Addressing the climate-wildlife-health nexus

As nearly 200 countries agree a compromise deal at the COP28 climate summit, Born Free’s Head of Policy Dr Mark Jones calls for ‘nature-based solutions’ and joined-up thinking to address the climate crisis. 

A panoramic view of a rainforest covered with mist

The climate negotiations finally came to a close at COP28 in Dubai amidst considerable confusion and concerns that the final agreement doesn’t go nearly far enough. While the call on all nations to transition away from fossil fuels to avert the worst effects of climate change is positive, the continued lack of recognition of the nexus between climate, biodiversity and health is acutely disappointing. 

The climate and biodiversity crises are intimately interlinked, and we cannot continue to consider them in isolation. Climate change is at the heart of Born Free’s work for wildlife. Nature plays a key role in our fight against global climate change – we need to protect wild animals to protect the planet. 

Protecting and restoring nature is key if we are to limit the impacts of climate change, since nature provides a natural carbon store, absorbs the greenhouse gases that are causing global warming, and buffers against extreme weather and its consequences.  

A headshot of Dr Mark Jones, Born Free's Head of Policy

Dr Mark Jones, Head of Policy

The development of ‘nature-based solutions’ and ‘ecosystem-based approaches’ must form a key part of global efforts to limit the impacts of climate change, and these approaches must incorporate consideration of the part that individual animals and their populations play and the need to look after them.   

Scientists are beginning to be able to measure, through work that has been done on great whales and elephants, the vital role of healthy wild animals and their populations in maintaining healthy natural systems that can store carbon and reduce the impacts of climate change.  

Limiting global warming is also key to protecting wildlife and nature, because as the world warms up and environments change, many animals and plants find it increasingly difficult to thrive in the habitats they have evolved to live in. A major new UN report, which was released during COP28, describes how climate change is severely impacting migratory species of wild animals. Many species of whales and dolphins, which are vital in the fight against climate change, face extinction due to rising temperatures. 

Protecting nature and wildlife is also key to preventing future pandemics like Covid-19, since while most of the viruses that could cause future pandemics probably originate in wild animals, it’s only when we disrupt and exploit those animals that we put the health of other animals and people at risk. 

The Global Biodiversity Framework, agreed by the overwhelming majority of the world’s governments a year ago in Montreal, Canada, recognises the nexus between climate, biodiversity and health. Target 8 of the Framework talks of minimising the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on biodiversity, while Target 11 recognises the regulation of climate as one of nature’s contributions to people, and the need to restore, maintain and enhance these contributions. Target 19 references the need to optimise the co-benefits and synergies of finance targeting the biodiversity and climate crises. 

Wildlife exploitation, which includes trade and trafficking, is recognised as one of the key direct drivers of biodiversity decline. Tackling wildlife exploitation must therefore be a priority as we try to deal with the nature and climate crises. At COP28, the Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime, of which Born Free is a founding member and which advocates for a global agreement to tackle wildlife trafficking, was involved in three key events aimed at highlighting the importance of protecting wildlife and its relevance to climate action.  

These included: 

  • a discussion of the nexus between wildlife crime and climate change, which was co-hosted by the Government of Angola and took place at the Angola Pavillion;  
  • a debate on wildlife crime in climate change on the Climate Finance Hub Stage; and  
  • an event emphasising the importance of protecting biodiversity as a critical tool for addressing the impacts of climate change, organised by Angola, the United Arab Emirates and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, with End Wildlife Crime’s support. 

There have been some encouraging outcomes from COP28. We welcome the endorsement of more than 120 countries of the COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health, which emphasises the importance of integrating health into climate policies. 

Nevertheless, in spite of these and other efforts, it continues to be a struggle to ensure wildlife protection features in the commitments and pledges emerging from the climate negotiations. 

This urgently needs to change. The connection between climate, biodiversity, and health needs to be front and centre of global action. 

Born Free will continue to campaign to ensure the global community recognises this nexus, and to promote joined-up thinking between the international mechanisms designed to address the multiple crises we face. 

Our work on climate and biodiversity