Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss The Great New Threats to Peace Security and Development

Water Freedom System

Survive Global Water Shortages

Get Instant Access

Ahmed Djoghlaf

Since the Industrial Revolution, humanity has entered an era of global changes that is transforming the face of the Earth. The effects of that revolution will ripple down for centuries. Rising living standards are taking their toll on the natural resource base that underpins them. As a result, humanity's footprint on the environment has never been as significant as it is now. The pressures on the planet's natural functions caused by human activity have reached such levels that ecosystems' ability to satisfy the needs of future generations (a necessary component of achieving sustainable development; WCED, 1987) is seriously, and perhaps irreparably, compromised. Humanity is facing two main global challenges that are interconnected: climate change and biodiversity loss. These challenges have further implications for peace, security and development (WBGU, 2007).

There is now general agreement that human activities are affecting the planet's climate. In turn, climate change is affecting biodiversity and people around the world. Observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are being affected by climate change, particularly temperature increases and changes in precipitation. Recent warming is strongly affecting biological systems, including changes such as earlier timing of spring events, leaf unfolding, bird migration and egg laying, as well as pole-ward and upward shifts in ranges in plant and animal species.

The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007) highlights a number of regional impacts that could have severe repercussions upon the environment and people. For example, by 2020, between 75 and 250 million people in Africa are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change (UNESCO, 2006). By 2050, climate change will lead to gradual replacement of tropical forest by savannah in eastern Amazonia. Semi-arid vegetation will tend to be replaced by arid land vegetation. There is a risk of significant biodiversity loss in many areas of tropical Latin America. In North America, coastal communities and habitats will be increasingly stressed by climate change impacts interacting with development and pollution.

People in the small island developing states (SIDS) areas are observing declines in reef health due to climate change, which are adversely affecting traditional fisheries and local livelihoods. In the Arctic, approximately 400,000 indigenous people are facing the impacts of a warming at almost twice the rate of the global average. The Sami people, for example, are already observing changes in species composition within reindeer pasture lands, while the Inuit are altering their hunting practices in response to changing habits and habitats among their prey. The impacts of climate change are also of particular concern to people living in dry and sub-humid lands, ranging from the deserts and savannahs of Africa to the Arctic tundra. In fact, changing precipitation regimes, increased heat stress, and the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are contributing to desertification and the associated loss of ecosystem productivity throughout the world's dry and sub-humid lands.

The Stern Review, produced by a team of economists led by the former World Bank Chief Economist Lord Nicholas Stern, has said that if rapid actions are not taken to mitigate climate change, there could be significant costs resulting from worldwide recession, mass migration and social upheaval (Stern et al, 2006). Indeed, climate change impacts upon natural resources may trigger conflicts over the distribution of resources, especially water and land. Approximately 1.1 billion people do not have access to adequate quantities of safe freshwater resources. This situation could worsen in some regions of the world as climate change is likely to alter the precipitation patterns and reduce the quantity of water available.

The demand for water for agriculture in a changing climate could also worsen the problems associated with desertification. To satisfy the growing demand for food, production of food crops in developing countries is projected to increase by 67 per cent by 2030. Irrigated agriculture in these countries would consequently account for over 70 per cent of the projected increase in cereal production. Taking into account increased cropping density and rise in productivity, the amount of freshwater to be appropriated for irrigation is expected to increase by about 14 per cent in 2030 (UNESCO, 2006).

With increasing demand for food, large-scale degradation of water resources represents a serious threat to ecosystems. Over the past 50 years, technological advances in agriculture have led to increased crop yields. Nevertheless, agricultural productivity is still highly dependent upon climate as rainfall, temperature and solar radiation condition plant growth. Climate change is thus projected to affect regional food security, especially in developing countries. Changes in rainfall patterns and extreme weather events are likely to diminish crop yields in many areas.

At the same time, rising sea levels, causing loss of coastal land and saline water intrusion, can also reduce agricultural productivity. Coral bleaching and increased calcification of coral are likely to reduce fisheries, further threatening food security. Changes in habitat are already negatively affecting the supply of protein available from hunting, especially in the Arctic region.

Invasive species are another important threat to the food supply and livelihoods. As a result of climate change, many ecosystems will be more vulnerable to invasive species, pests and diseases. The extent to which invasive pests and diseases either reduce the domestic supply of food directly or restrict a country's international trade could harm its food security, especially for developing countries. Across Africa, for instance, the invasive alien species of the genus Striga, a parasitic weed that impedes maize growth by attacking the roots, costs between US$7 million and US$13 million annually and affects more than 100 million people (UNEP, 2006).

In addition to the issues linked to food security, climate change could also increase health hazards. Through geographic changes in weather patterns, rainfall and temperature, climate change is predicted to dramatically increase the extent and prevalence of some vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever. Extreme weather events may also increase vulnerability to water, food or human-borne diseases such as cholera and dysentery, and lead to increases in heat-related mortality and illness. Floods and droughts may result in declining quantity and quality of drinking water. Clean and adequate quantities of water are a prerequisite for good health and prevention of child mortality; without this basic necessity, morbidity and mortality rates rise. Climate change may exacerbate malnutrition by reducing natural resource productivity.

According to the IPCC, climate change could lead, towards the end of the present century, to an increase in global average sea level of up to 59cm (Parry et al, 2007). The very existence of several island countries such as Tuvalu or Kiribati is under threat. In November 2001, Tuvalu was the first country to make arrangements for the evacuation of its population because of rising water levels. Looking at future predictions of sea-level rise, Tuvalu may, sadly, not be the last. Therefore, because of climate change, a number of sovereign nations will eventually vanish from the surface of the Earth. No technology, whatever its level of sophistication and advancement, will be able to prevent this.

Climate change and biodiversity loss represent a serious threat to humanity, particularly to people living in developing countries. The countries that contribute the least to global warming will suffer the most. The countries that are already struggling to feed and provide shelter to their populations will have to do with even more limited resources. In this way, climate change and biodiversity loss represent a great impediment to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (UN Convention on Biological Diversity, 2007a).

Furthermore, climate change can be a factor in civil, and international, conflict. Environmental stress is seldom the only cause of major conflicts within or among nations. Nevertheless, they can arise from the marginalization of sectors of the population and from ensuing violence. This occurs when political processes are unable to handle the effects of environmental stress resulting, for example, from climate change. Environmental stress can thus be an important part of the web of causality associated with any conflict and in some cases can act as a catalyst.

The issue of environmental degradation brings new light to bear on the traditional concepts of international peace and security. Global changes, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, call for alliances. That is why, since 1989 following the preparations for the Earth Summit, there have been major calls for environmental issues or environmental degradation to be included on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council. On 17 April 2007, the United Nations Security Council for the first time addressed the question of climate change in order to build a shared understanding of the relationship between energy, security and climate.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the first and most important global agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, links traditional conservation efforts to the development goal of using biological resources in a sustainable manner. Fifteen years have passed since its adoption. Even though significant progress has been achieved at the local level, the relationship between the environment and development still has not been globally reconciled and important aspects of our societies such as health, peace, security and development are more than ever under threat.

At the initiative of former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, the 2010 biodiversity target of achieving a significant reduction in the rate of loss of biodiversity by that date was incorporated within the Millennium Development Goals as a new target under Goal 7 ('Ensure environmental sustainability'). Specifically, the conservation of biodiversity is recognized for its positive contribution to poverty alleviation and development. The Conference of the Parties to the CBD (UN Convention on Biological Diversity, 2007b), at its eighth meeting, highlighted the importance of integrating climate change considerations within all relevant national policies, programmes and plans, and to rapidly develop tools for the implementation of biodiversity conservation activities that contribute to climate change adaptation.

Indeed, the resilience of ecosystems to climate change can be enhanced and the risk of damage to human and natural ecosystems reduced through the adoption of biodiversity-based adaptation and mitigation strategies. Examples of such strategies include the maintenance and restoration of native ecosystems, the protection of ecosystem services, the management of habitats for endangered species, the creation of refuges and buffer zones, and the establishment of networks of terrestrial, freshwater and marine protected areas that take into account projected changes in climate.

In order to complement the steps already taken to link biodiversity and climate change, the Conference of the Parties to the CBD adopted decisions IX/16A-D on biodiversity and climate change (UN Convention on Biological Diversity, 2008). The decisions recognize that actions at the national level are best able to build synergies between biodiversity, climate change and land degradation and propose an indicative list of activities that parties can implement to this end. To support such activities, the Conference of the Parties also calls for collaboration between the secretariats of the three Rio conventions on communication and educational activities.

The decisions also outline a number of areas where additional research is required, including the impacts of multiple nutrient loading upon biodiversity, the impacts of climate change upon plant pests, the role of traditional and local knowledge in adapting to climate change, and the links between biodiversity and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

The decisions urge support for capacity-building activities. These include raising public awareness in order to enable developing countries to implement activities related to the impacts of climate change, as well as publicizing the positive and negative impacts of climate change mitigation and adaptation activities upon biodiversity.

Finally, the decision establishes an Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Biodiversity and Climate Change. The group has a mandate to develop scientific and technical advice on biodiversity in so far as it relates to climate change and decision 1/CP.13 of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (the Bali Action Plan), as well as its Nairobi work programme on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change. Working within the context of the Bali Action Plan and the Nairobi work programme supports the enhanced implementation of synergies.

The implementation of these and other activities relating to climate change and biodiversity will be evaluated at the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD, to be held in 2010, thus providing another opportunity to examine biodiversity and climate change from an international policy perspective.

The need for collaboration and scientific partnerships is crucial to address the global challenge of climate change and biodiversity loss. In March 2007, roundtable discussions on the further strengthening of the interlinkages between biodiversity and climate change were held in Montreal. For the first time members and past chairs of the bureau of the CBD Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) and experts from the IPCC met to discuss commonalities and opportunities for enhanced cooperation between the two bodies.

As governments around the world develop their climate adaptation strategies, failure to appreciate the importance of biodiversity can potentially lead to counterproductive measures.

The link between climate change and biodiversity is one of survival for humankind. Under the CBD, virtually all governments have agreed to the very challenging target of slowing the loss of biodiversity by 2010. The time has come to recognize that meeting this target is an essential step in allowing future generations to prosper in the less stable climate they will unfortunately inherit. The need for action in order to achieve a more sustainable future has never been so urgent. There is no time for delay.

Irrespective of the future approach adopted by the United Nations for addressing the issue of climate change and biodiversity loss, it is clear that the security dimension of this issue cannot be ignored. Due to its magnitude and its impact, climate change seems to fall more and more within the context of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter relating to acts of aggression against world peace. The designation of Wangari Maathai as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 was a step in the right direction. She is the first environmental activist to win the award and the first African woman to receive any Nobel Prize. When the Nobel Peace Prize was presented to Al Gore, the former vice president of the US, and to the IPCC, the prestigious Norwegian Nobel Committee recognized, for the second time in its history, the environmental dimension of the concept of peace and security. As Professor Ole Danbolt Mjos, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, highlights: 'environment protection has become yet another path to peace'.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment