Biodiversity and the Climate Crisis
The climate crisis touches everything. But in truth, there isn’t just one climate crisis — there are many overlapping crises, all driven by our reliance on fossil fuels.
The climate crisis is a justice crisis. It’s a migration crisis. It’s an economic crisis. And it’s a biodiversity crisis.
That’s because with nearly 8 billion people now sharing our planet, what humans do has an impact on every living creature on Earth. As the world warms, extreme weather events become more common and climate impacts are felt in every corner of the globe, the biodiversity crisis accelerates too.
Here’s what to know.
The sixth great extinction?
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: human behavior is driving other species to extinction at a staggering rate, in what scientists are saying may be the sixth great extinction. While other mass extinctions were the result of natural phenomena like asteroids (RIP to the dinosaurs) or volcanoes, this is the first to be attributed to a specific living creature — us.
According to a recent UN report, biodiversity is decreasing on Earth potentially hundreds of times faster than the average rate over the past 10 million years. And, of those sufficiently studied, more than 25% of living species on Earth today are either facing extinction now or at risk of facing extinction in the near future. That’s one-in-four species that make up our world.
Put another way: diversity in natural life on Earth is decreasing. Fast. And that’s a big problem for all of us.
As National Geographic explained: “These species are all tied to intricate webs of life serving purposes beyond their mere existence. The ecosystem services provided by diverse species are crucial to the survival of life within their spheres of influence, especially our own survival.”
So yes, it’s a crisis. And to solve it, we need to look at what’s driving it.
It’s the humans
The loss of biodiversity we’re seeing worldwide is the result of plenty of intersecting factors. But at its core, it comes down to one thing: us. Human development is destroying habitats, reducing access to resources like food and water, and changing behaviors of natural life worldwide.
With more than 1 million species facing the threat of extinction overall, agriculture is far from the only issue. The EU has identified five key drivers of the crisis: changes in land use (like deforestation), direct exploitation such as hunting and over-fishing, pollution, invasive species, and climate change.
According to the UN Environmental Programme, our global food system is the number one culprit. Of the 28,000 species most at risk of extinction, agricultural development is the top identified threat facing 86% of them.
And it’s important to note that this is a recent development. For much of history, humans have been able to maintain agricultural practices that worked in harmony with nature. Over time, that’s shifted significantly for most of the world’s population — but not for many Indigenous communities.
Indigenous peoples represent less than 5% of the world’s population. But today they defend about 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. It’s a remarkable statistic that shows how much work the rest of the world has to do to confront this crisis.
That’s why as we think about this crisis, we have to pay attention to the root causes. Because while humanity may be the problem, not everyone is contributing equally – and not everyone will be affected equally.
The climate crisis
As we said earlier, the biodiversity crisis and the climate crisis aren’t really separate at all. They’re really one big, combined crisis.
A 2019 report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Ecosystem Services (IPBES) found that climate change is “direct driver” of biodiversity loss — and not only is it accelerating, but it’s making the other causes of biodiversity loss worse. Ultimately, the report warns that the climate crisis is expected to become an increasingly important direct driver of the biodiversity crisis.
In other words: the two issues are linked. And we have to act.
Two years later, in a landmark report on the connection between biodiversity and the climate crisis, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and IPBES laid it out even more clearly: the two challenges must be addressed jointly. There is no other way to solve them.
The report represented a major turning point — previously, scientists working in biodiversity were often siloed off from climate scientists, and in some instances the solutions to the two crises were thought to be in conflict with one another. But no more.
As the co-chair of the report’s steering committee put it: “Climate change and biodiversity loss are threatening human well-being as well as society. They’re closely interwoven and share common drivers through human activity. They’re reinforcing each other.”
How we solve it
So yes, the climate crisis and biodiversity crisis are deeply linked, with human behavior driving both at shocking rates.
But while that may seem scary, it’s reason for optimism too: because climate change and biodiversity are so interrelated, the solutions to one just might be the solutions to the other too.
The committee co-chair put it simply: “Maintaining biodiversity and its functions relies on phasing out emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.”
Sound familiar? That’s because a just transition off of fossil fuels is the single most important thing we can do to solve the climate crisis too. And other solutions to biodiversity follow the same pattern.
Reimagining our agricultural systems to focus on sustainability? That helps solve both the biodiversity crisis and the climate crisis. Protecting natural habitats and wild areas? That helps solve both the biodiversity crisis and the climate crisis too. Global efforts to conserve land and sea? You guessed it: that helps solve both the biodiversity crisis and the climate crisis.
The bottom line
It’s scary to be facing issues of such magnitude as the climate crisis and biodiversity crisis. And it’s easy to feel hopeless.
But inaction isn’t an option. There are solutions at our disposal — and luckily enough, in many instances, the same actions will help solve the climate crisis and protect our biodiversity. It's just a matter of people and governments worldwide listening to the science and taking bold, transformative action. Because the time is now.
Ready to get involved? Join your local Climate Reality chapter or international branch, and be part of the solution to the climate crisis.