Climate change is a significant threat to many, if not all, plant species, affecting their distribution and abundance. Climate change will impact native biodiversity, food security and biosecurity (via impacts on weeds, pests and diseases), and all these will impact human health and well-being.
Plants play a critical role in mitigating climate change through carbon sequestration and storage, and reducing its impact through reduction in surface temperatures via evapotranspiration and shade.
Climate change is one of the most significant threats to plant biodiversity, from local to regional and global scales. As such we are taking action to document and preserve biodiversity, assess the ability of plants to adapt to a changing climate, minimize the risk of extinction, reduce the impact of the likely changes on the survival of plants for future generations, and build more resilient ecosystems for future generations.
What is climate change?
Climate change is predominantly due to the buildup of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. Human activities, especially the burning of coal, oil and gas, are increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In turn, these gases are trapping more of the sun’s energy in the atmosphere and changing the climate.
Climate change is resulting in the increased intensity and frequency of many extreme events, such as heatwaves, storms, bushfires and droughts. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), states that nature is being eroded at rates unprecedented in human history. It is estimated that over one million species (plants, animals and micro-organisms) are currently threatened with extinction and this will erode the entire natural infrastructure on which our world depends.
The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2019) (Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems) highlights that are already experiencing more frequent extreme temperatures, more intense storms, and adverse impacts on food production and terrestrial ecosystems – and that these will accelerate and exacerbate the survival of plant species and all organisms that depend on them, including humans.
Reducing the impacts of climate change
Scientists and land managers concerned with plant conservation view climate change as one of the top threats to plant biodiversity and it is listed as a key threatening process in both Federal and New South Wales biodiversity conservation legislation.
The Australian Institute of Botanical Science is using both adaptation and mitigation strategies to help protect Australia’s flora against the impacts of climate change. Plants play a vital role in mitigating climate change by sequestering and storing carbon and reducing the impacts of climate change through reduction of global temperatures.
The Australian Institute of Botanical Science also plays a critical role in educating and informing the community about the importance of plants to life on the planet (including food security), how climate change will affect plants and biodiversity, and what we all can do to reduce climate change.
Plants are essential for life
Climate change presents enormous challenges to the continued existence of plant species and ecosystem function, and therefore, to the health and wellbeing of humans. At the same time, plants also play a central role in stabilizing the climate through carbon sequestration and storage, and temperature mitigation.
It is imperative that we work to ensure that the incredible plant diversity of our planet, that supports all life, is nurtured and maintained for current and future generations.
Prepared by Dr Brett Summerell, Chief Botanist