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OPINION: Biological Diversity – a ‘climate’ question?


Bhawana Luthra and Elizabeth Colebourn from LEAD India and CDKN reflect on the link between biodiversity and climate change in the wake of the 11th COP of the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD).

With the end of the 11th COP of the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) held in India last month, biodiversity has once again slipped from the headlines.

Most of the attention was on the perceived success or failure of the Government in hosting for the first time a COP. However, it also brought new attention to the issue of biodiversity in India and the value of protecting our ecosystems. In the past the issue has only been raised when a new controversy has arisen about the decline in tiger population.

For a good summary of the issues that were at stake at the COP, read S. Gopikrishna Warrier, from CDKN’s partner Panos South Asia in an article for The Hindu.

One issue which got more prominence than usual was the relationship between climate change and biodiversity. This was a formal agenda item of the COP, and dominated the posters advertising side-events. While it is not a new subject, in India at least we still tend to talk about climate change and ecosystem conservation as separate subjects, with different policy-makers and NGOs responsible for each.

Perhaps the key issue that is being talked about in India because of the conference is the relationship between climate change and biodiversity. This was a formal agenda item of the COP, and dominated the posters advertising side-events. While it is not a new subject, in India at least we still tend to talk about climate change and ecosystem conservation as separate subjects, with different policy-makers and NGOs responsible for each.

For some, the linking of these issues has a political dimension, as well as an interest in accessing the large amount of climate funding available.

However, there are well documented reasons for why climate change and biodiversity should not be considered in silos. Climate change is a major cause of biodiversity loss, and at the same time, protecting and  restoring biodiversity can contribute to climate change efforts, both mitigation and adaptation.

The CBD Secretariat themselves have collected together a useful database of research and case studies, on why and how to integrate biodiversity concerns into climate change mitigation and adaptation, and vice-versa.

CDKN has also contributed to this debate with the recent release of ‘Managing Climate Extremes and Disasters: Lessons from the IPCC SREX for Ecosystems’. The report highlights the scientific findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX) for the ecosystem conservation sector, and discusses the implication for decision-making.

The main finding of the SREX is that disaster losses from extreme weather events will increase in the coming decades. The cause of this is complicated, with the expected growth in population being a key immediate contributing factor. However, from mid-century onwards, the IPCC found that manmade climate change will make an increasing contribution to disaster risk.

The CDKN report looks at how this reality affects the ecosystem conservation sector. In particular, it asks the question, how are ecosystems affected by the impact of extreme events and what action can be taken to manage these risks?

The report highlights examples of when investment in sustainable ecosystem management has reduced communities physical vulnerability to disasters, as well as improved livelihoods, which itself increases their capacity to adapt. For example conservation of water resources and wetlands that provide hydrological sustainability can further aid adaptation by reducing the pressures and impacts on human water supply. At the same time, ecosystem management, such as forest conservation, also contributes to a reduction of GHG emissions, and can deliver both climate and biodiversity ‘wins’.

The CDKN report cites the example of Orissa in India where a comparison of the impact of the 1999 super cyclone on 409 villages in two tahsils (administrative sub division of a district) with and without mangroves, show that villages that had healthy strands of mangroves suffered significantly less loss of life than those without (or with limited areas of) healthy mangroves, even though all villages had the benefit of early warning. The study controlled for other social and economic variables

However, the report also raises some of the challenges with eco-based solutions to climate change mitigation and adaptation, particularly when tradeoffs are required between particular climatic risk reduction services and other ecosystem services also valued by humans.

At a LEAD India side-event at the CBD COP, organised in partnership with the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Global Compact Network (GCN) on corporate mainstreaming of biodiversity, business leaders were keen to stress that the private sector also needs to be part of the solution.  Sectors such as mining, energy, and infrastructure are directly affecting the state of our ecosystems. The business case for protecting biodiversity needs to be made.

The relationship between climate change and biodiversity also needs to take centre stage during international debates and negotiations. There has been some progress. Since 2001 a Joint Liaison Group (JLG) between the three Rio Conventions (CBD, UNCCD, UNFCCC) has been tasked with enhancing coordination. A key issue that the group has been trying to tackle is the quality of CDM projects being approved under the climate regime, and ensuring there is no detrimental environmental impact.

REDD+ is the obvious area where coordination between the UNFCCC and CBD is needed. It was reported that in a Working Group on Biodiversity and Climate Change during COP11, Brazil complained that the CBD text on REDD+ did not reflect the progress made on the issue by the Cancun and Durban agreements under the UNFCCC, particularly on the idea that biodiversity and community safeguards should be developed at the community level.

For those of us for whom biodiversity is not the ‘day job’ having the CBD COP on our doorstep was a valuable opportunity to reflect on how our work contributes, both positive and not, to the efforts to protect and restore the health of our country. As attention naturally turns back to our normal work, we should make sure we do not lose this focus.

Photo courtesy of  www.beontheroad.com @flickr creative commons

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