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What is the connection between the climate and biodiversity?

Climate change is disrupting life on earth. The climate and biodiversity are very closely connected to each other. Read all about it here!

The climate crisis is now well established in our lives. It is on the political agenda, reported by the media, and is increasingly visible in all four corners of the world (droughts, floods, etc.). In its shadow, however, much less visible lies another, equally huge crisis: that of the biodiversity collapsing at an alarming rate.
Far from being distinct, these two crises are, in actual fact, intertwined. It is scientifically established: the climate and biodiversity form a united, connected and interdependent couple. Changes to one of them affects the other and vice versa. In other words, when one suffers, so does the other…

In 2021, two organisations specialising in the climate (the IPCC) and biodiversity (IPBES) joined forces for the first time to highlight the strong links between the two. In their report, they hammer home two facts that should urge us to take action:

- "Both biodiversity loss and climate change are caused by human economic activities (production and consumption)"
- "These two environmental crises mutually reinforce each other. "

Biodiversity: adapt…

Biodiversity (all the species that populate our planet: plants, bacteria, animals, etc.) has been through a sharp decline for half a century. The crisis it is undergoing is multifactorial. Those you can see directly are deforestation, chemical pollution and overexploitation of resources. We, therefore, also have to add climate change.

To summarise, we could say that the warmer it gets on Earth, the greater the number of species that suffer increases. Well, all ecosystems are now exposed to global warming and its consequences: wetlands, deserts, mountains, tropical forest, oceans, rivers, etc.

Species are trying to adapt to survive. They are doing so in several ways. They can firstly evolve. It is known as the climate's "evolutionary pressure" on species, which develop new traits to cope with environmental constraints. For example, trees overexposed to the heat start producing smaller leaves. The kidney wood, an Australian shrub, is a case in point that has found this solution to compensate for the rise in local temperatures (+1.5°C between 1950 and 2005). Other examples, in France this time: researchers at the National Museum of Natural History have discovered that birds are born smaller in warm years. In fact, a smaller body means a body that is easier to cool down...

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Alternative coping strategy: migrating. What is the most typical scenario in our regions? The distribution of species is shifting northwards. Either because the temperatures are milder or because the climate, once too hostile, is now becoming habitable.For example, numerous species of birds, amphibians and fish are already affected in Europe.

Other migrations, which are supposed to be immutable, are disrupted: seasonal migrations. For certain birds, it is even a major upheaval. Faced with shorter and milder winters, they are having to change their habits. We, subsequently, observe that white storks are no longer migrating;or other species are completely changing destination: the Blackcap, that mainly lives in Germany, is now snubbing Spain and heading to... the United Kingdom.

The consequences for ecosystems is sometimes problematic. Newcomers can cause damage to native species. For example, in France, the pine processionary caterpillar has taken advantage of global warming to expand its territory by 4 km northwards each year for the past 10 years.A movement that puts trees, animals... and humans in a difficult position because they are vulnerable to the insect's powerful sting.

…or disappear

Not all species are equal when it comes to their ability to adapt . There are winner and .... losers.

With the winners often referred to as "generalist" species, with more flexible in their needs.One example is the Asian hornet, which has taken delight in colonising a warming France since 2004; or the Tiger Mosquito, which appeared in the 2000s in the Camargue in France, now present in...60 French departments. Some even announce the imminent arrival of another invasive species in France: the Javan mongoose…

Conversely, the losers are generally " specialised". Overwhelmed by the scale and speed of climate change, they are doomed to decline or even extinction. A typical example: vegetation on mountain summits. These plants already cannot climb any higher to escape the rise in temperatures.If we are incapable of containing global warming, most will disappear. In Europe, it is estimated that a quarter of all flowering plants on the continent are only found high up in the mountains... … Meaning thousands of species are on borrowed time.

In a 2019 report, IPBES estimates that nearly 1 million species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades..

Less biodiversity = more global warming

The famous boomerang effectGlobal warming amplifies the collapse of biodiversity… which amplifies global warming.

Biodiversity provides what are known as "environmental services": positive effects that benefit ecosystems, which themselves regulate the Earth's climateWhat do these services fundamental do? Regulating the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Biodiversity is not idly compensating for our excesses: land and marine ecosystems absorb almost half of the CO2 emissions generated by humans. In fact, by capturing this greenhouse gas, peatlands, wetlands, soils, forests, and oceans limit global warming. Some species, in particular, are unsuspecting allies, says the WFF… : whales, forest elephants or sea otters.

Another service provided by biodiversity: a natural form of protection against the consequences of climate change. Any examples? Wetlands that regulate and limit flooding; trees that create life-saving microclimates during heat waves; or coral reefs that protect coasts from waves and storms.

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Because we are well aware that our activities have an impact on the environment, we must be actors of change from the creation of our products to their distribution and sale in shops. But it is far from simple: the fight against climate change presents us with many challenges. 

In their report, the IPCC and IPBES are clear. We have to fight on both fronts: the climate and biodiversity. The first involves reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. And the second, being a lot gentler with the rest of the living world.

More specifically, the report calls for:
1/ putting an immediate stop to the destruction and degradation of carbon-rich and species-rich land and oceanic ecosystems (forests, wetlands, peatlands, mangroves, kelp forests, etc.);
2/ an increase in sustainable agricultural and forestry practices;
3/ restoration of carbon and species-rich ecosystems.

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