholder participation and mainstreaming, strengthening NBSAPs through integrating climate change considerations will serve to yield significant cross-sector benefits for sustainable development.

Through mobilizing experts, building capacity and enhancing synergies with related processes, Parties to the CBD are taking concrete steps to ensure that implementation of the Convention captures as many co-benefits as possible for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
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