Climate Action

Living Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Brandli, Pinar Gökcin Özuyar, Tony Wall

Marine Biodiversity and Pollution in the Context of Climate Change

  • Fernando MorgadoEmail author
  • Luis R. Vieira
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-71063-1_123-1

Definitions

Generally, the concept of biodiversity refers to the number of species types in a particular ecosystem. Biodiversity includes four main components: (1) genetic diversity, (2) species diversity (taxonomic diversity), (3) ecosystem diversity, and (4) functional diversity (Gaston 1996; Henderson et al. 1993). The marine biodiversity refers to the species richness and abundance in the world’s oceans and seas (Tittensor et al. 2010), contributing effectively to many crucial processes that have direct and indirect effects on the health of the oceans and humans, including the ecosystem services (Borja et al. 2010).

Introduction

In general, definitions of biodiversity include the specific composition, structure and function of ecosystems, and the ecological relationships that sustain them. According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, biodiversity also includes diversity within species and between species and ecosystems (CBD 1992). Biodiversity manifests itself at all levels of organization (genes, species, ecosystems, and landscapes) and is seen in all forms of life, habitats, and ecosystems (tropical forests, oceans and seas, savanna ecosystems). The diversity in the broad sense is the number, abundance, composition, spatial distribution, and interactions of genotypes, populations, and habitats (Faith 2016). Biodiversity includes plants, animals, fungi, and other living organisms; it can also refer to the variety of ecosystems – communities of living beings and their environments – and a broader concept of biodiversity that is genetic diversity (Faith 2016). The concept of biodiversity thus refers to all different types of living organisms within a given area (CITES 1993).

However, today’s challenges and demands for development and competitiveness, in an increasingly global economy, converge in a broader vision of biodiversity conservation and efficient use of biological resources, ensuring the resilience of natural ecosystems and sustainable development. In order to understand the vulnerabilities and risks of biodiversity loss, it is very important to understand the place of local populations about ecological knowledge and the relationship with nature, which requires a socio-ecological approach to understand the links between its ecological system and social, economic, and cultural organization (Alves et al. 2013). The challenge is to articulate scientific knowledge (which is plural) with local knowledge in a language of co-production that brings it to society and vice versa (Alves et al. 2012). Scientific knowledge incorporates and is embedded in social institutions, power relations, cultures and discourses, and social representations (Jasanoff 2004). It is recognized that the most pressing problems that socio-ecological systems and biodiversity conservation strategies need an urgent solution and must be defined by society together with scientists, so the connection between stakeholders in this process is a condition for success but also a great challenge (Pereira et al. 2010, 2012). This approach will generate new knowledge and information on trends in the ecological/human-system environment, human actions, and sociocultural systems, improving existing decision-making processes and addressing a number of relevant urgent global environmental and social issues across the globe. These tools should be included in decision-making processes (El-Zein et al. 2016).

Biodiversity, Pollution, and Sustainability of Biological Resources

The existing biodiversity resulted from an evolutionary process with billions of years of evolution, being more recently conditioned by nature and by anthropogenic action, originating a complex web of interactions (Costanza et al. 1997; MA 2005; Wilson et al. 2007). Ecosystems with high biodiversity are generally stronger and more resilient to extreme scenarios and events (Dawson et al. 2011; Pereira et al. 2010). Biodiversity not only is important for the functioning of ecosystems but also contributes decisively and effectively to human society, being indispensable for human subsistence (Díaz et al. 2006; Wilson et al. 2007). Humankind benefit from the diversity of organisms, as an important source of resources food and health (Chan et al. 2012; Norton et al. 2012). For example, plants contribute to the release of oxygen; provide food, building materials, medicines, and paper; and are crucial for climate change mitigation (Díaz et al. 2006). The overexploitation of these ecosystem services, with an exponential increase over the last decades, resulted in an unprecedented biodiversity loss (Elliott 2011, 2013; IPCC 2014). It is worldwide accepted that human survival depends on other life on Earth (Pecl et al. 2017); approximately 80% of peoples’ needs depend on biological resources; human activities such as agriculture, fisheries, industry, transport, and the urbanization of large parts of the territory threaten ecosystems and species globally with the consequent reduction of biodiversity, with profound implications for the economic and social development of the human community (Clements et al. 2010). Many factors, such as loss and degradation of habitats, excessive nutrient load, air and water pollution, overexploitation and unsustainable use of natural resources, and invasive species, contributed decisively to the exponential increase of biodiversity loss (Dawson et al. 2011; Pecl et al. 2017). These constraints are framed and eventually enhanced in a context of global climate change (Pereira et al. 2012). Appropriate conservation and sustainable development strategies attempt to recognize this as an integral part of any approach (Whittaker et al. 2005). Presently, almost all human cultures acknowledge the importance of nature and its biological diversity and the need to maintain it, which requires the establishment of balances between political, economic, environmental, and cultural interests (Wilson et al. 2007). The preservation of diversity may involve a number of motivations and causes, both practical and economic reasons (since about 40% of the world economy depends on biological resources), ethical, aesthetic, spiritual, or other intrinsic values to protect nature (Redford et al. 2003; Whittaker et al. 2005).

In recent years, levels of contaminants in the marine environment have increased as a consequence of anthropogenic activities. Coastal and estuarine environment are subjected to several forms of disturbance, among which chemical pollution associated with industrial productions and high urbanization are of major concern. The fast growth of anthropogenic activity, during the last decades, also contributed for the rapid increase in inputs of organic and inorganic chemicals, like heavy metals, hydrocarbons, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), between others (Vieira et al. 2018). Some of these environmental contaminants may also be present at toxic levels and thus induce adverse biological effects (Widdows and Donkin 1992; Vieira et al. 2018). The contamination of water resources, biota, sediments, and soils by metals is of major concern especially in many industrialized countries because of their toxicity, persistence, and bioaccumulative nature (Ikem et al. 2003). Many pollutants result from anthropogenic sources (industries, agriculture, mining, harbor activities, dumping, oil spills) in sufficient concentrations to produce deleterious effects on the ecosystems (Vieira et al. 2008, 2018). Classical inventory-based chemical monitoring of an impacted environments is restricted to the identifications of a limited number of substances, without providing information on their biological significance (Livingstone and Pipe 1992). The loss of water and sediment quality will involve directly/indirectly a decrease for natural resources. For this reason, there is an increasing need to develop new integrated methods for the identification, estimation, comparative assessment, and management of biodiversity loss posed by chemical pollutant discharges to the environment and natural resources (Vieira et al. 2018).

The awareness on the importance of global biodiversity loss, increasingly translated into habitat degradation and overexploitation of natural resources, introduction and spread of invasive alien species, and climate change led to the Convention on Biological Diversity commitment to reduce the pace of biodiversity loss by 2010 (CBD 2002). However, due to inadequate policies, increasing pressures on biodiversity, and misaligned responses, these objectives have not been met (Butchart et al. 2010). As a consequence, 20 new targets were set for 2020 with the aim of reducing biodiversity loss, and this decade was named the “biodiversity decade” by the United Nations to mark this commitment (CBD – Decision X/2 2010). In the context of the United Nations Decade for Biodiversity 2011–2020, the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2020 and national strategies, including the National Conservation Strategy Biodiversity and the sectoral working groups of the ENAAC 2020 Organizational Structure, a number of actions and strategic measures have been developed globally within the framework of environmental policies for the implementation of a democratic management of the environment and the sustainable use of habits and species (United Nations, 1994, 2008a, b). Some of these actions and strategies included the valorization and sustainable exploitation of endogenous resources, the enhancement of endogenous national resources by broadening its knowledge base, and the sustainable exploitation of existing potential for the development of innovative and sustainable eco-friendly products and, in particular, those associated with the environment and natural resources. In this context, special attention was given to major societal challenges such as environmental contamination, risk mitigation, and sustainable use of natural resources, contributing to the economic activity’s compatibility with the preservation of biodiversity.

In 2016 came into force the United Nations resolution “Transforming Our World: 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda,” consisting of 17 goals (divided by 169 targets), adopted unanimously by 193 Member States, at a summit held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 25 September 2015 (UN 2015). The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) constitute a common vision for humanity and a social contract between world leaders and people (UN 2015). These objectives aim to meet the needs of people in both developed and developing countries. The SDGs were designed from the success of the Millennium Development Goals between 2000 and 2015 and aim to go even further to end all forms of poverty. It is a broad and ambitious agenda that addresses various dimensions of sustainable development (social, economic, environmental) and promotes peace, justice, and effective institutions. The new Agenda was guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, including full respect for international law. It was based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Resolution 217 A (III)), international human rights treaties, the Millennium Declaration (Resolution 55/2), and the outcome of the 2005 World Summit (Resolution 60/1), by other instruments such as the Declaration on the Right to Development (Resolution 41/128, annex). On the other hand, all the commitments resulting from all major United Nations conferences and summits that had laid a solid foundation for sustainable development and helped shape the new Agenda have been taken on board. These included the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, (UN, 1992, resolution 1, annex I), World Summit on Sustainable Development, World Summit for Social Development, International Program of Action, United Nations Conference on Population and Development (UN 1994) resolution 1, annex), Beijing Platform for Action (UN 1995, resolution 1, annex II), and United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. In addition, the outcomes of the Fourth United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries, the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States, the Second Conference on Developing Countries, and the Third United Nations Organization Disasters (World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 2302, No. 41032), Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 (resolution 69/283, annex II) national and international policies adopted by the European Union and the Member States of the Convention on Biological Diversity as reflected in the Strategic Plan 2011–2020 in order to contribute to the achievement of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development biodiversity and nature conservation played a key role in the context of climate change adaptation processes.

Biodiversity in the Context of Climate Change

Climate change and global warming is one of the five priority areas of the European Commission’s 2020 Strategy and is a major global challenge requiring local responses (always articulated at the macro, meso, and micro levels). With this purpose, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was elaborated. The EU Strategy on Adaptation to climate change supports actions to make the EU more climate-resilient, defining the 2030 climate and energy policy framework that sets several key targets for 2030, including the Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (https://ec.europa.eu/sustainable-development/goal13_en). The understanding of climate change and global warming implies the identification of mutually influential relationships between nature, society, culture, education, and science (Giddens 2009; Feldman et al. 2010; IPCC 2014; Leal Filho et al. 2018). Climate change and global warming are a matter of global concern, being a significant challenge for society today and becoming a central issue, considering that the intensity and frequency of extreme events is driving a universal redistribution of life on Earth, with major changes in the supply of food and other products (Pecl et al. 2017). During the recent years, the risk of extinction resulting from climate change has been widely discussed and contested (Urban 2015; Pecl et al. 2017). In fact, the majority of literature link the climate change to the biodiversity loss, with an estimated extinction of a species every 20 minutes, indicating that a “sixth mass extinction” is under way (Soultan et al. 2019). Several recent studies have demonstrated an unprecedented biodiversity loss in several important groups of organisms, including microalgae, zooplankton, fish, reptiles, mammals, and birds (Pacifici et al. 2015; Pecl et al. 2017; Walczyńska et al. 2018) resulting from climate change. In addition, the multiple stress effects, i.e., the combined effects of anthropogenic pollution may increase significantly the worldwide diversity loss (Vieira et al. 2015, 2018).

The impacts of climate change, once considered only an environmental problem, are now also a global threat to human life, including the international economy, public health, migration, employment, and, ultimately, international peace infrastructure and security (United Nations Human Development Report 2008b). In this context, the preservation of biodiversity, the improvement of the quality of life, and the sustainable use of natural resources are issues that will have to be reconciled with the socioeconomic activities and with the human development of present and future generations, which together with other global dynamics, including uncontrolled population growth, urbanization, and economic inequality, lead to severe impacts on ecosystems (United Nations Human Development Report 2008; IPCC 2014). Climatic variability and extreme events have affected the planet in several ways, manifested in increases in temperature and erratic and erosive precipitation leading to erosion of the soil and coastal areas, affecting communities of fishermen, with obvious damage to ecosystems and endogenous resources (land and sea), and negatively influenced ecosystem services (IPCC 2014; Chiabai et al. 2018).

The impacts of climate change have already been considered as an environmental problem, although they are now also a global threat to human life, including the international economy, public health, migration, employment, and, ultimately, international peace and security infrastructure (United Nations Human Development Report 2008). There is, still, a greater uncertainty about how increasing changes in climate will affect natural and human systems and how society can perceive and respond to these changes (Chiabai et al. 2018). Considering climate change alone, it can be seen that the livelihoods of many people around the world and in some specific systems and sectors are likely to be under increasing pressure from environmental changes that are likely to be affected by such impacts (Warren et al. 2006, IPCC 2007, 2014). The nature of the interaction between the environment, population impacts, and environmental degradation in relation to climate change in contemporary societies is very complex, and results are still not conclusive (van der Geest et al. 2019). There is a strong belief that many semiarid areas will suffer from a decline in water resources due to climate change (IPCC 2014). These impacts will contribute to the risk of extreme environmental shocks (droughts, floods, landslides, rising temperatures, and rising sea levels) with additional implications for displacement and forced migration of populations and increasing pressure on infrastructure, urban structures and services, economic growth, increasing the risk of conflict and social unrest, and spread of health risks (van der Geest et al. 2019).

These phenomena will interfere with social and economic organization and change local cultures. In this context, it is very important to understand the relationships of local communities with natural resources and ecosystem services. These current trends are emphasized and challenging for countries as they also pose a threat to the stability of food systems, leading to a lack of food availability and accessibility (Elliott 2013; IPCC 2014). Today’s challenges and demands for development and competitiveness, in an increasingly global economy, converge toward a more comprehensive vision of biodiversity conservation and efficient use of biological resources, ensuring the resilience of natural ecosystems and sustainable development. The sustainable development objectives of the United Nations resolution “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda” represent a new global agenda, aimed at improving people’s lives everywhere by 2030. The SDGs cover 17 ambitious and interdependent goals, based on key concepts such as inclusion, integration, and universality. These goals are guidelines for governments, as well as for the private sector, civil society, and even individual citizens, so that everyone can participate in this joint project aimed at eradicating poverty, protecting the planet, and ensuring prosperity for all. These goals are guidelines for governments, as well as for the private sector, civil society, and even individual citizens, thus each citizen can participate in this joint project aimed to eradicate poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. This approach will generate new knowledge and information on trends in the ecological environment/human system, human actions, and sociocultural systems, improving existing decision-making processes and addressing a range of relevant urgent environmental and social issues, tools to be included in decision-making processes.

Final Remarks

The loss of biodiversity has become a central problem around the world. Many factors, such as loss and degradation of habitats, excessive nutrient load, air and water pollution, overexploitation and unsustainable use of natural resources, and invasive species contributed decisively to biodiversity loss. Presently, almost all cultures recognize in some way the importance of nature and its biological diversity and the need to maintain it, which requires balancing political, economic, environmental, and cultural interests. Today’s challenges and demands for development and competitiveness, in an increasingly global economy, converge toward a more comprehensive vision of biodiversity conservation and efficient use of biological resources, ensuring the resilience of natural ecosystems and sustainable development. The risks of global extinctions from climate change are already a reality and are expected to increase for every degree rise in global temperatures. Thus, it is imperative to implement strategies to act immediately in order to limit the effects of climate change.

The Sustainable Development Objectives of the United Nations resolution “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda” represent a new global agenda, aimed at improving people’s lives everywhere by 2030. The SDO covers 17 ambitious and interdependent goals, based on key concepts such as inclusion, integration, and universality. This approach will generate new knowledge and information on trends in the ecological/human-system environment, human actions, and sociocultural systems, improving existing decision-making processes and addressing a number of relevant urgent environmental and social issues, tools to be included in the decision-making processes.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Environmental and Marine Studies (CESAM) and Department of BiologyUniversity of AveiroAveiroPortugal
  2. 2.Institute of Biomedical Sciences of Abel Salazar (ICBAS) and Interdisciplinary Centre of Marine and Environmental Research (CIIMAR)University of PortoPortoPortugal

Section editors and affiliations

  • Luis R. Vieira
    • 1
  1. 1.CIIMAR & ICBASUniversity of PortoPortoPortugal