Climate Change and Biodiversity Decline - the key environmental challenges of our times
The scientific evidence is overwhelming: climate change is happening, it is largely caused by human activities, it presents very serious global risks for people and biodiversity around the world and it demands urgent response at all levels. The direct and indirect impacts of climate change are of central concern to BirdLife International, in terms both of biodiversity and human development.
The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, by radically cutting global energy consumption and significantly increasing the efficiency of energy use are the key measures in this context. At the same time, the sustainable and strategic development of renewable energy sources is essential.
Biodiversity and climate change are closely interlinked: many habitats like forests and wetlands are important carbon sinks. Only diverse and healthy ecosystems can provide the essential services that people, animals and plants need to survive the expected environmental changes. Nature can protect us against extreme weather events, like floods, forest fires or erosion, if we do our part to conserve nature. With climate change we will need to invest more into biodiversity conservation than ever before.
BirdLife's work on Climate Change
Climate Change and the loss of biodiversity are the key elements of the same global environmental crisis. They are both caused by widespread disregard for ecological balance and policy choices that put short-term and individual gains ahead of the long-term and collective good. In order for mankind to face this big challenge of the new century, we have to devise radically new policies, behaviours and economic choices.
Climate change is a complex problem and BirdLife gives its contribution to tackling it by focusing on biodiversity related issues where its specific competences, such as bird monitoring and scientific interpretation of bird data, are most valuable. BirdLife engages with a wide range of other NGOs with a different focus and competence in order to find and advocate global solutions.
Click here to download BirdLife International's position paper on climate change (PDF 320KB).
Climate change impact on birds and biodiversity
Climate change clearly poses new challenges to the conservation of biodiversity, species and sites. It is already having multiple impacts on birds and their habitats, including:
- Distribution of species: Climate change causes habitats to shift northwards and up mountain ranges. In order to survive, species must change their distribution range to follow suitable habitat. In many cases, species face natural obstacles such as the sea that they find very hard to overcome. Man-made habitat fragmentation through infrastructures, urbanisation and intensive agriculture also makes species movement much more difficult.
- Timing of migration and breeding of species: the timing of species' key lifecycle moments such as migration and breeding are genetically 'programmed' to coincide with optimal climatic circumstances and hence food availability. Climate change means that birds' internal clock can get out of phase with the seasons. Adapting to a changed climate requires evolutionary change which can take a very long time. Very rapid climate change as the one we are currently witnessing could mean that many species will fail to adapt and face massive starvation and breeding failure.
These and other problems may lead to further declines in bird populations with currently common species becoming rare, and rare species disappearing from vast parts of Europe and some species risking complete extinction. The loss of species and decline of wild birds populations makes our world poorer but is also contributing to weakening the ecosystems on which we ultimately depend. Healthy ecosystems are even more important in times of rapid climate change as complex ecosystems can better buffer some of the consequences of Climate change such as extreme weather events and spread of invasive species.
The ability of species, habitats and ecosystems to cope with these climatic changes depends on a number of factors:
- The speed and extent of climate changes (which is why human greenhouse gas emissions have to be reduced massively and urgently);
- The general health of ecosystems and the way pressure can be reduced from other threats and stresses, such as habitat destruction, degradation and fragmentation, invasive species and over-exploitation of natural resources (which is why we need to increase our investment in nature conservation significantly);
- The availability of adequate and well-connected habitats in the areas where species might have to move to (which is why we have to do more for well-connected and big enough protected areas (like Natura 2000 sites in the EU) and sustainable land-use in general)
Climatic Atlas of European Breeding Birds
In January 2008 BirdLife launched, together with RSPB (BirdLife UK) and the Universities of Cambridge and Durham, a comprehensive "Climatic Atlas of European Breeding Birds", showing how dramatic the expected climatic changes will impact the distribution of birds- with overall very worrying consequences for their survival.