Climate change - adapting with nature
Tackling climate change necessitates a two-fold approach. The highest priority for action needs to be the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through less consumption of and higher efficiency in energy use in all sectors, sustainable development of renewable energy and the protection of carbon sinks like forests and wetlands. However, even with the most stringent action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, we are committed to a certain degree of warming. This means that society and nature will have to adapt to new climatic conditions.
Biodiversity is the building block of ecosystems, which through the services they provide – e.g. food, clean air and water – form the life support system of our Earth. As climate change adds yet another pressure on biodiversity, it is essential that we step up and modify our efforts to conserve it in times of climate change. This consists in increasing the ability of ecosystems to adapt, as well as accommodating the need of species and habitats to move into areas with more suitable climatic conditions. In order to achieve this, BirdLife strongly promotes the following:
- increasing efforts in addressing the existing threats to species, sites and habitats, in particular through the full and swift implementation of conservation legislation, like the EU Birds and Habitats Directives and Natura 2000;
- urgently implementing at all levels the European Union's action plan to halt biodiversity by 2010 and develop a powerful post-2010 biodiversity rescue package;
- improving the connectivity and coherence of protected areas networks, like Natura 2000, and where necessary increasing protected areas in number and size;
- improving the "permeability" of the landscape in general, in particular by making land-use (policies) more biodiversity friendly; the reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy into a sustainable Rural Development policy is a key element;
- seeking synergies and reducing trade-offs between climate change mitigation (e.g. renewable energy generation) and biodiversity conservation.
Society and economic sectors - need to adapt sustainably
Climate change also impacts directly on society, and many sectors are already experiencing its consequences. In agriculture, for example, changes in temperature and rainfall will affect crop yields and the location of production. Forestry is also going to see changes in productivity and changes in the natural ranges of tree species. Coastal areas will experience increased erosion and risk for flooding, and water scarcity will have serious impacts on many sectors across large parts of Europe.
This will require adaptation in the form of adjustments in infrastructure, diversification or relocation of economic activity, new practices in agriculture and forestry, changes to the use of water and so on. However, any measure with a negative impact on biodiversity may in fact just increase society’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. For example, increasing irrigation as a response to drier conditions will only exacerbate the underlying water scarcity.
Using more pesticides to counter pests and diseases could harm biodiversity and thus reduce the ability to cope with climate change. Some hard flood protection measures such as dykes may simply transfer the problem further downstream and could also impair important ecosystem services. In order to be sustainable, then, it is crucial that these adaptation measures take biodiversity and the resilience of ecosystems into consideration.
BirdLife therefore promotes:
- Integration of ecosystem and biodiversity concerns into adaptation planning in all sectors and regions, at al levels, particularly within agriculture, fisheries, energy, water, regional and transport policies;
- “Ecosystem-proofing” of all adaptation plans and projects to ensure they strengthen and not weaken the ability of our environment to buffer the effects of climate change;
Make use of ecosystem services for adaptation
Biodiversity and ecosystems can also be actively used, as part of an overall adaptation strategy, to help people adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. This may take the form of conservation, restoration or creation of ecosystems. For example, wetlands can be used as effective buffers against floods in coastal and riverine areas, trees can cool temperatures in urban areas, soil conservation in agriculture can help reduce the impacts of both floods and droughts and forests can reduce the risk of landslides, and so on.
“Ecosystem-based adaptation”, as this approach is called, can be a cost-effective and sustainable way for society to adapt to climate change, and in addition provides many other benefits such as opportunities for tourism and recreation, carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation and a basis for fishing or grazing. Many of these measures merit being undertaken even disregarding future climate change, as they provide protection also against current environmental hazards.
BirdLife therefore promotes:
- Giving priority consideration to ecosystem-based adaptation measures where applicable;
- Making ecosystem-based adaptation equally eligible for adaptation funding as conventional measures;
- Paying more attention to ecosystem-based measures within disaster risk reduction strategies.
- Partners with nature - How healthy ecosystems are helping the world’s most vulnerable adapt to climate change (PDF)
- Wildlife and climate change adaptation: "20 tough questions, 20 rough answers" (PDF, RSPB)
- "Birds on the Move" - brochure summarising the main findings of BirdLife’s Climatic Atlas of European Breeding Birds (PDF - BirdLife/RSPB brochure)
- European Commission pages on adaptation and on climate change and biodiversity