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Biodiversity, climate change, and planetary boundaries

Biodiversity, climate change, and planetary boundaries
Biodiversity, climate change, and planetary boundaries
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Recent academic studies have provided important insights into the interconnected challenges to human prosperity that result from the climate and biodiversity crises. The main conclusions are that the world is currently not on track to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)[1][2] in time nor the targets for climate change and biodiversity.

Biodiversity is defined as by the Convention on Biological Diversity as “the variability among living organism from all sources including among others, terrestrial, marine and aquatic ecosystems, as well as the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, as well as between species and ecosystems”.

Lack of biodiversity as a systemic risk

Furthermore, given that half of the world’s GDP[3] depends on a functioning biodiversity, the lack thereof has been recognised as a systemic risk[4] and viewed as one of the fastest deteriorating global risks over the next decade[5]. While interdependencies are often difficult to identify and understand, nature is an important ally in fighting against ecosystem disruption and human-caused climate change.

Destruction or fragmentation of habitats and the exploitation of species and biological systems, which has effects on genes in some species, including species development and survival rates, are only some of the biggest challenges for biodiversity. For instance, 85% of species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List[6] are primarily threatened by habitat loss. The destruction of habitats and food systems causes approximately 25% of climate emissions, which in turn is the main cause of biodiversity loss. The agri-food sector is threatened both by the loss of biodiversity (reduction in crop diversity, reduction in the number of pests) and by the consequences of climate change, such as the increase in extreme weather events.

On the other hand, climate change challenges include adaptation to changing weather patterns, mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, protection of vulnerable ecosystems and ensuring water resources. The concentration of GHG has led to global warming, which in turn affects distribution of water resources.  Furthermore, these challenges are not confined to a single region or country but are felt globally.

Common strategies for all challenges

Another study[7] has found that the triple challenge of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and human well-being requires synergy and common policies. Every organism in an ecosystem plays a role in the system, which means they are interdependent. When one part of this network of organisms disappears, it has an impact on the rest of the ecosystem, which becomes less resilient and more vulnerable to disturbances. Biodiversity and climate change are interconnected in the same way, and this relationship has important ramifications for how effectively ecosystems function. The number and geographic spread of species across a broad spectrum of habitats are directly impacted by changes in the climate throughout the world.

The aforementioned study identified that the interdependence of the triple challenge could be addressed with the help of rapid reduction of fossil fuel, the promotion of sustainable development, healthy nutrition, the comprehensive implementation of nature-based solutions, and the strengthening of land and water management. Because of the interrelationship of climate and biodiversity risks, the framework also advances efforts to address and mitigate risks associated with climate change. By directing capital to projects that are linked to biodiversity and keep investing in nature-based solutions, companies can significantly offset carbon emissions.

Planetary boundaries

Ongoing research is crucial for understanding the intricate relationships between climate change and biodiversity. Based on new research published in the Journal Science Advances[8], six out of nine planetary boundaries have already been crossed (see Figure 1), while simultaneously pressure in all boundary processes is increasing. Transgression of these boundaries suggests disruptions of Earth system which is now well outside of the safe operating space for humanity.

Fig 1: Current status of control variables for all nine planetary boundaries.

Source: Science Advances, Vol.9, No. 37. Date as of 21.09.2023

Different limits within which humanity can still develop and thrive for generations are mutually dependent and reinforcing. Consequently, the interaction between rising CO2 concentrations and biosphere damage, especially forest loss, and projected temperature increases as either or both increase.

In addition, the biosphere’s ability to continue functioning on the planet depends on the genetic diversity that has been acquired by natural selection over the course of the history of co-evolution with the geosphere. Genetic diversity and planetary function are the two dimensions that constitute the planetary boundary for biosphere integrity. Both are outside safe limits.

The study’s findings show that respecting the limit of the land system change is one of the most effective solutions available to humanity for reducing climate change. Restoring overall worldwide forest cover to late-20th-century levels would offer a significant cumulative decrease in atmospheric CO2 in 2100. Given the current emphasis on biomass as a substitute for fossil fuels and the production of negative CO2 emissions via bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, this replanting does not appear likely, though. The pressure on the planet’s remaining forest land is already being increased by both of these activities.

In order to reliably and regularly analyse the entire integrated Earth system and guide policy processes so that the Earth’s condition is not changed beyond what is acceptable to current society, there is an urgent need for robust scientific and policy tools.

Recognising and addressing this interdependence is essential for the long-term sustainability of both the natural world and human society. Therefore, the Earth system must be considered in a systemic context with the interdependency between climate change and biodiversity.

Net Zero and Nature positive

The importance of net zero commitments of companies and countries cannot be underestimated in the context of tackling climate change, biodiversity, and transitioning to a sustainable future. The financial sector plays a crucial role in allocating capital, which heavily influence the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions and the overall environmental impact of industries.

Moreover, the financial sector can also direct resources towards businesses who transition to a “nature-positive” future. A nature-positive business model is based on regeneration, resilience, and recirculation,not only on mitigating negative environmental impacts of economic activities but also on actively contributing to restoration, conservation, and enhancement.

Consequent implementation of nature-positive business models and net-zero transition might support the achievement of rebalanced and restored natural resources and overcome the current “polycrisis” which the WEF defines as “a cluster of related global risks with compounding effects.[9]

Read more articles from the ESGenius Letter on the topic of “Climate Risks” here!


[1] United Nations – The 17 Goals

[2] United Nations – Globals Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) 2023

[3] World Economic Forum (WEF) – The Future Of Nature And Business 2020

[4] WEF – The Global Risks Report 2020

[5] WEF – The Global Risks Report 2023

[6] The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

[7] The Triple Challenge: synergies, trade-offs and integrated responses for climate, biodiversity, and human wellbeing goals

[8] Science Advances | Earth beyond six of nine planetary boundaries

[9] WEF – The Global Risks Report 2023

For a glossary of technical terms, please visit this link: Fund Glossary | Erste Asset Management

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