The Detrimental Effects of Pollution on Biodiversity
Biodiversity is a term used to describe the variety of living organisms within Earth’s ecosystems. There are numerous factors threatening biodiversity including habitat loss, invasive alien species, population growth, pollution and climate change. The aim of this paper is to explore the detrimental effects which pollution (i.e., introduction of harmful factors into natural environments) has on an ecosystem’s biodiversity. Various forms of pollution have the potential to alter ecosystems, reduce the diversity of species and change interactions between species. Therefore, it is imperative that humans take precautionary measures to limit their pollution and protect biodiversity in order to maintain the health and functions of ecosystems.
Biodiversity Challenges & Relevance
The problem with pollution influencing the biodiversity of ecosystems is centered around human activities, including automobiles, industrial processes, as well as land development and construction, which result in a loss of living species and degraded ecosystems. The emissions and products from such pollution release emissions into the water, air and soil. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the positive correlation between population growth and pollution levels (TREA, n.d). This increases our country’s ecological footprint due to higher demand of housing, goods and services. More specifically, these pollutants disrupt the natural ecological processes and cause health concerns. A significant source of ecosystem degradation is attributed to certain chemicals which deplete the ozone layer and permit more ultraviolet radiation to planet earth (Ontario.ca, n.d.).
Another biodiversity related challenge facing cities within Southwestern Ontario (i.e., London, Windsor) is the naming of a “crisis ecoregion” due to intensive farming and population growth. In this region, wildlife and habitats are the most diverse but also at greatest risk. The importance of this challenge is that there is only 14% natural land remaining in this area due to agricultural intensification and rapid urban growth (Martin, 2021), which is crucial when considering the drastic amounts of pollution coming from these two sectors. Therefore, analysts argue the stewardship role citizens play include moral and ethical responsibilities, with humans being the problem and solution.
History of Biodiversity
Biodiversity was first acknowledged and documented in the ancient Greek civilisation when Aristotle classified animals based on behaviours, physiology and morphology. Considering religion was prominent and extinction was never reviewed. All biodiversity on earth was believed to have existed forever until the 17th century. By the 19th century, citizens realized living organisms could change, evolve and become extinct (Research Matters, 2017).
Implications of Biodiversity
The effects of pollution on biodiversity can impact society in unforeseen ways. Chemicals and other forms of pollution cause both animal and human based health concerns such as cancer (Ontario.ca, n.d.). Fundamentally, biodiversity directly impacts food production and the sustainable soil productivity. This is critical to the health of the human population considering a nutritious diet is essential.
Additionally, biodiversity loss infers the loss of nature’s chemicals and genes, perhaps before discovery can occur for societal benefits. Health, medicinal and cultural research is dependent on organism availability in order to understand human physiology and illness treatments (World Health Organization, 2015). These societal implications could help cities in achieving some of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). SDG3 (good health and well-being) and SDG6 (clean water and sanitation).
Pollution undeniably influences labour productivity, health expenditures and agricultural crop yields. Projections show that global economic costs could increase to 1% of global GDP by 2060 (OECD, 2016). If policies/laws were incorporated to limit environmental pollution, the world could save costs, preserve ecosystems and generate climate co-benefits (OECD, 2016). In fact, the government could presumably budget more funds for environmental rehabilitation purposes. Evidently, such policies could encourage cities to achieve SDG8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and SDG9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure).
Biodiversity drastically impacts other environmental issues, perhaps with climate change being the most prominent issue. Half of greenhouse gasses emitted remain in the atmosphere, and the other half is absorbed into land and oceans (United Nations, n.d). Hence, ecosystems are nature-based solutions to climate change and are extremely important to protect as they inherently limit climate change effects. For example, peatlands store twice as much carbon as all forests, hence they ought to be preserved and moistened in an attempt to not oxidize the carbon that would otherwise float into the atmosphere. Improving an ecosystem’s functionality to absorb such emissions could significantly assist in combating climate change.
Clearly, climate change causes biodiversity loss while it depends on biodiversity as a solution. Scholars argue pollution, biodiversity and climate change are an interlinked triple planetary crisis to be tackled together, in order to advance Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations, n.d). Such interrelated factors could assist citizens achieve SDG11 (sustainable cities and communities), SDG13 (climate action), SDG14 (life below water) and SDG15 (life on land).
Long Term Impacts
The long term issue of pollution influencing biodiversity poses consequences which could impact Earth for millennia. Firstly, if biodiversity is not preserved accordingly, ecological instability could result. This infers a imbalance of species (i.e., plants versus herbivores). Secondly, if we do not take the care of biodiversity seriously, numerous factors will be removed in the future (i.e., medicinal plants, food, cultural/spiritual meanings) and leave humans searching for healthy alternatives. Additionally, the loss of biodiversity and continual pollution could result in fewer research opportunities. Finally, the unfortunate long term impact of pollution and biodiversity losses is a planet with unhealthy and unenjoyable environmental spaces for future generations.
The government has established the international agreement “The UN Convention on Biological Diversity” to manage biodiversity. Besides basic conservation and sustainability of environmental components, this framework promotes equitable sharing of genetic resource outputs and benefits. Similarly, there is a “Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework” which was established in December 2022 (United Nations, n.d). These frameworks provide actionable steps towards tackling root causes of biodiversity loss, with goals to complete by 2030 (UNEP, 2022). The overarching goal is to allow humanity to live in harmony with nature.
The continuation of learning, especially through school systems, will bring emerging leaders closer to nature and develop an understanding on the importance of biodiversity preservation. As businesses develop feasible products and services, citizens will begin making such purchases. Thus there is a waiting period for the research and developmental stages of such technologies which are cost effective and environmentally safe. Some manufacturing firms (i.e., automotive manufacturers) are trying to adapt by developing products with a smaller environmental footprint, but they are still far from being sustainable (i.e., Tesla). Simpler and more effective steps could include gradually supporting local environmental based projects, buying fewer products and purchasing or investing in ways that promote biodiversity (The Royal Society, n.d). These all indirectly impact biodiversity and the interrelated factors of pollution and climate change. Ultimately, they reduce the waste of consumer goods and promote biodiversity, which results in healthier ecosystems that sustain minor changes over time.
It is imperative that we take action to drastically reduce and prevent pollution in an attempt to protect biodiversity and the health of ecosystems considering biodiversity provides essential services to sustain human well-being (i.e., clean air, climate regulation). Such actions include reducing harmful chemical use, promoting clean energy production, educating subsequent generations and promoting environmental projects. Such efforts will ensure a future where both biodiversity and human well-being can thrive.
A brief history of understanding biodiversity. Research Matters, May 22, 2017. https://researchmatters.in/article/brief-history-understanding-biodiversity.
Baste, Ivar A., and Robert T. Watson. 2022. “Tackling the Climate, Biodiversity and Pollution Emergencies by Making Peace with Nature 50 Years after the Stockholm Conference.” Global Environmental Change 73: 102466–. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2022.102466.
“Biodiversity and Health.” Biodiversity and Health. World Health Organization, June 3, 2015. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/biodiversity-and-health.
Biodiversity – our strongest natural defense against climate change. United Nations, n.d. https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/science/climate-issues/biodiversity.
“Conserving Biodiversity.” Conserving biodiversity. Ontario.ca, n.d. https://www.ontario.ca/page/conserving-biodiversity.
“COP15 Ends with Landmark Biodiversity Agreement.” UNEP, December 20, 2022. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/cop15-ends-landmark-biodiversity-agreement.
“How Can You Protect Biodiversity?: Royal Society.” How can you protect biodiversity?. The Royal Society, n.d. https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/biodiversity/how-can-you-protect-biodiversity/.
Lembrechts, Jonas. “The Biodiversity Crisis and Its Tight Link with Climate Change.” Scientists4Climate, February 14, 2020. https://www.scientists4climate.be/the-biodiversity-crisis-and-its-tight-link-with-climate-change/.
Martin , Max. “Do You Know What a ‘Crisis Ecoregion’ Is? We’re Living in One.” Do you know what a ‘crisis ecoregion’ is? We’re living in one. The London Free Press. Accessed March 14, 2021. https://lfpress.com/news/local-news/study-finds-huge-swath-of-southwestern-ontario-a-crisis-ecoregion.
“Sustainable Finance Takes Note of Biodiversity Risks and Opportunities.” Scotiabank, August 12, 2022. https://www.scotiabank.com/ca/en/commercial-banking/knowledge-centre/article.impact.sustainable-finance-takes-note-of-biodiversity-risks-and-opportunities.html.
“The Economic Consequences of Outdoor Air Pollution.” Better Policies for Better Lives. OECD, June 2016. https://www.oecd.org/environment/indicators-modelling-outlooks/the-economic-consequences-of-outdoor-air-pollution-9789264257474-en.htm.
This blog post series is an ongoing partnership between the SDG Cities program at Pillar Nonprofit Network and the Environmental Stewardship course in the Governance, Leadership, and Ethics program at Huron University. As part of their assignments, students are required to write about real-world challenges using the UN Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs) as a holistic framework to analyse the problem and propose solutions that could lead to systemic change and a better future for all. The series presents an opportunity for students to address practical and meaningful challenges that their communities are facing currently, and an opportunity for SDG Cities to enrich their program by including youth perspectives.
All opinions expressed by the guest authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the SDG Cities program or Pillar Nonprofit Network.