Climate, Nature and our 1.5C Future

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, leader of WWF’s global climate and energy practice explains from COP25 in Madrid why saving nature is vital to tackling climate change

© Luis Barreto / WWF-UK

Nature is essential to humanity. From the frozen polar regions and mountains, forests and grasslands, to oceans, rivers and wetlands, the earth’s ecosystems provide the keys to our existence, as well as habitats for the millions of plant and animal species with which we share this planet. Nature provides us with food, energy, medicines, and genetic resources. We rely on it for fresh air, clean water and healthy soils, and for protection against floods and storms. The landscapes where we make our homes provide spiritual inspiration and form the basis of our cultural identities. The land, the oceans and the world’s frozen places help regulate our climate.

Yet climate change is having irreversible impacts on nature. Frozen landscapes are melting, forests are burning, and coral reefs are dying — and the impacts are expected to get worse as temperatures rise to 1.5°C and beyond. Many of the activities that are currently central to human existence — agriculture, travel and energy — are directly driving the destruction of nature and contributing to climate change by unlocking the stores of carbon sequestered in the earth’s soil and vegetation. The loss, degradation and conversion of these landscapes is having a catastrophic impact on the plants and animals with which we share this planet.

© National Geographic Creative / Paul Nicklen / WWF

The rapid deterioration of biodiversity and ecosystems that we are witnessing today underscores the fact that, for too long, nature has been a peripheral part of the climate conversation.

Nature is a critical ally in the fight against climate change. To have a chance of meeting the 1.5°C target adopted under the Paris Agreement, we need an energy system that is based upon sustainable renewable technology, to transform how we travel and what we eat — but that is not enough. We also need to put nature at the heart of our decision-making, and to usher in a future of healthy forests, clean water and vibrant oceans.

That’s why today at COP25 in Madrid we launched a new report, Climate, Nature and our 1.5°C Future. It connects the findings from four major recent scientific reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Between them, these reports highlight the systemic changes needed across energy, land (food and natural systems), urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C, as well as drawing attention to the fundamental connections between nature and humanity.

Although not a negotiations topic, nature is forming a lot of conversations at this year’s COP25, and we’re seeing over 100 events on its invaluable role in tackling climate change alongside the major solutions including leaving fossil fuels firmly in the ground and cutting global greenhouse emissions to meet the Paris Agreement 1.5°C target. The outcome of these discussions will be key to the signal this COP25 sends to the world on raising ambition and addressing the climate crisis.

The impacts to nature described in these reports are playing out in real life. In August, more than 30,000 fire outbreaks were detected in the Amazon rainforest, with devastating impacts on the people and wildlife that live there. Hawaii recently suffered its third major coral bleaching event in six years. In February, the Australian government confirmed that climate change had claimed its first mammal extinction, the Bramble Cay melomys, a small rodent that lived only on a small island off Australia that was unable to survive the habitat loss resulting from rising sea levels.

We are not doing enough to prevent these changes. While nations have agreed to limit global temperature rise to below 1.5°C, actions to meet this goal are insufficient. Most pertinently for this report, nature remains undervalued and underutilised as a solution to both reduce emissions and adapt to the climate impacts that are already affecting communities around the world. By saving nature, we boost the chances of staying below 1.5°C while laying the foundations for lives that are happy, healthy, culturally enriched and socially connected. Which is why WWF is calling for a new deal for nature and people to put nature on a path to recovery.

The appetite for change is growing. Citizens are taking to the streets in their millions demanding decision-makers listen to the science.

It’s time to place our natural world at the heart of this conversation and fight for this future together.

Building a future in which people live in harmony with nature.

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