9 min read | June 16, 2023

How does climate change affect biodiversity?

No matter how you look at it, it is clear climate change has had - and will continue to have - profound impacts on biodiversity.

As we have set out in previous blogs, it is clear that biodiversity - the variety of life which underpins so much on our planet - is in real trouble. Unsurprisingly, human activities, chiefly associated with food production and construction, remain the primary culprits driving biodiversity loss. Over 70% of the ice-free terrestrial surface has been reshaped due to human endeavours. Such transformations, especially for agricultural purposes, rob numerous flora and fauna of their natural habitats, pushing them towards the brink of extinction

Slightly more indirectly, climate change also has a profound impact. 

Does climate change affect biodiversity?

It absolutely does. No matter how you look at it, it is clear climate change has had - and will continue to have - profound impacts on biodiversity. 

Life has evolved to accommodate the local environment. So when the climate changes, it has a huge impact on every species. This affects all ecosystems on land and in water and means climate change has catalysed the extinction of local species, disease proliferation, and resulted mass deaths of plant and animal life.

The impact climate change has had is nothing less than extreme - escalating temperatures have forced numerous species to migrate to cooler, higher altitudes or latitudes, predominantly towards the Earth's poles. Every degree of warming exacerbates the extinction risk for these species. 

Climate change also triggers environmental alterations that are perturbing natural habitats and species in ways we are only starting to comprehend. Rising temperatures, fluctuating rainfall patterns, extreme weather events, and ocean acidification are increasing the pressure on species already grappling with human-induced threats.

Biodiversity loss and climate change feed off each other

Fresh research has revealed a disturbing shift in the dynamics of the Amazon rainforest, which is the planet's largest land-based repository of carbon. The forest is now discharging more carbon than it can sequester, with this shift caused by factors such as climate change and deforestation. The dangerous interplay between the climate crisis and biodiversity erosion is contributing to a vicious cycle, often described as a positive feedback loop. 

Rising temperatures, triggered by climate change, are resulting in drier forests which are increasingly susceptible to wildfires. These fires, in turn, pump more carbon into our atmosphere, thereby accelerating the greenhouse effect.

To put it simply, the Amazon rainforest, which for so long was characterised by its abundant biodiversity and massive carbon storage, is rapidly becoming a danger zone and its capability to act as a climate change counterforce is dwindling. With rising temperatures, droughts, and rampant fires for land clearing for farming, the Amazon is now a net carbon emitter.

What about the future?

The future threat climate change poses to biodiversity is projected to escalate. Yet, it is also known that healthy ecosystems can act as buffers, reducing the impacts of climate change. Given the current warming trends, global temperatures might witness an increase of more than 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial revolution times by 2030. One of the key repercussions of climate change on biodiversity is the intensification of natural disasters like fires, storms, and droughts. 

For instance, the end of 2019 and the onset of 2020 witnessed the devastation of 97,000 km2 of forest and surrounding habitats in Australia due to intense fires, worsened by climate change. This has put additional pressure on biodiversity, which is already strained due to other human activities.

What can we do about it?

It is vital that the two issues - biodiversity and climate change - are tackled holistically. Trying to solve one without thinking about the other could lead to new problems. For example, reforestation has gained traction as a promising nature-based solution to climate issues, but while planting a single species over a large area can increase carbon capture, it does not support biodiversity and leaves the plantation susceptible to pests and/or diseases.

Thankfully, Governments worldwide are starting to respond to these twin environmental crises with comprehensive packages. At the recent United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, nations laid out their strategies to deal with this crisis. Globally, approximately 190 countries have committed to protecting at least 30% of the planet's land and oceans by 2030 - a goal that would make a significant contribution to addressing climate change and biodiversity loss.

The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss can be tackled through a mix of nature restoration and conservation policies. The process of rewilding, which allows landscapes to rejuvenate naturally, can enhance carbon capture, restore biodiversity, and reintroduce endangered native species. For example, if natural environments in the UK, like woodlands, peat bogs, and grasslands, were rewilded, they could sequester more than 10% of the country's annual greenhouse gas emissions.

This is where Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) - and the role played by Joe’s Blooms - comes into play. We have set out in previous blogs how this English policy is very exciting. By helping developers to easily quantify the impact that their projects have on biodiversity, and by helping to ensure that they can mitigate that damage, with solutions provided as close to the area of impact as possible, we can take real steps to slow and ultimately reverse the impact of biodiversity loss. This will, as set out above, also have good effects on the climate as well. 

If we can get this right, and lessons can be learned around the world, we could easily see BNG turn into one of the most effective tools to combat both biodiversity loss and climate change. There is no ‘one solution’ to these problems, but it nonetheless represents an exciting step forwards (other policies include, at a global scale, aiding the recovery and growth of rainforests and mangrove forests; protecting carbon-storing peatlands; and restoring the ocean's seagrass meadows. In addition, implementing green roofs and biodiverse parkland areas in cities is another example, as they can moderate the impact of heat waves, reduce pollution, assist with water drainage, and improve our mental health).

Conclusion

Escalating temperatures have forced numerous species to migrate to cooler, higher altitudes or latitudes, predominantly towards the Earth's poles. Every degree of warming exacerbates the extinction risk for these species. Climate change triggers environmental alterations that are perturbing natural habitats and species in ways we are only starting to comprehend. Rising temperatures, fluctuating rainfall patterns, extreme weather events, and ocean acidification are increasing the pressure on species already grappling with human-induced threats. And these problems feed off each other, creating terrible feedback loops. 

Biodiversity is nothing less than the web of life - it is the cornerstone for numerous essential facets of human existence such as food, clean water, medical resources, economic development… among so much else. The negative impact of climate change on biodiversity isn’t just theoretical - it is something that will affect us in so many negative ways that it’s hard to quantify. Biodiversity Net Gain can only be a first step of part of a holistic and urgently needed solution.

Oliver Lewis

Oliver Lewis

Founder of Joe’s Blooms
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Oliver Lewis is the founder of Joe’s Blooms, providing end-to-end digital solutions to help you create best-in-class Biodiversity Gain Plans. Expert in this field, he shares his knowledge on the Environment Bill.

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