Climate and biodiversity – Part I

Climate Biodiversity

Biodiversity is the term most commonly used in the context of species – it is simply the diversity of plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms on Earth. To date, a total of 1.3 million species have been identified and described, but the truth is, there are many more living on Earth. The most accurate census, conducted by the University of Hawaii, estimates that there are 8.7 million species worldwide.

It is hard to believe that back in the 19th century, British entomologist John O. Westwood estimated that there were only 400 000 species of insects on Earth. Today we know there are more than a million of them, and the pace of discovering new insects is not slowing down. It is estimated that there may be between three and 100 million species of all living things on our planet.

However, the concept of biodiversity does not only refer to diversity between species, but also within species (genetic diversity) and the diversity of ecosystems.



It may seem that there is still a lot of work to be done by scientists wishing to discover new species. Unfortunately, all the indications are that we will not be able to discover all the species, because some of them will be extinct before we know they exist. According to a study published in “Nature” in 2004. 15 – 37% of plant and animal species will be doomed to extinction by 2050, due to global climate change. Many species have low tolerance to their environment and a small change in environmental conditions can cause their extinction. This was the case, for example, with the golden toad, which was last seen in 1989 and is considered an extinct species. The increase in average temperature is causing the ice cover, which is the natural habitat of polar bears, or seals, to shrink very rapidly. Rising temperatures are shifting regions of birds and butterflies 200 kilometres or more northwards. Due to climate warming, the growing season of plants starts on average more than two weeks earlier, which does not coincide with the breeding season of many birds. Their young are born with less food available. With ocean waters warming by 2oC, there will be a mass extinction of corals. Examples of the negative impact of global climate change on biodiversity can be multiplied.

In places where there are fairly strong (from about 4m/s) and constant winds, wind turbines can be built. They take the form of turbines that produce energy as they rotate. Turbines of 1.5 – 3MW are most commonly used, but output can be as high as 5MW. In Poland, the best conditions for these power plants are in the north of Poland. Its share of our country’s total electricity production is just 0.96%. We have a total of 484 wind installations with a total capacity of 1489MW. By comparison, in Germany, the largest producer of this type of energy in Europe, by 2010. more than 21,000 turbines have been installed with a total capacity of more than 27,000 MW, giving a 6% share of energy production. Denmark, on the other hand, where the majority of wind turbines are manufactured, boasts more than 3,700 MW of turbine capacity, the production of which meets more than 20% of the country’s electricity consumption. Spain is also one of the leaders, supplying almost 12% of its energy needs with wind power.




Forests are extremely important ecosystems for both climate protection and biodiversity. Tropical forests have the highest species richness on land. Forests, moreover, play an extremely important role in climate change mitigation, as they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and build it into their tissues. One tree absorbs an average of 750 kg of CO2 during its lifetime. The rate of forest loss has slowed in recent years, although it remains at alarmingly high levels. Meanwhile, up to 20% of the world’s carbon emissions are caused by clearing and burning and predatory forest management.


Did you know that.

… We have 23 national parks in Poland, which cover approx. 1% of the country’s area. They are mainly created to conserve biodiversity and restore disturbed natural habitats. Most often, the Park’s logo features a plant or animal species that is frequently encountered or characteristic of the Park, e.g. a bison in the Białowieża National Park or a chamois in the Tatra National Park. There are also other attractions in the park, e.g. the first Museum of the Frog in Poland was established in the Table Mountains National Park to promote the idea of protecting these amphibians.


Facts and myths

There are many misconceptions about climate change. One is that genetically modified foods (GMOs) have a positive impact on the environment and are not linked to climate change.The fact is that the cultivation of GMOs has a negative impact on the environment. Above all, it reduces biodiversity. Any form of industrial agriculture, with its emphasis on multi-cropping and monocultures, destroys biodiversity. The UN’s agriculture division reported that since 1990, the genetic diversity of crops has declined by about 75 per cent, linked to the shift to mass production of genetically identical crops. GMOs reduce biodiversity and thus reduce the ability of the environment to adapt to climate change.



… turn off the stadby in TVs, chargers, monitors, printers, power supplies. Standby devices

consume energy, sometimes even more than for actual operation. This is the case

with printers, for example. On average, 93% of the power goes to standby alone and only 7% to printing. Across the EU, that’s more than 50,000 gigawatt hours per year, which equates to around 50 000 000 000 kg of CO2!


… when travelling the world, do not buy souvenirs made from endangered animals. Very popular are ivory figurines, bags made from the skins of wild cats, scarves made from antelope wool, tortoise shells and much more. If you are not sure whether a souvenir is made of a protected species, do not buy it!



This article was written in the framework of a project with the acronym LAKS: Local Accountability for Kyoto goalS, which is co-financed by the European Community’s LIFE financial instrument.



Extinction risk from climate change, Thomas et al., Nature 427, 145-148 (8 January 2004)

Climate Institute

“Biodiversity for food and agriculture”, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

“Souvenirs in from protected species”, WWF Polska