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expert reaction to the IPBES-IPCC co-sponsored workshop report on biodiversity and climate change

A workshop report, sponsored by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), brings together a large amount of evidence on the current state of global biodiversity and climate change.

This Roundup accompanied an SMC Briefing.


Dr Dunia H. Urrego, Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography, University of Exeter, said:

“This is a very good quality report that manages to bring together two scientific communities. This has been long overdue because the links between biodiversity and climate change are known

“I feel a few things are missing from the report. The first is acknowledgement of biodiversity history and long-term ecosystem functioning. The importance of long timescales has been clear and explicit in the IPCC reports and work, however, the time scales involved in biodiversity functioning (centuries, millennia) remain implicit. Also there is little recognition of biodiversity hotspots as priorities and recognition of their geographic location. Related to this there is a lack of engagement with knowledge produced by biodiversity experts from megadiverse countries, e,g, Brazil, Colombia. Finally there could have been explicit recognition of conflict as one of the social elements of biodiversity degradation and climate change.”


Dr Joeri Rogelj, Director of Research, Lecturer in Climate Change and the Environment, Grantham Institute – Imperial College London, said:

“The report is important because it brings together two research communities that each work on important global problems but haven’t collaborated very closely to date. Putting experts of the climate change and biodiversity research communities in the same — virtual — room, helps identifying holistic strategies. Strategies that protect biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It also helps identify those strategies that we would like to avoid, because they create more problems than they solve. Deforesting areas to start growing bio-energy crops is one such example that should be avoided.

“This report is not an official IPCC product, and thus hasn’t gone through the rigorous review procedures that IPCC reports are subject to. It nevertheless marks an important milestone on our path to researching and imagining solutions to the greatest challenges our society and planet face over the course of this century.”


Prof John Spicer, Professor of Marine Zoology, University of Plymouth, said:

“The report contains little new information – the rate of biodiversity loss continues to increase, climate change is happening, still largely unmitigated, and this is what both look like when you paint the picture by ‘following the science’. But the strength of the report lies in the explicit recognition that this is one threat, not two. Biodiversity and Climate change are inextricably linked, as are the solutions to the grave threat they pose. The report serves as another ‘final reminder’ through our letter box but also begins to pave the way for the next vital step, explicit incorporation of social justice as the third inextricable factor in our crisis – it really is all or nothing.”


Prof Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science, University College London, said:

“This report is an important milestone. Finally, the world’s bodies that synthesise scientific information on two of the most profound twenty-first century crises are working together.  Halting biodiversity loss is even harder than phasing out fossil fuel use, as making space for nature in a world dominated growing the global economy when the area of land and sea stays the same is a truly fundamental challenge.

“What governments need to realise is that while measures to protect biodiversity almost always benefit the climate, some climate policy can harm biodiversity. Badly planned tree-planting programs and an over-reliance on energy production from trees and crops have been well-documented to harm biodiversity.

“Policies exist that help ecosystems and reduce climate impacts.  Our global food system is the leading cause of habitat destruction and produces a third global greenhouse gas emissions. Tackling food waste, improving farm yields and incomes for small farmers in the Global South, and promoting more plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy can all leave more space for nature while driving down emissions.”


Prof Paul Leonard, Fellow of the Institution for Marine Environment, Science & Technology, Fellow of the Marine Biological Association & Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, said:

“The report is well written and echoes much of what has been said before and what needs to be done.

“The media brief is well written and appropriate. It covers the need to move away from the conception of economic progress based solely on GDP growth, to one that balances human development with multiple values of nature for a good quality of life, while not overshooting biophysical and social limits.

“There is a lack of information about the potential importance of using natural capital and the report dodges the solution to the challenge of increasing world population.

“Within the UK we have some excellent long-term data sets looking at biodiversity and climate change, such as those produced by the Marine Biological Association & SAHFOS. It would be useful to assess comparative information from other countries to assess relevance for future predictions. Glasgow 2021 will help further raise public interest and within the UK we should be encouraging enhancing the school, college & university curricula to include these issues.”


Prof Alexandre Antonelli, Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew said:

“I commend this long overdue collaboration between the experts from IPCC and IPBES. At the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew our scientists and partners are working around the clock to find solutions that jointly tackle the biodiversity and climate crises.

“As a tangible contribution to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, we are providing evidence-based guidelines for reforestation to simultaneously benefit biodiversity, carbon storage and local communities. We are researching our vast collections of plants and fungi, combined with extensive fieldwork, to find new sources of food, medicine, fuel and other materials that are adapted to a warmer and more unstable climate. And we are working with governments and organisations in dozens of countries to identify priority areas for conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.

“Although climate change and biodiversity loss pose unseen threats to our future, the good news is that we can tackle both through the right measures – those that are based on solid science.”


Prof Tom Oliver, Professor of Applied Ecology, University of Reading, said:

“This joint IPCC- IPBES report is a timely and thorough summary of the evidence showing the interdependence of flourishing biodiversity and a stable climate. In many cases there are synergies where our actions have win-wins for both nature and tackling climate change. However, there are also sometimes trade-offs. Particularly, welcome is the review of the risk that focussing on a single outcome alone, such extensive bioenergy cropping to sequester carbon, can adversely impact other goals like biodiversity protection. Ensuring such scientific evidence feeds into policies that many countries are rapidly developing for Net Zero is essential in order to avoid perverse outcomes. The report also touches on some of the social science considerations, such as around the acceptability of different interventions to address climate change and biodiversity loss.  This is again very timely because previous syntheses of research have tended to neglect these aspects and focus primarily on the physical sciences alone. We are entering a new era of interlinked environmental threats, and these also intimately connected to our social systems. People’s motivations and behaviours drive both biodiversity and climate change, and people are in turn affected by these trends in terms of their physical and mental health. Our environment and society are linked in a dynamic system and there is a need to further develop holistic science to study this.”   


Prof Mark Maslin, Professor of Climatology at UCL, said:

“For the first time ever the two intergovernmental organisations concerned with the biodiversity and climate crises have worked together to produce a seminal report. The science is very clear that climate change and biodiversity are interlinked and inseparable.  The Earth’s biodiversity and the functioning of many ecosystems are directly threatened by rapid climate change. However, to stabilize climate change we need to enhance and support the Earth’s ecosystem through massive rewilding and reforestation. This report presents the undeniable science that we can no longer treat human impacts on land, in oceans and in the atmosphere as separate. Governments need to develop national and international holistic solutions that deal with both the climate and biodiversity crises.  The 41 recommendations and action points in this historic report should be on the ‘must read’ list of every world leader. Only this way can we hope to limit climate change to 1.5˚C, save and enhance global diversity and endangered ecosystems and ultimately increase human wellbeing.”


Prof Rachel Warren, Professor of Global Change and Environmental Biology, Tyndall Centre, University of East Anglia, said:

“Given the current climate change and biodiversity crises highlighted in the recent Making Peace with Nature report, the upcoming UN FCCC COP meeting this November, and the push to reach net zero, this report could not be more timely. It highlights how the two crises need to be treated together to find a solution.  For example, it explains how nature and biodiversity conservation can make a major contribution to reaching net zero carbon emissions.  The way we manage land is critical in addressing both climate change and biodiversity conservation.  The report steers us away from covering large areas of the earth’s surface with bioenergy crops or planting trees in places where historically there were never trees, and instead towards the long term restoration of natural ecosystems and sustainable agricultural practices.  It emphasises that these solutions should not be seen as a substitute for reducing carbon emissions: they are required in tandem with these efforts, and should not be used as a reason to delay other climate change mitigation efforts.  It notes that every local initiative has a benefit and matters.”


Dr Christian Dunn, Associate Director of the Bangor Wetlands Group, Bangor University, said:

“It’s good to see this report state one of the most vital actions is better protection and management of our peatlands. These habitats are our most important terrestrial store of carbon on the planet and their influence cannot be over emphasised. If we do not look after our peatlands then the other actions recommended in this report aren’t going to matter. If we’re serious about climate change and biodiversity we have to get serious about our peatlands. Crucially peatland protection and restoration, as indicated in the report, has two benefits;  first it can stop the loss of carbon from these damaged ecosystems, and secondly a restored, healthy peatland can sequester climate-changing amounts of carbon for glacial time periods. Couple this with the fact peatlands are of high biodiversity value and can improve water quality it really is a no-brainer: we need to look after our peatlands.

“Peatlands are the perfect demonstration of the report’s statement that climate and biodiversity are inextricably connected with each other and with human futures. If we don’t look after our peatlands we will lose biodiversity, irreparably damage our climate and ultimately destroy our own future.

“Worryingly, the report also indicated that if temperatures do continue to rise then the ability of peatlands to act as a global carbon sink may be put at risk. So there really is no time to delay in tackling the issue.”


Prof Rick Stafford, Professor of Marine Biology and Conservation, Bournemouth University, & Policy Committee Chair for British Ecological Society, said:

“It’s very important to see the two major environmental crises we currently face, of climate change and biodiversity loss, being considered together. Both do need to be addressed simultaneously and urgently. This report clearly highlights the negative effects of ecological habitat destruction on both biodiversity and climate change. Equally, it recognises findings, such as those in the British Ecological Society’s recent report into Nature-based solutions, that restoration and protection of these habitats, can play a significant role in reducing atmospheric carbon, boosting biodiversity and providing adaptation responses to climate change effects, such as flooding.

“A joined-up approach to these environmental crises is important. For example, some carbon reduction technologies, such as electric cars, may have unintended negative consequences for biodiversity, for example, through pollution caused by mining necessary metals such as lithium. As some of our recent research has demonstrated, relying on technological solutions alone is unlikely to provide large carbon reduction benefits, and can even negatively affect biodiversity. However, progressive moves to reduce carbon, including technological solutions, alongside carbon taxation and removal of fossil fuel subsidies (as recommended by many comprehensive Green New Deal plans), especially when coupled with nature-based solutions, can have positive and highly significant climate and biodiversity benefits.”


Dr Will Pearse, Ecologist and Senior Lecturer in Applied Ecology at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, said:

“This is a fantastic report. The participants and peer-reviewers are world leaders in their respective fields, bringing a broad array of expertise and viewpoints. Clear, authoritative, informative, and accessible to anyone. What really stands out to me is the process by which this document was generated: careful planning and writing followed by intense scrutiny by external reviewers.

“This is more of a synthesis report intended for policy-makers and the public, and as such there is little that is surprising here to the specialist. There are no formal references but everything here is backed up by empirical observations collated already by the IPCC and IPBES. That said, to me the stand-out proposal is for a joined-up approach to the management of ‘scapes’: the terrestrial, freshwater, and marine environments that we depend upon. There are numbered, explicit suggestions about how to go about holistically managing the planet to avert the climate and biodiversity catastrophe and support humanity.

“Only by treating climate, biodiversity, and human society as coupled systems can we address the current catastrophes. Simple ‘quick fixes’, be they afforestation or technological innovations, are shown to be ineffective (and sometimes actively harmful) when implemented without such a holistic approach. Taking examples from the report, large-scale tree-planting can be harmful to biodiversity or food production, while reliance on rare-earth metals in technological solutions need safe disposal at the end of their lifecycle. We need a holistic, joined-up approach to managing our planet’s surface that takes advantage of all the tools we have available.

“What is missing is the reaction from the public and politicians! What we need now is to rally behind reports like this, and the recent Dasgupta Review, and use them to forge a path forward using this information to keep a healthy planet that can support us all. I beg anyone who reads this and agrees with it to write, email, or call their local politicians to demand that they take action now. There is not a moment to lose, and this report provides a clear path for policy-makers to act upon.”


Dr Nathalie Pettorelli, Senior Research Fellow, ZSL Institute of Zoology, said:

“The production of a joint report between the IPCC and the IPBES on the issues surrounding the simultaneous tackling of the biodiversity and climate change crises is a welcome first step towards the much-needed increase in collaboration between intergovernmental bodies aiming to address global environmental change and the scientific communities supporting them. 

“The report provides a broad overview of the known interlinkages between the climate change and biodiversity crises and highlights potential solutions. Importantly, it also unveils the enormity of the knowledge gaps that need to be plugged to translate generic recommendations into effective, locally-tailored actions.

“The outcomes of this report clearly call for a more joined-up approach to tackle the biodiversity and climate crises, with higher levels of integration between the biodiversity and climate change agendas, internationally, but also nationally. 

“The upcoming G7 meeting, as well as the 16th G20 summit, the Conference of the Parties (COP) for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) present clear policy windows for developing coherent policy frameworks that align targets across the nexus of biodiversity and climate change.”


Dr Alexander Lees, senior lecturer in biodiversity at Manchester Metropolitan University said:

“The report’s thesis of moving to address biodiversity loss and climate change through a set of common policies is timely, as conservation biologists have repeatedly raised concerns about impacts on ecosystems arising from climate mitigation measures like biofuels and plantation forestry. Without adequate planning these land-uses may drive biodiversity loss through the destruction of natural grassland and peatland habitats resulting in from misplaced prioritisation of above-ground carbon over biodiversity and soil carbon. It is thus crucial for planetary health that both crises are tackled synergistically with socioecologically just conjoined policy solutions.”  



The ‘IPBES-IPCC co-sponsored workshop report on biodiversity and climate change’ was launched at 14:00 UK time on Thursday 10th June.


Declared interests

Prof Rachel Warren: “No conflicts of interest.”

Prof Simon Lewis: “No competing interests. I was not involved in the production of the report.”

Prof Alexandre Antonelli: “No interests to declare.”

Prof Mark Maslin: “author of ‘How to Save Our Planet: The Facts’ (Penguin).No financial interests to declare.”

Prof Tom Oliver: “Tom Oliver is seconded with the UK government (Defra) in their Systems, Innovations and Futures team.”

None others received.

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