Climate Change

Melting Glacier at Jokuldalur, Iceland - Photo: © Chris Goldberg
Melting Glacier at Jokuldalur, Iceland - Photo: © Chris Goldberg


  • Nature faces an uncertain future

Our planet’s climate has changed significantly over recent decades, mainly because of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. These changes are projected to continue at an unprecedented rate.

Climate change poses new challenges to BirdLife’s main approaches to conserving species and sites. Many sites from which threatened species are currently known are predicted to become unsuitable in future because of climate change.

More than 400 bird species globally have already been found to have undergone range shifts in line with those predicted by climate change modelling. Most birds that are already threatened are also ‘climate-change susceptible’ and so face an even more uncertain future. Species with ranges at high latitudes or high altitudes, or on small small islands, and those with poor dispersal abilities or highly specialised ecological requirements, are particularly at risk.

The shifts in range and abundance will have profound implications for site-based conservation approaches such as BirdLife’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) Programme. BirdLife is working to strengthen the resilience and connectivity of the IBA network, and of habitats in general. Although there is likely to be a high turnover of priority species in individual IBAs, modelling has shown a remarkably high persistence of suitable climate space across the IBA network. 

Cooperation across borders will be essential if birds and other wildlife are to survive as their habitats change and ranges shift. The BirdLife Partnership, with its global network of national nature conservation NGOs, is ideally placed to deliver this.

The BirdLife Partnership has pulled together scientific information, policy analysis and practical experience, and developed a programme of work to combat climate change. BirdLife staff are active at the highest levels of international conventions and agreements, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), advising and advocating for biodiversity and ecosystems to be put at the heart of action for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Photo: Suburbanbloke, Flickr.com


  • Understanding the impacts, promoting a range of responses

BirdLife International’s climate change programme is furthering research, analysis and understanding of the impacts of climate change on biodiversity. BirdLife advocates ambitious policy responses to mitigate and adapt to climate change, fully recognising the role of biodiversity and ecosystems.

Tropical deforestation alone accounts for about 20% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions every year. By working to conserve and manage these forests and other habitats, the BirdLife Partnership is helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

BirdLife supports the new mechanism on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD+) under the UN FCCC, and is advocating to ensure that the role of natural forests is recognised, and the importance of securing the future of their biodiversity is acknowledged.

BirdLife supports renewable energy development, but works to ensure that this does not happen at the expense of biodiversity and ecosystems. Poorly thought-out and hastily implemented measures, such as badly placed wind farms and unsustainably produced biofuels, are imposing new threats and stresses on birds and their habitats. 

BirdLife’s experience shows that supporting community engagement and action can build the resilience of natural and societal systems, delivering locally appropriate solutions to help communities, countries and economies adapt to the challenge of climate change. BirdLife is calling for the importance of healthy ecosystems to be written into national, regional and international climate change and development policy, as a key part of ensuring the current and future wellbeing of people and biodiversity.

However, BirdLife recognises that a wide range of conservation responses to climate change will be required, and that these will differ across the world.

Photo: Adrian Long


  • Setting honest and ambitious goals

BirdLife’s work has helped international, regional and national institutions and agencies recognise the value of ecosystems in building resilience to climate change. The BirdLife Partnership’s work on the ground is helping to restore this resilience at the site and landscape level. 

Many of BirdLife’s national Partners are closely involved in advising their governments on climate change mitigation, and on climate change adaptation policy and planning. 

At the global level, BirdLife continues to advocate for more ambitious emission reduction targets, for more honest accounting of greenhouse gas emissions, for finance to help developing countries cope with the costs of mitigating and adapting to climate change, and for provisions in the new REDD+ mechanism that recognise that it is the plants and animals in natural forests that help create their carbon density.

Photo: Martin Fowlie


  • Climate change action provides other benefits

BirdLife Partners are working in many areas already impacted by climate change, and in others where climate change will add to current vulnerabilities. 

A pioneering project led by BirdLife Partner Guyra Paraguay is showing that REDD [+?] can deliver significant and lasting benefits to forest communities and biodiversity, while meeting corporate social responsibility commitments, and contributing to climate change mitigation by sequestering carbon.

In East Africa, where countries are predicted to suffer more extreme weather events such as multi-year droughts and flash floods, BirdLife and its Partners in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda are working with local people and governments to build capacity in making ecosystems more resilient. Find out more about the project: Ecosystem Conservation for Climate Change Adaptation in East Africa.

Throughout the tropics, mangrove forest conservation and restoration is a cost-effective long-term strategy to defend coastal communities against climate change-related increases in extreme weather. BirdLife Partners in the Pacific and the Caribbean, among others, are providing training and support in mangrove conservation and restoration, which also contributes to poverty alleviation by improving stocks of fish, molluscs and other natural resources.

In the Netherlands, BirdLife Partner Vogelbescherming Nederland is helping restore wetlands as part of a coherent nationwide conservation strategy. By establishing a natural climate buffer, the project will help ameliorate flooding and other impacts of climate change.


Policy and Science

  • Creating a climate-resilient society

The BirdLife Partnership has produced ground-breaking research on the impact of climate change on birds at national, regional and global levels, and has taken the lead in coordinating, synthesising and analysing recent research from all relevant sources.

BirdLife has an active policy and advocacy programme addressing many major aspects of climate change.

BirdLife believes that to create a climate-resilient society, adaptation priorities need to be agreed in-country, through nationally-led, inclusive and participatory processes. BirdLife urges governments to base policy on sound science, to recognise ecosystems as underpinning adaptation, and to address them within national adaptation plans. Government’s should significantly step up efforts to protect nature and biodiversity, as a prime strategy to ensure ecosystem resilience, recognising this as vital to addressing climate change.

Developing countries need extra resources to safeguard and manage their assets sustainably. New policies are needed which integrate options for meeting biodiversity, climate and sustainable development objectives.

Photo: RSPB-images.com


  • Defending communities against extreme weather

The direct and indirect impacts of climate change are of central concern to BirdLife's objectives, in terms both of biodiversity and of human development.

Biodiversity conservation has the potential to contribute significantly to mitigating climate change, and to help human societies adapt to its impacts. Effective management and restoration of natural systems will help provide resilience and secure livelihoods, improving the capacity of the poorest, in particular, to deal with the impacts of climate change. 

For example, BirdLife and its Partners have helped reforest watersheds and reduce the impact of climate change-related events such as droughts, floods and landslides in Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, Peru, Ecuador, Pakistan, the Philippines, Palau, Madagascar, Tanzania and many other developing countries.