Nearly every day, we see the effects of a changing climate. News stories broadcast raging wildfires, floods that require evacuation by entire communities, and record-breaking heat waves. But smaller changes are happening, too. Perhaps you’ve noticed fewer insects on your windshield, migratory birds staying longer than usual, or your favorite wildflowers aren’t blooming where they used to.
At first glance, not all these small changes may seem bad. Still, biodiversity loss is intimately connected with the changing climate and excess carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions building up in the atmosphere.
Since the Industrial Revolution, carbon levels in the atmosphere have increased by 40 percent. At the same time, plant and animal species diversity has plummeted. Nearly one million global plant and animal species are already at risk of extinction.
How is biodiversity impacted by climate change?
Many factors impact biodiversity and ecosystem health, including land use changes, extraction of resources, and pollution. As an energy source and greenhouse gas (GHG), carbon use can intensify these many factors. Once in the atmosphere, carbon speeds up climate change by trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere.
But carbon isn’t all bad. It’s a necessary resource for plants to grow and to keep Earth at a habitable temperature. More than half of carbon emissions are absorbed by land and water. This is a natural cycle that forests and oceans are equipped for, up to a point.
However, the excess carbon in the atmosphere contributes to changes in the environment. The effects include altered weather patterns that affect species migrations, habitats, and food sources. One result is decreased biodiversity.
An estimated $44 trillion worth of natural resources are at risk of depletion due to climate-induced biodiversity loss, according to a report from the United Nations (UN) Convention to Combat Desertification.
Biodiversity loss, measured by the percentage of species at high risk of extinction, increases with global warming. In a world with 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, 6 percent of insects, 8 percent of plants, and 4 percent of vertebrates would be expected to lose over half of their ecological range. In a reality of 2 degrees Celsius of warming, those numbers rise to 18 percent of insects, 16 percent of plants, and 8 percent of vertebrates, according to this special report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Biodiversity loss doesn’t only threaten plants and animals—it threatens us, too. When ecosystems become less biodiverse, they produce less ecosystem goods like clean air, water, and healthy soil to grow food.
On the other hand, healthy, biodiverse ecosystems act as a buffer against extreme weather events. For example, a biodiverse wetland can prevent flooding by absorbing rain and snow at a higher rate than depleted lands, and a biodiverse forest is more resilient to wildfires than a field of a singular crop.
Carbon management can help prevent biodiversity loss.
There are many solutions to decarbonize the economy and reduce existing levels of atmospheric CO2. All are necessary to achieve change on a global scale. Carbon management technologies, including carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and technologies that capture, transport, reuse, and store CO2, are already available to deploy. These technologies can “offer impacted wildlife a fighting chance at surviving and thriving while society transitions toward a just and clean economy,” according to the National Wildlife Federation.
Warming of just 2 to 3 degrees Celsius instead of 1 to 2 degrees Celsius could mean the near complete melting of the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets over thousands of years, causing a several-meter rise in sea levels. Fortunately, every metric ton of carbon captured can lessen the risk of rising temperatures.
Without carbon management, meeting our climate goals will be more difficult and significantly more costly. According to a 2021 IPCC report, “for virtually all scenarios assessed by the IPCC, CDR is necessary to reach both global net zero CO2 and net zero GHG emissions.” It is one of many solutions to tackle the changing climate and nearly the only way to reduce emissions from difficult-to-decarbonize emissions and energy-intensive industrial sectors, such as cement and steel.
Carbon management is not a silver bullet solution to climate change and global biodiversity loss. Rather, it is a readily available suite of technologies that can make near-term changes and complement other methods while transitioning to lower-carbon energy systems. Acting now will help prevent further temperature increases that cause biodiversity loss and give ecosystems a fighting chance.
If you’re interested in learning more about carbon management and how it relates to climate change, you can do so on our website.