I STILL remember those days in school when we were taught a subject called “Nature Study”. We were told how “nature” plays an important role in making the world go round. We were made aware that “nature” is made up of many living organisms which depend on each other for their survival. They are all interconnected like in some kind of systems. We also learned that the planet is inhabited by a wide diversity of living organisms. Now studies have shown that the diversity in living organisms is important for the continued survival of the planet.
This is what is now referred to as “biodiversity”. And the systems which connect the living organisms with the other parts of nature in an intricate web of interdependence, now called the “ecosytems”, must not be broken. We must make sure the systems remain healthy. This is because many people agree now that healthy ecosystems and vibrant biodiversity are crucial to life. Even slight shifts in temperature can have unwelcome effects on the ecosystems.
There is no denying that both ecosystems and biodiversity are vulnerable to a deteriorating climate. Many believe such trends have significant repercussions for both society and ecosystems. It has been widely concluded that climate change can influence crop yields, change rainfall patterns, exacerbate the spread of infectious diseases and increase the frequency of extreme weather occurrences.
There is ample evidence that climate change impacts biodiversity, accelerating species loss. Species are having to adapt. Some relocate their habitats, switch life cycles or develop new physical traits in order to cope. Experts are unanimous on the fact that a temperature rise higher than 1.5°C can wipe out up to 30% of biodiversity. Warming of 3°C would put many ecosystems in dire jeopardy.
The Paris Agreement on climate change agreed to maintain global temperature rises to 1.5°C. That Agreement was viewed by climate scientists around the world as positive in the global effort to rein in the deleterious consequences of climate change. Already there are disturbing evidences of atmospheric CO2 raising the acidity of the oceans, severely damaging many coral reefs. The recent mass bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef for a second consecutive year is a good example.
It has been reported that worrying trends are emerging in many of the world’s great forests and rainforests. Coniferous forests in western North America encounter widespread tree mortality due to significant episodes of drought. This has been made worse by the outbreaks of diseases and insect attacks. The Amazon, which houses exceptional biodiversity, is also showing signs of deterioration.
To stop the rot, steps to keep temperature rise below 1.5°C are key. One recent study highlights that only France, Germany and Sweden in the EU are meeting their commitments under the Paris Agreement. It has been suggested that the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services must assume a lead role in tackling the myriad of complex issues. It must work closely with the IPCC to develop an action-plan to better understand the symbiotic relationship between the climate and the environment. What is evident is that the biosphere is fast losing the sparkle. The blame is on us humans. An article in Nature asserts that mankind is screeching towards a future of collapsing global ecosystems. This will result in rapid fluctuations to the biosphere with minimal warning. There can be no more dilly dallying. We humans must choose which path we wish to follow.
Unfortunately, that path may now be under threat. The new administration in the US has initiated the first steps to get them out of their earlier endorsement of the Paris Agreement. Their declared scepticism of climate change is worrying. As the leading per capita contributor to the global greenhouse gas emissions, there is a lot that the US can do to reverse the warming trend.
However, despite the gloomy prospects, scientists are hoping for one thing. They are quietly hoping for another U-turn from the US President. Such hope is also buoyed by the fact that in his first 100 days, the President has already made a number of U-turns on his earlier commitments.
PROF DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM
Tan Sri Omar Centre for STI Policy
And Strategic Studies