Three weeks ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the second part of their comprehensive assessment report on climate change (1). Due to the current global events, the report did not get the attention it deserved, however, climate change is a continuously progressing issue and thus persists to be highly relevant.
The major finding of the UN climate report was that the “extent and magnitude of climate change impacts are larger than estimated in previous assessments.” (2). Accordingly it finds that “climate change has caused substantial damages, and increasingly irreversible losses, in terrestrial, freshwater and coastal and open ocean marine ecosystems.” (2).
The figure below visualises the impact climate change has on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. It is clearly visible that climate change has a severe impact globally on all aspects of our ecosystems. Rising global temperatures bear many risks, among them the risk of environmental degradation, water scarcity and loss of biodiversity (2, 3). Nonetheless, however gloomy the status quo might look like, the report also emphasises that there is an increase of beneficial adaptations made that aim for the implementation of climate change mitigation strategies (2). For such adaptation strategies to be as beneficial to climate change mitigation as possible, it is important that policymakers avoid focussing only on short term risk reduction as it hinders the opportunity for long term transformational change and adaptation (2).
In forest ecosystems such a long term adaptation focus would include conservation, protection and restoration of natural forests as well as sustainable forest management of managed forests (2).
Forests significantly contribute to stabilising the global climate as they have the potential to store about twice as much carbon as they emit and thus act as carbon sinks (4, 5). Be that as it may, the role of forests in mitigating climate change is two-fold. Although forests absorb and store a significant amount of carbon dioxide, they can also act as a source for carbon. As soon as a forest is degraded all the carbon it had absorbed is emitted back into the atmosphere (4, 5).
A quarter of global emissions are caused by the land sector and half of these (5-10 GtCO2e annually) can be traced back to deforestation and forest degradation (4). Due to deforestation, already today, the three major rainforests are on the way to emitting more CO2 than they are storing (5). Therefore the restoration and protection of managed as well as natural forests is essentially contributing to mitigating climate change as it increases the forests’ resilience in acting as carbon sink rather than source (2, 4, 5).
Similar to forests and trees, water also stores carbon emissions. It is estimated that our oceans store at least 25% of the global CO2 emissions emitted into the atmosphere, making them the biggest carbon sinks globally (6).
In addition, oceans also absorb solar radiation and release the heat needed to drive atmospheric circulation (7). However, rising global temperatures are causing an increased rate of water evaporation and thus precipitation. This contributes to the more extreme weather phenomena we have experienced in the past. Since higher evaporation and precipitation rates are unevenly distributed across the globe, some areas experience this e.g. in the form of droughts, while others struggle with heavier rainfall and as a consequence, floodings (8). In addition, warmer ocean surfaces also lead to more severe hurricanes and other tropical storms, which cause more hazardous conditions when these storms make landfall (8).
The UN report nonetheless notices positively that the majority of all documented adaptations are related to issues concerning water. Among the most commonly used adaptations were on-farm water management, water storage and soil moisture conservation (2). A responsible and sustainable management of global water resources is crucial to mitigate climate change, since its water-related impacts can have grave consequences for human health by e.g. limiting the access to clean drinking water (8).
Once again, the IPCC report foreshadows a grave future if things are continued to be done business-as-usual. As John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, put it: “The question at this point is not whether we can altogether avoid the crisis – it is whether we can avoid the worst consequences.” (9).
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the future that lies ahead of us and fearing the impacts of climate change is appropriate. However, the best way to not get entirely consumed by this climate fear is climate action. It is up to each and every one to change the way they go about.
A simple and easy way to take action is together with Cozero. If you want to change the way your company is doing business and move towards sustainability along the whole value chain, feel free to check out our website.
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Text by Leonie Neumann, Marketing/Climate Tech Working Student at Cozero
5. https://www.wri.org/insights/forests-absorb-twice-much-carbon-they-emit-each-year#:~:text=In other words%2C forests provide,the United States emits annually.
7. https://science.nasa.gov/earth-science/oceanography/ocean-earth-system/climate-variability#:~:text=The oceans influence climate by,for years to millions of