″There has to be action, there is nothing else″ | Global Ideas | DW | 18.11.2016
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Global Ideas

"There has to be action, there is nothing else"

Donald Trump's victory in the US put a dampener on talk of the climate in Marrakesh. But as IUCN director general Inger Andersen tells DW, the world has understood and will march on fighting climate change.

Deutsche Welle: What impact does climate change have on biodiversity?

Inger Andersen: We are only beginning to see some of these impacts now. We have found in recent studies that 80 percent of the ecosystem processes that make life on earth possible are beginning to see an impact of climate change. Many impacts on specific species are discernible. For example, the natural processes that species live through, when they hatch, when they fly, when they migrate. A number of populations no longer find the conditions they need and as a result, we are seeing populations die off. So the impacts are there, and so are the associated impacts for livelihoods.

How well are populations of animals actually able to adapt to climate change?

You can put it in two buckets: There are the generalist species, for example the sparrow. You find it in really hot but also in cold climates.  So they can adapt. But you also have more fine-tuned species, like the corals that are stationary and other species that are not so mobile. They are the ones that see an impact much faster. Those are the unique species we are concerned about. Be they plant or animal based, marine or terrestrial - they are where we are seeing the greatest impacts.

The Paris Agreement and the COPs are focusing on humans rather than on animals. Are they helpful at all in terms of preserving biodiversity?

Very, very helpful and I should say why. The original UN-Agreement on climate change speaks to the imperative of conserving forests, biomass, wetlands, coastal zones and oceans. And that is important, because in those days - twenty plus years ago, we were talking about that for carbon storage and safety. Today, we understand that this is important, not only for carbon storage but also for adaptation. For example, the mangroves, sand dunes and coastal forests are critical not only for carbon storage but also as protection in natural events like storms.  I think, in the context of both adaption and mitigation the conversation is much better than it was 22 years ago when we started this.

In terms of the Paris Agreement, do you think it goes far enough, considering that it does not specifically address biodiversity a lot?

It mentions ecosystems and it mentions the importance of forests and natural processes, it mentions adaptation and mitigation and it stresses the important role that nature plays.  This is after all a climate change agreement. We have other agreements called the Convention on Biological Diversity, we have another one, CITES, that deals with wildlife trade and we and we have the Convention to Combat Desertification. It's all about finding the synergies between these various conventions and the UN system is doing a good job at working those synergies. And here in Marrakesh as in Paris, there is an understanding of the interlinkages on the planet.

Do you have any concerns regarding the new president-elect Donald Trump and his plans for pulling the US out of the Paris Agreement and his plans for the EPA in America and the environment in general?

Obviously one would be concerned about some of those issues because they are very critical to the overall safety and security of environmental conservation. Having said that, on the global level there is a palpable mood here in Marrakesh. We are marching on, we know that fighting climate change will lead to job growth from renewable energy, will lead to opportunities for better livelihoods for tomorrow. It will also lead to a cleaner nature and fewer diseases like asthma, because we will have less air pollution. That is where the private sector is going, where young students are going, where cities and mayors are going and that is where the rest of the world is going.

If Trump does decide to pull out of the Paris Agreement and he has also talked about allowing coal and gas extraction in the US, what impact will it have on the biodiversity there?

It is too soon to say what impact it will have because we are science-based. First of all, there are laws that you cannot just do away with willy-nilly. There are laws of the land, there are institutions and courts, and those laws of the land have to be changed before you can make certain things happen. The same goes for a convention that you have ratified. You have to think about the legal steps that you would need to take. So one thing is what you say and another thing is what actually happens.

The IUCN is known for its Red List of Endangered Species. Some critics say that it is outdated, particularly regarding the recording of birds.

Every day, our 8000 scientists in the species survival commissions are working on this. We have assessed about 78,000 species with a target of reaching 150,000 by 2020. These are species that are threatened or endangered. We are looking at corals, marine and terrestrial animals, plants and fungi. So we are marching ahead on that.

What is your hope for the outcome of this conference?

The hope for Marrakesh has to be action. There is nothing else. We have spent 21 years negotiating. We have a solid agreement, called the Paris Agreement. We have commitments, we have nationally identified contributions. We know the answers and we know what we have to do. There is a committed group of countries that stand by this agreement. And you have indigenous groups, women and companies, the private sector, mayors and cities: The world has said this is important. Now we have to stop talking and move to action. And I already see it happening.

Inger Andersen is director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN is the world's largest environmental network. It provides public, private and non-governmental organizations with the knowledge and tools to combine human progress, economic development and nature conservation. The 'IUCN Red List of Threatened Species' provides data on nearly 80,000 endangered species.

This interview was conducted by Louise Osborne at the 2016 Climate Conference (COP22) in Marrakesh

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