Climate change and the biodiversity crisis are two of the most pressing environmental issues of our time. While they may appear to be separate issues, they are actually intimately interconnected, with one exacerbating the other.
Biodiversity refers to the variety of life on Earth, from the tiniest microorganisms to the largest animals and plants. This diversity is what makes our planet unique and provides us with essential ecosystem services such as clean air and water, fertile soil, and pollination of crops. However, human activities such as deforestation, overfishing, pollution, agriculture and the introduction of invasive species are driving the loss of biodiversity at an alarming rate. It is estimated that up to one million species are at risk of extinction, with many disappearing before they have even been identified. In the Isle of Man:
- 41% of our plant species are of conservation concern - 24% are either now extinct or 'red-listed'
- 54% of farmland and farmed upland bird species are ‘red-listed’ or extinct.
- Yellowhammer is now locally extinct
- Seabirds such as Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Shag and Puffin are declining in the face of challenging local and global changes to their marine environment
- The Tree Sparrow is the most threatened bird species on the Island, along with the lapwing. Both these species were once widespread on Manx farmland
Climate change, on the other hand, refers to the long-term changes in global temperature, precipitation, and other climate patterns that are caused by human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels. Climate change is already having significant impacts on the environment and human societies, including rising sea levels, more frequent and severe weather events (such as the recent heatwaves in Europe which were 100 times more likely due to climate change) and changes in the distribution and abundance of plant and animal species.
So, what is the connection between climate change and the biodiversity crisis? In short, climate change is exacerbating the loss of biodiversity by altering ecosystems and making it more difficult for species to survive. Take for example sea turtles where scientists have discovered that hotter sands are causing more sea turtles to be born female and cause nest failure. One in six species are at threat of extinction due to climate change.
As temperatures rise, many species are shifting their ranges to higher latitudes or altitudes to find suitable habitat. This can lead to local extinctions of species that are unable to adapt quickly enough to the changing conditions. Additionally, many species have evolved to rely on specific temperature and precipitation patterns for reproduction, migration, and feeding. As these patterns shift, species may be unable to find the resources they need to survive.
Climate change is also affecting the timing of seasonal events such as flowering, migration, and hatching. For example, if plants flower earlier than usual due to warming temperatures, they may not be in sync with the pollinators that rely on them. This can lead to declines in both plant and animal populations.
Furthermore, climate change is making it easier for invasive species to establish themselves in new areas. Invasive species are often better adapted to changing environmental conditions than native species and can outcompete them for resources. This can lead to the loss of native species and a decrease in biodiversity.
Finally, climate change is exacerbating other threats to biodiversity such as habitat destruction, pollution, and overfishing. For example, as sea levels rise, coastal habitats such as mangroves and coral reefs are being destroyed, which in turn is causing declines in fish populations and other marine species.
The connection between climate change and the biodiversity crisis is multifaceted. Climate change is exacerbating the loss of biodiversity by altering ecosystems and making it more difficult for species to survive. At the same time, the loss of biodiversity is making it more difficult to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. To address these interconnected issues, we need to take urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect and restore biodiversity. Only by addressing both issues can we ensure a sustainable future for ourselves and the millions of species that share our planet.