A win for nature is a win for climate: 3 stories you may have missed

© Conservation International/photo by Colin Foster

Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

New study: Climate change and the destruction of nature are two halves of the same problem.

The story: Neither climate change nor biodiversity loss can be effectively addressed unless both issues are tackled together, according to a new report. For years scientists and policymakers studying these threats have worked in silos, writes Catrin Einhorn for The New York Times. 

“But their subjects are connected by something elemental, literally: carbon itself,” she adds.  

“The same element that makes up heat-trapping carbon dioxide, methane and soot is also a fundamental building block of the natural world… In fact, land and water ecosystems are already stashing away half of human-generated emissions.”

However, many strategies to fight climate change come at the expense of nature, according to the report. For example, solar farms generate renewable energy that cuts carbon emissions, but can also destroy wildlife habitats. Trees planted in savannas can suck up greenhouse gases, but also harm these rich grassland ecosystems.

The big picture: While reducing emissions is the single biggest priority for limiting temperature rise, there are solutions that address both the climate crisis and biodiversity loss. For example, REDD+ — a United Nations-backed initiative — provides financial incentives for communities, regions and countries to keep forests intact, thereby conserving wildlife and slowing global warming. 

REDD+ initiatives have seen success around the world, particularly in Kenya’s Chyulu Hills, where a REDD+ project created by Conservation International and local communities has helped conserve and restore 404,000 hectares (1 million acres) of land — protecting iconic species such as elephants and rhinos while also preventing the release of around 37 million metric tons of carbon emissions. 

Read more here.

Further reading: 

Ropes and fishing lines may be stunting whale growth. 

The story: One of the world’s most endangered whale species, the North Atlantic right whale is now on average an entire meter (3 feet) shorter than it was in 1980, reported Eve Zuckoff for NPR. And a new study indicates that ocean pollution is largely to blame. 

Only about 366 North Atlantic right whales are left in the world. After analyzing and tracking nearly a third of that population, the study’s authors found that individuals are frequently entangled in ropes, nets or other discarded fishing gear — sometimes for months or years — forcing them to expend more energy as they swim. Dragging the extra weight can stunt the whales’ growth and inhibit their ability to reproduce, the researchers say

The big picture: “If you're smaller and skinnier, then your calf is also likely to be smaller and skinnier," Joshua Stewart, the lead author of the study, told NPR. "Especially as a calf, you're needing to grow really quickly in those early years, so you could have a lower chance of survival if you're smaller."

A 2012 study found that more than 80 percent of North Atlantic right whales have been entangled in fishing gear at least once in their lives. To prevent future entanglements — and the threat of extinction — conservationists agree that fisheries must better manage their waste and fishing gear, particularly the vertical lines that hold lobster traps on the seafloor. 

Read more here

Traditional knowledge is crucial to protecting the planet’s biodiversity — and human well-being. 

The story: Indigenous languages are dying — and with them, the vital information they hold about the world’s medicinal plant species, reported Virginia Gewin for Popular Science. In a new study, scientists analyzed more than 236 Indigenous languages in some of the world’s most biodiverse areas — particularly in the Amazon — and found that more than 75 percent of medicinal plant records are only documented in one native language. 

“If these languages disappear, we’ll lose this index to the forest library,” Rodrigo Cámara-Leret, a co-author on the study, told Popular Science. “We can read the landscape thanks to the information compiled by native peoples.” 

The big picture: As Indigenous elders in Brazil continue to fall victim to COVID-19, their communities fear that their traditional knowledge and languages could be lost forever. 

According to Conservation International’s Johnson Cerda, an Indigenous Kichwa of the Ecuadorian Amazon, the most effective way to help Indigenous peoples weather crises such as COVID-19 — and preserve their cultures — is to formally recognize and uphold their land rights. 

“Rather than trying to take over lands or make all of the decisions of how to protect a certain area, governments and environmental organizations must instead work with Indigenous peoples to ensure that everyone’s interests are taken into account,” he said in a recent interview with Conservation News.  

Read more here

Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: Forests and mountains in the Alto Mayo region (© Conservation International/Colin Foster)