A crisis for humanity and biodiversity

Climate change is recognised as one of the biggest threats to our natural world and its biodiversity, as well as to global security, human health and well-being.

The evidence clearly shows that the cause of this change is the emission of greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide) into the Earth’s atmosphere as a direct result of human activities, which include burning fossil fuels for energy, transport and a host of other purposes, and clearing forests and other ecosystems that absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

We are already witnessing the early effects of climate change, with more frequent extreme weather events (such as droughts, flooding and storms) and changing seasonal patterns being seen around the world.

Climate models also predict that sea levels will rise as a result of melting ice caps, with devastating consequences for low-lying areas.

30%

increase in ocean acidity since the Industrial Revolution. This has been caused by our oceans absorbing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

16 out of 17

of the warmest years ever recorded have occurred since 2001. Overall, the planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 1oC since the late 19th century.

How will climate change affect biodiversity?

Besides the obvious and often tragic humanitarian consequences of these extreme weather events, climate change is also affecting our planet’s ecosystems and biodiversity in many ways:

  • Changes in climate and weather may force species to migrate to new areas. There is ample evidence already of species’ ranges shifting as a result of changing conditions. Those that cannot escape their newly inhospitable surroundings (trees or species confined to mountain-tops and small islands are obvious examples) or adapt are likely to die off.
  • Because species depend on each other for survival, individual extinctions and shifting ranges have a much wider knock-on effect, upsetting the delicate balance of our natural world. In a worst-case scenario, we could see food webs and ecosystems collapse completely.
  • Changes in climate can threaten native species, as invasive ones (both predators and competitors) expand into their range, and may also create ideal conditions for disease outbreaks.
  • Species that are already threatened (e.g. those hunted to the brink of extinction, or confined to a few remaining pockets of habitat) and those that are highly sensitive to environmental change are particularly vulnerable to the extreme events, invasive species, disease outbreaks and further habitat loss resulting from climate change.

In addition, biodiversity is also exposed to the secondary, human-driven impacts of a changing climate., in the shape of displaced communities and changing behaviour in response to lower crop yields (such as agricultural expansion and increased reliance on wild resources).

Our work to tackle climate change

Broadly speaking, the two main avenues for tackling climate change are the prevention of emissions and the alleviation of its effects.

Preventing emissions

Recognising that climate change is one of the most serious threats to our planet and human welfare, many countries have now signed up to international climate change agreements that commit them to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The challenge now is for the international community to create the systems, policies and culture needed to meet these targets – and quickly.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI), meanwhile, is playing its part in tackling this challenge in three key ways:

  • Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) – Deforestation has major implications for climate change, in part because it is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions in itself, but also because it destroys an important natural carbon store capable of absorbing some of our rising emissions. REDD+ presents an exciting opportunity to address this issue, which is why FFI is working with governments around the world to trial this approach. When properly established, REDD+ will provide monetary incentives (through ‘carbon credits’) for communities to keep their forests standing. Not only does this protect vital carbon stores, it can also help to protect the biodiversity found in these forests. Learn more.
  • Protecting habitats – Although forests are perhaps the most recognised for their role in regulating atmospheric gases (and therefore climate), almost all ecosystems play a role in storing carbon, from grasslands and soils to rivers and oceans. FFI’s efforts to protect threatened species and ecosystems therefore have the added benefit of preserving these carbon stores, and ensuring that they function healthily and perform this important service.
  • Reducing business impacts – FFI is working with committed partners in the agricultural and extractive sectors to reduce their impact on biodiversity and ecosystem services such as carbon storage. Learn more.

Alleviating the effects of climate change

 Despite some progress on the international front, there is no doubt that our changing climate is already affecting species, ecosystems and people. We therefore need to take urgent action to deal with the changes we are seeing (such as unreliable weather patterns and extreme events) and to increase human and ecosystem resilience in order to prepare for the changes yet to come.

FFI is tackling this in two ways:

  • Climate change adaptation planning – recognising the very real threat that climate change poses for the species and ecosystems we work with, FFI began a number of years ago to look at our project sites to identify how biodiversity in these areas might be affected and develop strategies for dealing with these vulnerabilities. As well as looking at the direct impacts of climate change on biodiversity, we have been pioneering an approach that identifies how people living in or near our sites are being affected by climate change and helping them to adapt to these impacts (such as falling crop yields) without destroying their local ecosystems. Learn more.
  • Protecting threatened species and habitats – climate change has the potential to rapidly push a great many endangered species over the brink into extinction. All of FFI’s work is focused in some way on protecting threatened ecosystems and safeguarding endangered species. In so doing, we are not only addressing the problems they face today, but also increasing the resilience of these species and ecosystems, giving them the best chance of survival as the effects of climate change take hold. Learn more.

What can you do?

Combating climate change requires action from all sectors of society. The Green Guide offers a comprehensive guide on what we as individuals can do to minimise its effects, but here are a few ideas recommended by our science team:

  1. Drive less – walk, cycle or use public transport where possible
  2. Fly less – opt for holidays closer to home. If you travel for work consider whether you could meet virtually instead
  3. Eat less meat and dairy – meat production contributes to climate change in a number of ways – both directly (cows and other ruminants, for example, produce a lot of methane – a greenhouse gas) and indirectly through the destruction of natural habitats. Try reducing your consumption to fewer days per week
  4. Conserve energy – think twice before using lights, heating, tumble dryers, kettles and other energy-hungry devices
  5. Switch to a green power provider
  6. Recycle materials and reduce the amount of food waste you send to landfill
  7. Support FFI – join as a member or make a donation to support our efforts to tackle climate change and safeguard threatened species and habitats against its effects

Learn more about our approach to tackling climate change