To Protect Our Planet, COP Needs to Recognize the Intersection of Climate Impacts and Biodiversity Loss

The climate and biodiversity crises cannot be addressed separately.
Great Egret. Photo: Bob Greil/Audubon Photography Awards

In English, the idiom “for the birds” disparagingly signals something is worthless. But as world leaders gather for COP28, the UN’s annual climate conference, they will be overlooking a critical piece of the solution to global warming if they are not acting for the birds.

What our work with partners across the Western Hemisphere is showing is that protecting birds and the places they need also secures the well-being of people and the planet.

Birds are dying at an alarming rate from habitat loss and our warming climate. There are 3 billion fewer birds in the world now than there were in 1970. This is the canary in the coal mine of today; the health of birds indicates the health of ecosystems. That means the loss of birds forecasts greater losses to come.

For too long we have thought about climate change and biodiversity loss as different problems. While COP28 is for climate, next October COP16 will address biodiversity.

Separating the climate crisis from biodiversity loss is shortsighted—these crises are two sides of the same coin. They must be addressed together if we are serious about sustainable solutions that address the health of people and our planet.

Climate change is destroying habitats, and when ecosystems are disrupted, people suffer too. Food and water are becoming more scarce, infectious diseases are becoming more rampant, and natural sources for existing medicines and new pharmacological discoveries are being lost.

When we destroy bird habitat we lose biodiversity, and we also lose critical carbon-reducing benefits these ecosystems provide to combat climate change. That’s because many of the landscapes that are key habitats for birds are also natural carbon sinks—substantial carbon is stored in wetlands, forests, grasslands, and even green spaces in cities.

By focusing on nature-based climate solutions we can tackle both climate change and biodiversity loss, but only if we address these challenges at the same time and recognize how interconnected they are to one other.

That’s what the National Audubon Society is focused on at COP28. We’re bringing deep scientific knowledge and proven results of nature-based climate solutions to ensure biodiversity loss has a seat at the table.

By protecting and restoring nature, we can achieve one-third of the emissions reductions the world needs and support the health of people, plants, and animals. Yet less than 10 percent of climate funding is currently allocated to nature-based solutions. The math is clear: global leaders must right-size this discrepancy. 

The stakes could not be higher. If we fail to reduce emissions and slow global temperature rise, two-thirds of North American birds face extinction. We must listen to what birds are telling us. We are turning away from coal-fired power plants, but the canary still is not safe.

Nature-based climate solutions are, of course, one piece in the global decarbonization puzzle. To solve climate change, we must also transition our economies to clean energy as quickly as possible. At COP28, Audubon is also supporting responsible clean energy siting and transmission line expansion that minimizes harm to wildlife and supports local communities.

We are already making progress to halt and reverse nature loss. Just last year, global policymakers pledged to protect biodiversity and conserve 30 percent of land, water, and seas by 2030. Importantly, this does not just mean vast oceans and landscapes. It includes the same rivers, lakes, forests, coasts, and parks we all enjoy. But we have much more to do.

COP28 is the next test for global leaders. There is much to do, but one thing we know for sure is that focusing on biodiversity loss and nature-based climate solutions together with other decarbonization solutions is essential. Long gone are the days when we can address global challenges separately; the time is now to recognize how interconnected our planet’s challenges are and act accordingly.

Read Audubon's statement on the final agreement signed by nations at the COP28 summit here