Carrying the messages birds are sending us on the global stage at COP 26


I just landed in Scotland to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. This 26e The gathering of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change – better known as COP 26 – comes at a time of historic activism for the planet, and at a critical time for our shared survival . The theme of this year’s conference is natural climate solutions, which happen to be a key factor in both reducing emissions and protecting birds and their habitats.

I’m going to COP26 to share with the global climate movement what the birds are telling us about climate change. Birds are more than cherished creatures that bring beauty and joy to our lives, although they actually do. The fate of birds is inextricably linked to the fate of all of us.

We know the birds are telling us that we need to change our ways and slow down the rate of the global temperature rise. If we can keep this level at 1.5 degrees Celsius, we can prevent the majority of the species we love from becoming vulnerable to extinction. As the nations of the world increasingly come to embrace the scientific reality of climate change and commit to reducing emissions, from that point forward these promises might not be enough to save these species. This conference will be an opportunity for leaders to really take up the challenge that awaits us.

The effects of climate change on the world’s birds are undeniable. Take, for example, the Atlantic puffin. The beloved seabird that delights coastal residents and visitors to North America and the Scottish coasts has had a particularly devastating year, especially for young fluffy pufflings. Our colleagues at the Seabird Institute report that warming waters have driven away most of the fish they love to eat, leaving them to feed their butterfish puffins, a species too big for young chicks to swallow. And tropical storms that hit earlier than normal kept them cold and damp as they hatched. As a result, the number of puffins that took flight fell to half of normal levels.

What happens to puffins isn’t just a concern for bird lovers. If their habitat cannot adapt to a rapidly changing climate, neither can ours. Warming waters that drive away their favorite foods are also disrupting the fishing industries and the food supply of people on the continent. And the warmer water leads to a heavier, wetter atmosphere, which means stronger and more frequent storms than our current infrastructure is not ready to handle.

But there is hope. While the birds tell us that they – and we – are in trouble, they also tell us that there is still time to act.

By investing in the maintenance and restoration of landscapes that serve as natural climate solutions, we can protect ourselves against the worst effects of climate change. These wetlands, beaches and barrier islands provide essential services to our communities by serving as safe recreational spaces, strengthening our resilience to climate threats such as increasing floods and drought, and improving habitats for people. birds and other wildlife.

Additionally, many of these landscapes not only provide optimal habitat for birds, but they also sequester and store carbon naturally, using plants and water to filter carbon dioxide from the air where it feeds the environment. carbon cycle rather than remaining in the atmosphere as pollution that warms our planet and damages air quality to an unnatural degree. In fact, our scientists have found that by conserving and restoring places that help both store carbon and provide habitat for birds, we can meet up to a quarter of the United States’ commitment to reduce emissions in the Paris Agreement.

We are also at the dawn of a new era of cleaner, more renewable energy. Solar, wind and geothermal energy can make a huge difference in the amount of emissions to the air. And when placed correctly to avoid, minimize, and mitigate damage to wildlife, the environment, and surrounding communities, it can exponentially save more birds than would otherwise be lost to climate change. . All we need is the will to embrace this cleaner future.

There is a lot of work ahead, but I have no doubts that we are on the cusp of a watershed moment for the global community. The joy and beauty of birds can bring us together, and listening to the messages birds give us about our future can save us all.

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