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Effective climate action: why biodiversity matters

May 18, 2018

Lowine Hill

Program Management Officer

Biodiversity and ecosystems provide crucial goods and services for society, such as food and medicine, and they are central to many economic activities, particularly those related to crops and livestock, agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. There is a general consensus that ecosystems, and the goods and services they provide, are highly threatened by human activity and climate change. Climate change is likely to become one of the most significant drivers of biodiversity loss (PDF, 13,735KB), therefore conserving and sustainably managing ecosystems and their biodiversity is critical to address climate-related risks.

Biodiversity and climate change

Biodiversity includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems, hence changes in biodiversity also affect the range of ecosystem goods and services that biodiversity provide. These services are numerous and include the provision of food, medicine, and raw material that are the basis of livelihoods, and genetic diversity and pollination to sustain agricultural production.

The multiple components of climate change affect all levels of biodiversity - individuals, populations, species general fitness, composition, location, ecological networks, ecosystem functioning, and resilience. One particular concern is that climate change can cause an ecosystem “tipping point” that can lead to irreversible shifts in their state and functioning. Some of these shifts are already apparent in the observed changes in the distribution of species range, the prevalence of massive coral bleaching episodes, and the spread of diseases (PDF, 269KB).

Planning for transformative climate action through a socio-ecological system lens

It has become apparent that society and ecosystems are highly connected through socio-ecological systems. Gaining a better understanding of the relationship between ecosystems and the communities that depend on them can enhance the resilience of both. The link between ecological and social resilience in regards to climate change depends on the level of a community’s dependence on ecosystems for their food and livelihood. This resource-dependency describes the relationship between community stability and natural resource systems. Therefore, effectively addressing climate-related threats involves holistic and integrated resource management strategies that consider biodiversity conservation, ecosystem maintenance, and population needs.

Achieving transformation with socio-ecological systems

Analyzing socio-ecological systems for the purpose of climate change adaptation requires a framework that recognizes major social or ecological threats, analyzes existing governance structures, and institutionalizes a new trajectory for establishing change. This has been recognized in the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which were adopted under the Convention on Biological Diversity. These targets have been recognized as setting the global framework for priority actions on biodiversity. Ecosystems and biodiversity feature prominently across many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and associated targets (PDF, 6,537KB) and the Aichi targets are also aligned to the SDGs in many ways.

Effective climate action calls for integrated and well-planned strategies  that include the determinants of social resilience (the ability of groups or communities to cope with external stresses and disturbances as a result of social, political, and environmental change), and elements of ecosystem resilience (ecosystem health, key species, and biodiversity status).

As population growth and economic development accelerate, it will be important for IDRC and other researchers to accentuate investments in research that study the linkages between climate change adaptation, biodiversity conservation, and equitable development, but that also support resource-dependent communities, particularly women, ethnic minorities, indigenous people, and the poor; and that facilitate and enable local, on-the-ground actions to increase climate resilience of socio-ecological systems. 

How can biodiversity conservation help with climate change adaptation?

In the project “Strengthening Social and Ecological Adaptive Capacity to Climate Change in the Orotoy Watershed, Colombia”, scientists looked at the linkages between biodiversity, hydrological ecosystem services, and the livelihoods of rural people residing in the Orotoy watershed. They also analyzed how future climate and land use change scenarios may affect water availability and use, including how current water governance schemes would need to be adjusted. More specifically, the project identified the impact of social and ecological changes on water ecosystem services in the Orotoy watershed; generated climate vulnerability maps and identified the areas of critical importance to hydrological regulation, water governance, and biodiversity conservation; identified locally relevant adaptation strategies; and developed a collaborative adaptation plan for the Orotoy watershed.

As a result, the project managed to highlight the need for effective ecosystem conservation to achieve climate-resilient development. A strategic document was used in national policy discussions, which was adopted in the country’s national policy for climate change. The project also generated spaces for dialogue that contribute to transformative environmental action and local conflict resolution, and the promotion of improved capacities for social and ecological adaptation to climate change. This has contributed to the consolidation of effective and equitable local water governance systems, the improvement of social and ecological climate change adaptation capacities, and the positive transformation of the local community in the face of environmental conflicts.

Lowine Hill is the program management officer for IDRC’s Climate Change program.

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