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Biodiversity depletion – The less talked about side effect of climate change

The world emitted 36.42 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2019, equaling 7.9 billion passenger vehicles on the road in one year. Add to that the emissions of other greenhouse gases and the total emission count crosses 50 billion tonnes a year. Such high levels of GHG emissions threaten to push the global temperatures to above 2 degree celsius over pre-industrial levels and well above the ideal 1.5 degree celsius mark.
While the most obvious ill-effects of global warming are rising sea levels, melting ice, water crisis, food scarcity and climate related catastrophes like droughts, cyclones, storms et al, the not-so-talked about side effect is the loss of biodiversity.

Biodiversity is defined as the biological diversity and variety of genetics, species and ecosystem levels on Earth. Biodiversity hotspots (regions with high levels of native species, and having experienced great habitat loss) are majorly forest areas located in the tropics and are in Brazilian forests, Madagascar, India, Columbia and Indonesia. Climate change results in biodiversity loss due to weather related catastrophes, habitat changes and rising temperatures.

“Climate change affects the survival of several species, where even small, seemingly insignificant temperature increases result in pronounced ecosystem impacts.”

In 2016, the species, Bramble Cay melomys was reported to have become extinct due to sea level rises. The hooded seals have declined in the northeastern Atlantic Arctic by 90% in recent decades because of reduced sea ice. There are several more species, right from the Polar Bear to the Monarch Butterfly whose existence has been threatened due to climate change. More than 25,000 species are in danger of disappearing and climate change is expected to be responsible for 8% of this loss. Very recently, UNESCO has included the Great Barrier Reef among the list of the world’s endangered heritage sites. Scientists have developed a climatic envelope for each species, which means the range of temperatures and other climatic conditions which are ideal for a species to survive. As temperatures increase, the climatic envelope’s location shifts, forcing species in that geographic location to migrate. However, migration may not always be possible; in which case the species will over time naturally become extinct. Climate change affects the survival of several species, where even small, seemingly insignificant temperature increases result in pronounced ecosystem impacts.

So why is it that healthy ecosystems are critical for humankind? Why is loss of biodiversity such a big deal?

First, biodiversity conservation helps in climate regulation and balances ecosystem functioning and stability. So, while climate change is seen as the cause for biodiversity loss on the one hand, it is also useful to examine that biodiversity dependent productivity can contribute to climate change mitigation. After all, afforestation and forest conservation will help in absorbing CO2, right? Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are often referenced together to link both the issues. In the words of Akira S Mori, Professor of Yokohama National University, “solving one environmental problem may help address the other, whereas failing to address either problem may lead to the further deterioration of both biodiversity and climate crises.”

Second, conservation of biodiversity helps in soil preservation, protects freshwater resources, provides food and medicinal resources and boosts tourism in some areas. Further, as ecosystems are interconnected, when one ecosystem is affected, this may result in serious side effects to related ecosystems as well.

One of the critical pillars to support biodiversity conservation is the availability of finance. Global biodiversity finance was estimated to be at $78 – 91 billion a year (2015-17 average). Of this, public expenditure was estimated to be USD 67.8 billion a year. However, this is much lower than the intended target spend of $824 billion a year. What is also concerning is that governments spend amounts equal to approximately $500 billion a year on activities which potentially harm biodiversity, thus amplifying the issue.

Biofin – a UNDP managed program which is present in 40 countries is a global leader in facilitating finance to biodiversity and runs various programs to bridge the shortfall in availability of finance. In recent years, there have been various initiatives taken by multiple national and international agencies to spur capital towards biodiversity. The decade 2021-2030 has been marked as the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration to spur actions towards restoring destroyed ecosystems.

Traditional financing mechanisms like grants, equity and debt are important for biodiversity conservation; however, it is also critical to examine innovative mechanisms to finance biodiversity. Third party guarantees to any of the traditional funding instruments from multilaterals is another way of leveraging more capital to this sector. A few innovative funding options to fuel the sector include blended finance, taxes, fees and charges, tradeable permits, subsidies, crowdfunding, cost-effectiveness measures, financial guarantees, bonds and payments for ecosystem services. Although some of these instruments have been gaining popularity in recent times, there is substantial potential to increase the usage of biodiversity relevant instruments.

While climate change is an important reason for biodiversity loss, it ranks lower than other reasons such as overexploitation of natural resources, land clearing for agriculture and urban development. However, the negative impacts of climate change on ecosystems and biodiversity will only continue to grow and worsen with further global warming. There is an imperative need to reinforce the link between climate change and biodiversity and include biodiversity finance as an integral part of climate finance discussions.