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At the crossroads: a landmark new report on climate and biodiversity

Welcome to Latitude, our new PLOS Blog dedicated to environmental studies. Why Latitude? It’s defined as the angular distance of a place north or south of the earth’s equator AND the scope for freedom of action or thought. This forum will be a venue for both — earth sciences and provocative thinking. 

Emma Archer headshot

Our inaugural post is from Emma Archer, the Editor-in-Chief for PLOS Climate. She is a a co-author on the recently released landmark IPBES-IPCC co-sponsored workshop report on biodiversity and climate change.

Although there are some overlaps between the scientific communities working on biodiversity and climate change, the issues have, traditionally, been dealt with fairly separately, particularly in decision-making.  For example, as issues, the two are represented by two different Multilateral Environmental Agreements: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in the case of climate change, and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in the case of biodiversity.  They are supported by two different groupings of international scientific assessment processes: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the one hand, and on the other hand, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), Global Environment Outlook (GEO) process and other processes addressing biodiversity and ecosystem services.

It is increasingly clear, however, that climate change and biodiversity are inextricably linked, and changes in both, as well as their inter-relationships, have profound consequences for human well-being.  As a result, the IPCC and IPBES responded to a need for a joint report – effectively pulling together the latest and most critical findings on climate change and biodiversity for the planet.  After a virtual writing workshop in December 2020, the report was reviewed both internally and externally, and launched on the 10th of June, 2021.

2021 is a landmark year for the release of such a report.  First, the international negotiations for biodiversity (CBD COP 15 in Kunming in October 2021) and for climate change (UNFCCC COP26 in Glasgow in November) come at particularly critical times in the evolution of agreements addressing these issues.  In addition, the ongoing global pandemic shows clearly the importance of healthy ecosystems in supporting human well-being; as well as how scientific international cooperation is key.  Amongst other findings, the report shows clearly how conservation needs to be rethought in the context of climate change (amongst other stressors); as well as how healthy ecosystems help support both adaptation to and mitigation of climate change (including the restoration of terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems, and their contributions).  Finally, the report highlights how responding to climate change may, under certain circumstances, adversely impact biodiversity and ecosystem services – for example, through clearance of natural habitat for cultivation of biofuels.  

At a time when international assessments that are in progress are still open for citable papers, we see a key part of our role at PLOS Climate as providing an inclusive platform for the publication of studies investigating climate-ecosystem interactions, including those that deal with inter-relationships and feedbacks between critical issues.  

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