The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said it expects ecosystems to be at a "high risk in the very near term" at 1.2°C global warming levels (GWL), due to risks including mass tree mortality and heatwaves.

Regional increases in the area burned by wildfires and tree mortality up to 20% haven been attributed to human actions in tropical, temperate and boreal ecosystems globally, according to the IPCC.

In their recently published report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, the IPCC stated:

"Extreme climate events comprising conditions beyond which many species are adapted to, are occurring on all continents with severe impacts."

Due to climate change, the number of local species declined and diseases have become more widespread, including mass mortality events of plants and animals, affecting ecosystems and their services, the report stated.

Threats to species and ecosystems are a global risk which, the IPCC said, will increase with "every additional tenth of a degree warming".

Pollution, habitat fragmentation and changes in land use as well as the introduction of invasive species, exacerbate the loss of biodiversity which, according to the IPCC, will threaten livelihoods and food security.

To prevent exposing species and ecosystems to unprecedented temperatures in the next decade - especially those in polar and already warm areas - an urgent and significant cut in emissions is needed, the IPCC report stated.

Ecosystem services and emissions

Some areas worldwide that are naturally able to sequester carbon, are unable to function due to deforestation or drained and burned peatlands. Thus, the report stated, their carbon sink function is reversed and carbon is released into the atmosphere.

"Ecosystem services that are at threat from a combination of climate change and other anthropogenic pressures include climate change mitigation, flood risk management, food provisioning and water supply."

The recently published report by the IPCC showed that wildfires generate up to one third of global ecosystem carbon emissions and, due to climate change, the area of burned land is increasing.

The frequency of wildfires - which degrade vegetation and biodiversity - is projected to increase by approximately 30% at a 4° warming by 2100, according to the report.

In order to increase the resilience of biodiversity and ecosystem services to climate change, the IPCC report stated, additional stresses or disturbances to the environment need to be minimised.

Effective ecosystem conservation of approximately 30% to 50% of land, freshwater and ocean areas, according to the IPCC, will help to protect biodiversity, build ecosystem resilience and ensure essential ecosystem services.

However, sustainable management of the entire planet is important. Although adaptation options can lower risks to ecosystems, they cannot prevent all changes and should not be regarded as a substitute for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).