Is there a wild animal or plant species that you simply can’t imagine the world without? This is the question Italian Climate Pact Ambassador Valeria Barbi is asking us to think about – along with experts, influencers and journalists – in the run-up to a global conference on biological diversity (‘biodiversity’), taking place in Montreal, Canada, in December 2022 (COP15).
‘Biodiversity’ refers to millions of unique species of plants, animals and other organisms that live in the world. Together, they maintain our life support system on Earth. And Valeria, who is lecturer on Biodiversity and Climate change at research centre ISPI and 24Ore business school, freelance consultant and book author, is on a mission to raise awareness of the worsening biodiversity crisis, which threatens our health, wellbeing and economy.
Wildlife populations have declined by 69 percent since 1970, and right now, one million species are at risk of extinction globally. In Europe alone, more than 80% of natural habitats are in poor condition, with over half of Europe’s endemic trees at risk. More than 1 500 European species are under threat of extinction (particularly snails, clams and fish), and 1 in 3 bee and butterfly species are in decline. Without bees, there is no pollination. And without pollination, there are no fruits and vegetables to harvest, which puts our food supply at risk. It’s as simple as that.
But what does it all have to do with the climate?
An alliance with nature
Valeria is currently on a one-year overland journey from Alaska to Argentina – the We Are Nature Expedition – to document biodiversity loss. She is collecting stories and testimonies about how the natural environment has been changed by humans, and wants to draw attention to species that are trying to survive and adapt: “I want to highlight that tackling this crisis should go hand in hand with stopping climate change, because the two problems are very much connected, but we talk about the crisis in the natural world much less frequently. Very few people know about COP15.”
The two crises are not just connected but locked in a vicious circle – climate change accelerates the degradation of nature and biodiversity, which in turn accelerates climate change. Fortunately, nature also provides some powerful solutions.
Natural solutions to help fight climate change
- Nature is our carbon sponge
Ecosystems such as oceans, peatbogs, wetlands and forests all absorb carbon and store it away in soils, trees and other plants. Peatlands hold nearly a thirdof the carbon that is stored in soil globally. Restoring them could reduce Europe’s agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by up to a quarter.
- Nature provides important protection against the impacts of climate change
Flood plains absorb excess water during storms, protecting communities against flooding further downriver. Over the past decades, many have been built over or neglected, but efforts to retain or restore them can help to protect us from future flooding.
- Nature purifies our water and cools our air
Wetlands along riverbanks are not only thriving ecosystems, they also remove pollutants from the water – especially around farms – helping to purify water that we will eventually drink. Meanwhile, trees in cities can bring down local air temperatures during heatwaves by as much as 12°C.
Helping nature bounce back in the EU
Valeria advocates for ‘nature positivity’, which means not limiting ourselves to stopping the loss of species and habitats, but working to reverse it and rewild the world. Put simply: there should be more nature in the world in 2030 than there was in 2020. “We need to bring back more nature in places where urbanisation is increasing,” stresses Valeria.
This is the EU’s objective, too. The Commission’s recent nature restoration law proposal aims to enable nature and ecosystems to make a long-term recovery. This means bringing back species populations by improving and enlarging their habitats, reversing the decline of pollinator populations and restoring marine habitats – among much more – all the while helping us keep global warming below 1.5°C, the target set by the Paris Agreement on climate change.
In 2020, the EU biodiversity strategy was introduced to protect European land and sea, further cementing the EU’s commitment to protecting and restoring nature. The strategy aims to increase organic farming, reduce the use of pesticides, reverse the decline in pollinators and restore rivers. The new EU forest strategy for 2030 builds on the biodiversity strategy, aiming to improve the quantity and quality of forests, including planting 3 billion trees by 2030. These commitments pave the way for reversing biodiversity loss and fighting climate change.
How can we become nature-positive?
Beyond government action, we can all take important steps to help protect the nature around us. We asked Valeria for her suggestions.
Valeria’s top tips to protect nature:
- Get more informed about the natural world and how to protect it, and spread the word. Make sure the sources of information you are using are reliable.
- If you have a balcony or a garden, keep plants and flowers that support pollinators, such as lavender, dahlias and marigolds.
- Nature loss is mostly connected to our use of resources. So start thinking about your own carbon footprint and what you can do to reduce it – insulating your home, greening your energy supply, and favouring sustainable forms of transport.
- Reduce how much plastic you use. We are finding plastic and microplastics everywhere from the ocean floor to the top of mountains.
- Understand the value of water conservation, how much water you use and how you can reduce that. Water is becoming scarce and it is essential for the future of the planet.
More tips to help biodiversity around us thrive:
- Take up tree planting. Restoring forests around the world is one of the best nature-based solutions we have, so why not take a Climate Pact pledge to grow more trees? Join millions of others and report your tree planting through the EU’s 3 billion trees initiative.
- You can also pledge to cut food waste, and opt for local and seasonal goods. The way we produce and consume food is the main driver of global biodiversity loss, as a result of forests being cut down globally to make way for farms.
- Help local wildlife, for example by installing nesting boxes and feeders for birds, or holes in building blocks for bats. You can also call on your local authority to mow grassy public spaces less often and leave areas for wildflowers that support pollinators.
- Stick to marked walking routes when out hiking and take your litter with you to ensure that surrounding wildlife habitats remain unspoiled.
“This is really about reducing conflict between humans and nature,” says Valeria. “Many of the things we do – building infrastructure, for example – create barriers or obstacles for nature. Bears are still very common in North America, but in central Italy the few remaining brown bears are in danger of being killed by road traffic. We need to learn to give nature more space and live more in harmony with it.”
We agree! If you decide to take a step towards reducing your impact on nature, encourage others to do the same by sharing your news on social media using the hashtag #EUClimatePact.
- Publication date
- 28 October 2022