This article is sponsored by Ørsted.
The 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), or COP15, kicked off this week in Montreal, following hot on the heels of COP27. Both conferences are similar in many ways. They aim to address two equally urgent and life-threatening crises — biodiversity loss and climate change, respectively. They emanate from the United Nations, and both saw their first conferences three decades ago in the 1990s. And both are instrumental in setting ambitious goals, such as the Paris Agreement or the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. But without question, biodiversity loss hasn’t been in the spotlight as much as the climate crisis. And that must change.
We’ve spent the last three decades holding separate conferences and setting siloed targets, focusing too narrowly on solutions to either crisis, and missing the potential to find solutions to both. We can’t afford three more decades of the same — not even one. We need a new approach, now.
I’m not suggesting that biodiversity loss is a more urgent crisis than climate change, nor that governments must shift their focus from one to the other. On the contrary, I believe they are of equal importance and both require immediate action. So, as the global community meets in Montreal, I urge leaders to see the whole picture: climate change and biodiversity loss are two sides of the same problem. We can solve one only if we solve both together.
Seeing the whole picture
The climate crisis is causing undeniable harm and threatening human well-being. It is also a driver of species and habitat loss and ecosystem degradation, especially in the oceans. This undermines nature’s unique ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change. It also threatens biodiversity, which we rely upon for the air we breathe and the food we eat, while over 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods.
Conversely, addressing climate change — by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, rapidly and drastically — will contribute to halting and, eventually, reversing biodiversity loss. We must not lose sight of the truth that conservation and restoration efforts to enhance biodiversity and support healthy, thriving ecosystems can play a critical role in climate mitigation and adaptation.
Climate change and biodiversity loss are the two global challenges of our time and they mutually reinforce each other. The two crises are deeply interconnected and the solutions must be, too.
This is also one of the key messages delivered last year by climate and biodiversity experts in a joint report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): "The mutual reinforcing of climate change and biodiversity loss means that satisfactorily resolving either issue requires consideration of the other."
We are on the precipice of surpassing biodiversity and climate tipping points. Even under a 2 degrees Celsius scenario, many of our ecosystems will be under extreme pressure. For instance, the ocean has absorbed 30 percent of carbon emissions, leading to acidification and degradation of marine ecosystems, which in turn limits the ocean’s role as our planet’s largest carbon sink. Similarly, under the same global warming scenario, up to 18 percent of all land species will be at high risk of becoming extinct by 2100.
We are running out of time on climate and biodiversity and need to take urgent action in line with a 1.5C trajectory. Mitigating climate change requires cutting global greenhouse gas emissions and rapidly phasing out fossil fuels. The transition has already started in the energy sector with renewables accounting for 29 percent of global electricity generation in 2020. But this is not enough — there is a clear need for speed if we are to meet our climate and biodiversity targets.
Demand for renewable energy — from companies, governments and civil society — is growing and green energy companies are ready to answer the call. Earlier this year, the world’s largest offshore windfarm — Hornsea 2, off the coast of England — became fully operational, helping power over 1.4 million U.K. homes with low-cost, clean and secure renewable energy. And more projects are underway around the world. Local and national policy makers and authorities can help accelerate their deployment, with supportive policies that will help streamline and shorten permitting procedures.
But we can’t halt and reverse biodiversity loss unless we address emissions across our entire value chains. Ambitious climate action — from the public and private sector alike — also needs to become integral to any credible nature target. Similarly, we need to apply and improve on the learnings of our fight against climate change. This includes calling on governments to make nature assessment and disclosure mandatory to move beyond voluntary action and towards the transformative change that is desperately needed to address our impact on nature.
We need to accelerate the energy transition and, crucially, we need to do it right, now. The climate-biodiversity nexus is complex and there is no simple blueprint that business or governments can follow. But we can choose to harness the energy transition and deliver an even greater positive impact on nature. The renewable energy build-out can unlock long-term benefits for biodiversity. That’s why at Ørsted we’ve set the ambition that all renewable energy assets we commission from 2030 onwards should deliver net-positive biodiversity impact, aiming to leave nature a better state, as we tackle climate change.
We don’t yet have all the answers, but we’re taking action now while finding the best solutions. And collaboration is a key part of this process — one that must unite industry, local and national governments and civil society. By partnering with a wide range of experts, we aim to develop land and marine conservation measures, monitor and report on their impact to implement the best solutions at scale for all our renewable energy assets. For example exploring whether corals can be successfully grown on offshore wind turbine foundations, and testing the potential of marine rewilding to restore ocean biodiversity.
One of these pilot projects in partnership with the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Wildlife Trusts launched earlier this year in the U.K. Together, we’ve embarked on a seascape restoration project around the Humber Estuary, in the North of England. This joint pilot aims to replenish and strengthen the local ecosystem, which has suffered from the effects of sea-level rise, land development encroaching on coastal areas, pollution and habitat loss. Rewilding and reintroducing native species will improve the health and resilience of the estuary’s ecosystem, helping it in turn better adapt to the effects of climate change.
While these crises reinforce each other, with complicated interactions and feedbacks, integrated solutions that tackle both crises can help maximize co-benefits to both. We can’t afford three more decades. It’s time to see the whole picture — and take action — now, at COP15 and in future climate and biodiversity negotiations.