, Lorna Harris
© Lorna Harris

Singing from the same song sheet: bringing the climate and biodiversity agendas together


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Justina Ray
President & Senior Scientist

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Biodiversity Climate change

Published

2023-12-21

Earlier this month in Dubai at the COP28 climate talks, the world’s countries finally agreed that addressing the climate crisis will require a “transition away” from fossil fuels.

Many different interests have jumped on this declaration to call for countries to act quickly on the spirit rather than the somewhat vague language of the commitment.

A similar scene played out last December in Montreal for the COP15 talks when the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity agreed on a new Global Biodiversity Framework, with many quickly calling for strong action to make the agreement more than words on paper.

But, in truth, comparing the two events is like comparing a Taylor Swift concert to an appearance by your favourite indie band at the local club. Even though the issue of saving our climate and reversing biodiversity loss are two sides of the same coin, there is no question that addressing our biodiversity crisis attracts fewer headlines and a lot less public attention. Yet, both evidence and understanding are mounting that you cannot address one without tackling the other.

First, safeguarding nature will be an essential pillar of climate change mitigation, but one that cannot be taken for granted. Conservation of globally important natural areas in Canada will be a critical tool for preventing the worst impacts of climate change because high-integrity ecosystems like peatlands help cool the Earth’s climate through the accumulation of large quantities of soil carbon over thousands of years. We can either undermine or enhance these natural climate regulation systems with the choices we make now.

On the flip side of the coin, increasingly rapid climate change is having profound impacts on and ecosystems. Over the course of only one decade, it has shifted from a potential future threat, to one that is actively reshaping the natural systems we depend on for clean air, water, food and cultural connections.

The intertwined nature of climate and biodiversity is something that is fundamental to our work at WCS Canada. We are strongly focused on addressing both sides of the coin: Understanding and preparing for the impacts of a changing climate on natural systems – whether it is an increasingly ice free Arctic Ocean and more fire-prone forests – while also working for effective policy and land use decisions that protect carbon-rich peatlands and forests, free flowing rivers and other intact ecosystems that will be vital for climate regulation and for giving wild species time and space to adapt to rapidly changing conditions.


  • © Susan Morse


  • © Susan Morse


  • © Susan Morse


  • © Susan Morse

This is complex and challenging work, but it is also necessary to ensuring the future health of not just wild areas, but of people and planetary life systems. The hallmark of global action on climate change has far too often been delay. Our field staff see firsthand that climate change is already happening -- in many cases far faster than expected. We cannot afford further delay -- in fact, we have to catch up with the profound shifts that are already underway. And we must do so through a society-wide shift in how these issues are addressed through policies and decisions about land and sea use alike, something we highlighted in our input into the federal government’s first draft biodiversity strategy.

One way to close the action gap on climate and biodiversity is by working directly with those most affected by on-the-ground changes. Indigenous peoples across Canada have been drawing urgent attention to how climate change is often the straw that breaks the back of natural systems already under pressure from resource development, roads and pollution. These communities have deep cultural and sustenance ties to natural landscapes and we are working to support these visions through land use planning and wildlife research initiatives.

Really, the only way to address an issue this big and complex is through collaboration. Or more simply, by making it a team effort. That’s certainly our approach at WCS Canada, where our field science staff is supported by a vital behind-the-scenes team that provides everything from budgeting and financial management, mapping and data organization to raising funds to support crucial research, taking care of our workforce or communicating why acting to protect biodiversity matters.

You don’t often read about the individuals who conduct this work in our newsletter or blogs because we are focused on telling you about our conservation successes – whether that is the designation of hundreds of new Key Biodiversity Areas or innovative wildlife conservation strategies devised by our scientists – but without them, we wouldn’t be able to continue to expand our work and our reach.

The need for the kind of science that WCS Canada produces is clearer than ever as the world continues to struggle with biodiversity loss and the climate emergency, and helps explain the growing success of this organization. So does our reputation for turning that science into actionable ideas for how to keep the wild systems we all depend on healthy and intact.

We may not always be the headliners at global events, but we do play an important role in creating a steady drumbeat for climate and biodiversity action.

P.S.
Speaking of our vital staff, we are marking the departure of one of our longest serving hands, Director of Philanthropy, Biz Agnew, in a Muddy Boots blog.

By Justina Ray, WCS Canada President and Senior Scientist

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