Many factors are contributing to climate change. We need a comprehensive approach to reduce the impacts of climate change – an approach that decreases emissions across all sectors and enhances the adaptive capacity of all nations.
Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and stabilizing atmospheric concentrations at 350-450 parts per million CO2 equivalent (ppm CO2e) is essential. The current GHG level is approximately 390 ppm CO2e.
Scientists have estimated that lowering concentrations to 350 ppm may enable us to avert tipping points of ocean acidification and the melting of permafrost and arctic ice. Stabilization at 450 ppm is thought to be the threshold to avoid dangerous warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius, which would bring potentially catastrophic impacts for natural and human communities alike.
We are already seeing changing weather patterns impacting food production and species migration. Fresh water scarcity risks becoming even more acute in drought-stricken countries and flooding may increasingly threaten our coastal communities and directly impact hundreds of thousands of people each year. Conflict is increasing over strained ecosystems and local communities are being forced from their homes.
Solutions are needed now. Our ecosystems must be able to adapt to these changes so that they can retain productivity, continue to buffer extreme weather events and provide fresh water and a myriad of other services for all life on Earth. In addition, human communities need the knowledge and tools to effectively adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Protecting the Earth's ecosystems can yield immediate, cost-effective climate change solutions that will be forever lost if we do not take immediate action.
For example, the burning and clearing of tropical forests is a major – though often unrecognized – source of greenhouse gas emissions. It accounts for roughly 16 percent of total global emissions, more than all of the world's cars, trucks, ships, trains and planes combined. It is now generally recognized that it will be impossible to achieve any of the needed targets for mitigating climate change without significantly curbing the clearing and burning of tropical forests. In fact, reducing global deforestation by 50 percent by 2020 offers nearly one-third of the cost-effective, technologically available options to meet 450 ppm stabilization targets.
In addition, intact forests and other natural ecosystems – including wetlands, peatlands, coral reefs and mangroves – also reduce the risk of catastrophic impacts like floods and droughts, contribute to food and freshwater security for both rural and urban communities, allow for species migration and ecological adaptation, and support the livelihoods of indigenous and local communities. Maintaining these ecosystems will ensure that humans and other species can remain as resilient as possible to the impacts of climate change.
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