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UN: Don’t forget to save species while fixing global warming

by Mary Sewell

To save the planet, the world needs to tackle climate change and species loss together, taking measures that fix both and not just one, United Nations scientists said. A joint Thursday report by separate U.N. scientific bodies looking at climate change and biodiversity loss found ways to simultaneously attack the two global problems. Still, some fixes to warming could accelerate the extinction of plants and animals.

For example, measures such as an expansion of bioenergy crops like corn, or efforts to pull carbon dioxide from the air and bury it, could use so much land — twice the size of India — that the impact would be “fairly catastrophic on biodiversity,” said co-author and biologist Almut Arneth at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany. Policy responses to climate change and biodiversity loss have long been siloed, with different government agencies responsible for each, said co-author Pamela McElwee, a human ecologist at Rutgers University.

global warming

Scientists said the problems worsen each other, are intertwined, and, in the end, hurt people. “Climate change and biodiversity loss are threatening human well-being as well as society,” said report co-chair Hans-Otto Portner, a German biologist who helps oversee the impacts group of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Earth’s naturally changing climate shaped life, including humans, but once people in the industrialized world started pumping fossil fuels into the air, that triggered cascading problems, Portner said. “It’s high time to fix what we got wrong,” he said. “The climate system is off-track, and the biodiversity is suffering.”

Many measures can address both problems at once, the report said. “Protecting and restoring high-carbon ecosystems,” such as tropical forests and peatlands, should be a high priority, said co-author Pete Smith, a plant and soil scientist at the University of Aberdeen. While some climate solutions can increase species loss, scientists said efforts to curb extinctions don’t harm the climate.

Yunnan Shin, director of research at the French National Research Institute, said the bulk of measures taken to protect biodiversity would help curb climate change. While she applauded growing interest in nature-based solutions, she noted conservation measures “must be accompanied by clear cuts in emissions.” This report is an important milestone,” said Simon Lewis, chairman of global change science at University College London, who was not part of the report.

“Finally, the world’s bodies that synthesize scientific information on two of the most profound 21s21st-centuries are working together,” he said. “Halting biodiversity loss is even more complicated than phasing out fossil fuel use. Read stories on climate issues by The Associated Press at https://apnews.com/hub/climate. Follow Seth Borenstein and Christina Larson on Twitter at @borenbears and @larsonchristina. The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AA.P.is solely responsible for all content

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