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Collective action to combat climate change

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

Currently underway, The Great Big Green Week is the UK’s biggest celebration of community action to tackle climate change and protect nature. Such initiatives are vital in raising awareness for the future protection of our planet and together, we must act now if we have any hope of slowing or even reversing negative climate trends. 

The time to act is now

A recent study published in ‘Science’ shows how the climate crisis has driven the world to the brink of collapse and beyond multiple climate tipping points – the point at which, after a certain threshold, unstoppable changes are made to the Earth’s climate systems. It may already be too late to prevent some of these from coming to pass, such as the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets or a mass die-off of tropical coral reefs. If the world exceeds 1.5C of heating (the goal of the Paris Agreement) then many more tipping points risk being triggered, including dieback of the Amazon rainforest and shifts to the West African monsoon.

The consequences of triggering such tipping points for humanity are devastating. Some parts of Earth will become inhabitable, food and water supplies will be severely disrupted, and a domino effect could be unleashed that triggers yet more irreversible changes.

Climate and ecosystem health are intrinsically linked, and the triggering of tipping points will have profound negative impacts on the world’s biodiversity. Changes to ecosystems are likely to include rainforest loss, increased desertification and warmer and more acidic seas that support less marine life. Competition for habitable and productive land will intensify, putting further pressure on biodiversity and wildlife. 

Image credit: William Fortescue

Plants and animals are highly specialised to their environments, and many will struggle to adapt in time to a warming climate, and in particular to such tipping points. Animals that can move to more habitable climates are at an advantage. However, the fragmented nature of habitats due to destruction and degradation, usually as result of human encroachment, means that is rarely possible. 

The overall impact of climate change on wildlife will be disastrous. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that one in ten of the Earth’s terrestrial and freshwater species are currently “at very high risk of extinction”.

How can we combat the climate crisis?

Whilst climate change and biodiversity loss are compounding each other; the good news is that there are also solutions that tackle both. In fact, it is imperative that they are tackled together if either crisis is going to be addressed. Nature based solutions and rewilding, if interventions are designed effectively, can be important remedies to both.  

For example, protecting existing forests or reforestation with climate resilient native species will have obvious benefits for wildlife in terms of preserving their habitats but will also have important climate mitigation and adaptation benefits.   

In addition to absorbing greenhouse gases, forests help prevent flooding, improve water supply, maintain nutrients in soil, support pollinators, and keep us cooler, all of which will benefit the livelihoods of communities living in proximity to forests.  

The conservation of wildlife and biodiversity also has an important part to play in the fight against climate change. Large mammals and birds help increase the carbon storage of forests by spreading the seeds of trees, leading to reproduction. The absence of such large mammals is keenly felt in areas where they have become extinct and explains the move towards the reintroduction of large herbivores to forests.

Animals can also help prevent the impact of climate change in other surprising ways. For example, white rhinos play an important part in protecting against wildfires (which are on the increase as a result of climate change) by grazing on the tall grass that helps spread fires. Research has shown that the loss of rhinos from savannah in South Africa has contributed to a large increase in wildfires. 

Image credit: Matt Armstrong-Ford

Through the generous support of our donors, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) is helping to protect 158,000 km2 of prime wildlife habitat. Large proportions of this landscape include forest, grassland and wetland ecosystems which are essential in carbon sequestration on a global scale, alongside a huge variety of species which allow these landscapes to thrive.

Protecting biodiversity is absolutely crucial in ensuring that disastrous climate tipping points are not reached. However, such solutions should not be seen as an alternative to making deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, as scientists have made clear both are needed.  

Alongside funding a diverse conservation portfolio across Africa and Asia, DSWF also engages in the international policy arena, fighting for greater protectionist policies. In November, all eyes will be on the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27) and we look forward to sharing more about this, and the following UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) in Montreal in December, over the coming weeks. DSWF will be sending a representative to the Montreal talks, and we will be heavily engaged in pushing for an ambitious outcome alongside our non-governmental organization (NGO) colleagues.

In order to enact positive change, we must speak up for those who can’t and collectively push for global climate action.

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