[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 2 March 2007, 08:40 GMT
It's not just about climate
Ahmed Djoghlaf
Ahmed Djoghlaf

Concerns over climate change should not obscure other environmental issues such as the rapid loss of species, argues Ahmed Djoghlaf, head of the Convention on Biological Diversity. There is much to be gained, he says, by treating the different issues together.

Birds around oil refinery. Image: Getty
Are climate concerns obscuring the natural world's other crises?
The issue of climate change has never been higher on the world's agenda.

What was once something of an afterthought in mainstream political discourse has recently been elevated to the centre stage of international debate, dominating discussions in gatherings as diverse as the World Economic Forum and the African Union.

That was even before the release of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which removed any lingering doubts about human responsibility for global warming, and emphasised the potentially severe consequences for our societies in the coming decades.

Many readers may feel a weary resistance to yet another warning of doom and gloom; my main argument, however, is one of hope

This growing recognition of the seriousness of climate change is entirely to be welcomed, and in fact is long overdue.

It should not, however, eclipse another equally pressing crisis humanity has brought upon itself: the biggest reduction in the variety of life on Earth since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Before I am accused of special pleading for an agenda in which I have a close interest, let me come straight to the point: unless biodiversity loss and climate change are tackled together and with equal priority, the impact of both on the lives of future generations could be very much worse.

Impacting lives

Many readers may at this point feel a weary resistance to yet another warning of doom and gloom about the state of the planet.

My main argument, however, is one of hope: by taking determined action to ease the pressures on the planet's ecosystems, we have it within our power to reduce and even eliminate some of the worst threats posed by a warmer and less stable climate.

Woman praying. Image: Getty
Hurricane Katrina was a tragic reminder of how low-lying settlements become more exposed when coastal wetlands are allowed to degrade
Climate change itself is of course a major threat to biological diversity, and one that is projected to become increasingly significant.

While animals and plants have adapted to past climate shifts by moving to more suitable habitats, their options are now much more limited because of the conversion of so many ecosystems to uses such as cities and intensive agriculture.

It is also true that whatever action is taken now to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming, we are already locked in to significant changes in weather patterns for the foreseeable future due to the impacts of past emissions.

That does not mean, however, that we must resign ourselves to further degradation of ecosystems and the consequences this would have on human communities across the planet.

Raising resilience

Climate change is just one of the pressures we have imposed on nature.

But there are many ways in which we can make our environment - and hence our own societies - more resilient to future change.

Take coral reefs as an example.

Stingray. Image: AFP/Getty
Preserved reef ecosystems have greater value than ruined ones
Increased sea temperatures have been linked to episodes of "bleaching", in which the delicate balance between coral organisms and the algae on which they depend is upset, and the vibrant underwater communities turn quickly into virtual deserts.

The degradation of tropical reefs, however, has been the result of a combination of human pressures acting together: coastal pollution has raised nutrient levels and promoted over-growth of algae, deforestation has dumped eroded sediments onto reefs and smothered them, and overfishing has removed algae-grazing species from the food chain and left the reefs vulnerable to change.

Reducing these other sources of stress to the reefs may well make them less likely to succumb to the added pressure of climate change, and so protect human communities dependent on coral ecosystems for tourism income, seafood and protection of coastlines.

Poverty trap

Similar examples can be found in a wide variety of contrasting environments. Protecting tropical forests and their enormous diversity of life not only helps to reduce carbon emissions, but also conserves vital water resources that will become increasingly precious due to climate change.

Conservation and restoration of coastal marshes and mangrove forests - destroyed across the world to make way for seaside developments - can help protect people from the full force of the more violent storms expected due to global warming.

Polar bears.  Image: Robert & Carolyn Buchanan
Polar bears are affected by many issues including climate
Hurricane Katrina was a tragic reminder of how low-lying settlements become more exposed when coastal wetlands are allowed to degrade.

As the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment pointed out in 2005, reduction of biodiversity implies a threat to services as basic as the provision of food, fibre, medicines and fresh water, the pollination of crops and protection from flooding - and with the rural poor most directly dependent on these services, human development goals are also placed in jeopardy.

By reducing pollution, destruction of habitats, introduction of alien species and overharvesting of wild species such as fish, we can address some of the key reasons for the current rapid rate of extinction.

In doing so, we will also be making our children and grandchildren much better able to adapt to the less stable climate they will, unfortunately, inherit.

Ahmed Djoghlaf is executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environment issues running weekly on the BBC News website

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific