Climate Change programme - More Info

Wind turbines. Photo: Markus Koehler
Photo: Markus Koehler

Conservation in a changing world

Without ambitious mitigation efforts, global temperature rise this century will far exceed the globally agreed goal of 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels – the “safe limit”, after which additional warming will be catastrophic.

Climate change has profound implications for BirdLife International’s conservation priorities and approaches. It affects the populations and distributions of species , the composition of ecological communities, and nature’s provision of goods and services – such as food, fuel and clean water. Climate change also compounds other major threats to biodiversity, such as invasive alien species , habitat fragmentation and overexploitation.

BirdLife International’s Climate Change programme combines cutting-edge science, policy analysis and practical experience to advocate and deliver appropriate climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions for nature and people.

We work across every level; from grassroots projects through to national level decision-making and to regional and global policy processes, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This means the actions for which we advocate are well informed by local experiences, and ensures that the voices of local communities are heard in national and international decision-making forums. See what BirdLife thinks of the 2015 Paris Agreement here .

Sunflower field. Photo Ian L. publicdomainpictures.net

Understanding climate change impacts to deliver solutions that work

BirdLife International delivers ground-breaking research on the impacts of climate change on biodiversity to guide policy and advocacy, prioritise conservation efforts and inform the development of adaptive management strategies for species and Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) – more than 12,000 sites of international significance for the conservation of the world’s birds and other biodiversity identified using a set of four internationally agreed criteria.

Changes in bird populations provide a useful indication of broader environmental change. This is largely because bird population trends often mirror those of other species and we already have access to a great deal of high quality data on birds. Together with local communities, BirdLife Partners around the world are monitoring bird populations to better understand and track the impacts of climate change on biodiversity, to get an early warning of changes to the stability of ecosystems and to adapt their management practices. Studies show that climate change has already impacted species .

Using the latest in modelling methodologies, BirdLife assesses the severity of threats posed by climate change to different species and their habitats, providing important information on how we can best prepare for climate change. BirdLife has conducted scientific studies of the projected impacts of climate change on species and Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) in Africa, Indochina, Australia, North America and Europe. Each one of these paints a dire picture. A global synthesis by BirdLife International and Audubon shows that more than 2,300 bird species worldwide are highly vulnerable to climate change and projects that there will be more than twice as many species whose populations and distributions may decline under climate change than the number that are expected to increase.

Although BirdLife projections show that there is likely to be a considerable ‘turnover’ in the composition of bird communities occurring in individual IBAs, they also show that the IBA network as a whole will retain suitable climatic conditions for the greatest majority of species of conservation concern.  BirdLife is working to strengthen the connectivity and resilience of the IBA network to help species survive climate change. This requires co-operation across borders and BirdLife, with its global network of more than 119 national Partners, is ideally placed to deliver this.

Namaqua chameleon Photo: WizScience.com

Using BirdLife’s collective knowledge and global reach to drive emission reductions 

Healthy, intact ecosystems sequester and store carbon. When these ecosystems are destroyed or degraded they release carbon into the atmosphere, driving climate change. Tropical deforestation alone accounts for about 20% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions every year.

By working to conserve and restore forests and other ecosystems, the BirdLife Partnership is helping to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. BirdLife Partner Guyra Paraguay , for example, has pioneered a forest conservation project which contributes to climate change mitigation, while delivering significant benefits to biodiversity and forest communities. It also helps meet corporate social responsibility commitments. See other examples here .

BirdLife advocates for more ambitious emission reduction targets, for better accounting of greenhouse gas emissions and for finance to help developing countries cope with the costs of mitigation. We support the new mechanism on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD+ ) under the strong>UNFCCC and advocate that the role of natural forests and the biodiversity which they house is recognised.

BirdLife supports renewable energy development, but works with governments, financial institutions and developers 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 is engaged in various Multilateral Environmental Agreements – such as the UNFCCC, Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals – both globally and in national implementation. This puts us in a strong position to align policy objectives and promote policy coherence, maximising co-operation and reducing trade-offs.

Photo: © RSPB-Images

Helping people adapt to climate change using nature based solutions 

Healthy, intact ecosystems can contribute to human adaptation by providing a natural defence against erosion, floods and other climatic hazards. They offer diverse livelihood options in the face of climate change, and provide fundamental resources such as food, fuel, clean water and medicine that enable local communities to withstand, cope with, and recover from climate disasters.

BirdLife is working to ensure the importance of healthy ecosystems is written into local, national, regional and international climate change and development policy. Human adaptation response measures, such as irrigation and flood defence schemes,  that do not adequately consider ecosystems can have devastating impacts on birds and biodiversity and are potentially maladaptive – perversely increasing people’s vulnerability to climate change.

The BirdLife Partnership’s conservation action on the ground is helping to maintain and enhance resilience at the site and landscape level. BirdLife Partners in the Pacific and the Caribbean provide training and support in mangrove conservation and restoration. This is a cost-effective strategy to defend coastal communities against extreme weather and alleviate poverty by improving ecotourism, and increasing stocks of fish, molluscs and other natural resources. In the UK, BirdLife Partner RSPB is working in innovative partnerships between conservationists and engineers to realign coasts to protect nature and people .

In East Africa, BirdLife Partners in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda are developing the capacity of local people and governments to adapt to climate change . They have helped local communities assess their vulnerability and develop their own adaptation plans that fully recognise the importance of ecosystems and the services they provide.

BirdLife’s work shows that supporting community engagement and action can build the resilience of natural and societal systems, delivering locally appropriate solutions that ensure the current and future wellbeing of people and biodiversity.

Further Reading:


  • Our full position on climate change - Read Here 
  • The Messengers : What bird’s tell us about impacts from climate change – Read Here
  • Partners with Nature– our report on ecosystem-based adaptation – Read Here 

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