1. Introduction to teaching materials

Introduction to teaching materials
Authors: Kiragu Mwangi (BirdLife-CLP) and Rosie Trevelyan (TBA)

This document aims to serve as a guide for Training of Trainers to prepare teaching materials and support building capacity to better understand the links between biodiversity, ecosystem services and climate change that are vital for the long term future of our species on Earth.  Our aim is to provide a one-stop source of information as well as to sign-post appropriate references.  We cover a series of 10 inter-related topics, and provide case studies, references, websites, and key questions to help trainers develop customised teaching materials.

Human existence is inextricably tied to the natural environment.  Ecosystems like water catchments and river systems, wetlands, soil, forests, oceans, and coral reefs that are in good health provide substantial socio-cultural goods and services as well as economic services at local, national and in many cases, global levels. Healthy ecosystems also provide food and fibre as well as natural medicines and pharmaceuticals.  In addition, they provide regulating services such as water purification, flow regulation, erosion control, storm protection, soil fertility, pollination and carbon sequestration.  As the global human population grows to a projected nine billion by 2050 (UN 2004) the demand for natural resources will also grow proportionally.  This demand will place further strains on the world’s terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems to power human development (MEA 2005). The combined effects of anthropogenic threats including impacts of a changing climate are therefore bound to cause a catastrophe to the diversity of life nurtured by healthy ecosystems.  Heavy reliance on fossil fuels for energy to power development and high rates of deforestation are leading to very high levels of greenhouse gases like Carbon dioxide (CO2).  The current concentration of atmospheric CO2 is already at an ecological threshold and this requires drastic actions to be taken immediately (IPCC 4 2007).

Exceeding the Earth’s ecological threshold will lead to the acceleration of species extinction and affect human well-being.  The world’s poor are especially vulnerable to climate-induced rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and frequent storms. Around 14% of the population and 21% of urban dwellers in developing countries live in low-elevation coastal zones that are exposed to these risks. Sixty percent of the world largest urban areas with a population over 5 million are located within 100 km of the coast.  This includes 12 out of 16 cities worldwide with populations greater than 10 million.  It is therefore imperative for those in position to influence decision making on biodiversity and natural resources management to have access to appropriate information to act in the right way now and in the future.

Recognizing the need to access the appropriate information especially to local actors that will enhance their wider understanding of critical links between biodiversity, climate change and ecosystem services, this document highlights key issues for early and mid-career conservationists, as well as for business leaders.  A consultative process brought together over twenty experts with a wide range of expertise from eight conservation institutions that identified the most relevant issues. The team consulted widely with those working at local, national, regional and global levels to identify 10 key technical topics.  The topics selected were based on relevance to the target groups and their level of engagement in biodiversity and wider environmental issues.

The ten technical topics (accompanied by the introduction) are as follows:

  1. Introduction;
  2. Biodiversity;
  3. Ecosystem Services;
  4. Climate Change;
  5. Valuing Nature, Natural Capital and Environmental Risk;
  6. Biodiversity and Climate Change Interactions;
  7. Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services;
  8. Reducing Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity and Adaptive Management;
  9. Ecosystem-based Approaches for Adaptation and Impacts of Adaptation Activities on Biodiversity;
  10. Forest based approaches to climate change mitigation: REDD-plus; and
  11. Policy Responses for the Future.

Each of the ten topics is laid out to have conceptual messages, key issues and questions, tools available to aid understanding, case studies and references.  The breadth and scope of materials used in the design of modules will depend on the levels of understanding of the three different audiences.  The topics identified here are a guide to course modules which facilitators can design teaching materials from and focus on what is relevant for the target audience.  It is envisaged these resource materials will be updated from time to time to keep them relevant to the on-going debates as more information becomes available.


Transforming the Chapters into Teaching Materials

Teaching Aims

The document is designed to make the complex fields of biodiversity and climate change more accessible to trainers so that they can develop the capacity of others.  It has been compiled using wide range of experience of people working at local, national, regional and global level.  The document tackles disciplines that are ever changing and are adding new terminology as they evolve. For example, use of the term ecosystem services has increased relatively recently (Fisher et al 2009) yet it has rapidly accumulated its own language.  This document summarises the current concepts and issues in an accessible language so that the audience can deepen their own understanding and teach others.  The target group is conservation scientists and managers whose work is of direct relevance to biodiversity and ecosystem services management.

Scope of the Document

The authors of the document selected a series of topics that together create a sound foundation for the understanding of ecosystem services and climate change in the context of biodiversity and ecosystem services.  It does not aim to be exhaustive, but is a guide to trainers to the current scope and breadth of these fields.  Trainers can build on this foundation and add other materials where appropriate for their target audience.  The document will thus take on a life of its own since it will not just be the authors who will update the modules but, the trainers will also contribute their own new materials.

Using the Modules

Each module provides a one-stop source of up to date information with sign-posts to appropriate references and some suggestions for discussion topics.  This gives the trainers a variety of options as to how they will use the module and at what level of detail.  It is hoped that trainers will make the topics more real by adding their own case studies and examples by way of reference points.  By sharing these with others, the document will continue to adapt and develop.

Making the Most of Training

It is important for trainers to know what the level of understanding and experience of their trainees is to start with.  That way, they will be able to set the modules in a context that is relevant and meaningful to the audience.  The use of case studies is a good example where concepts can be brought to life through real life examples.  Even more importantly, using discussions as a training method can be particularly effective.  By expressing what they have learned coupled with their own ideas, trainees gain a much deeper understanding of the topic and are more likely to remember it in the longer term.  Each module offers suggestions for discussion which can be modified or added to according to the target audience.

Field Training

Using practical approaches to teaching is considered the most effective way of transferring expertise.  Several modules in this document could be used as the basis for a field training course. By taking people into the field they can learn first-hand about complex ecological interactions and gain experience in the practical techniques being used to research and manage ecosystem services.  For example, the Tropical Biology Association ran a 5-day field course in the Amani Nature Reserve, Tanzania for African conservation scientists (www.tropical-biology.org). Using practicals and case studies will for example, build understanding of ecosystem services and the tools being used for their evaluation.  Local teachers described the realities of applying some of these concepts on the ground and explained what conditions are necessary for successful outcomes.  They also shared their experience of translating the science of ecosystem services and climate change into policy at both the national and international level.  The workshop brought together 18 people from 7 different countries, creating a valuable forum for participants to share their own experiences and learn from each other.

Long Term Goals

The long term aim of training activities is for people to be able to apply their new skills and understanding and enhance the management of biodiversity and ecosystem services in a changing climate.  We hope that this document will be a useful tool for achieving this end.


Fisher, B; Turner, RK; Morling, P (2009) Defining and classifying ecosystem services for decision making Journal: Ecological Economics. Volume: 68, Issue: 3, Page: 643-653.

International Panel on Climate Change (2007) Fourth Assessment Report. Working Group II Report “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” p.319 available online at: http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter6.pdf

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) Ecosystems and Human well-being: Biodiversity Synthesis. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC

United Nations (2004) World Population to 2300. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/longrange2/WorldPop2300final.pdf

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