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Climate Action 2010-2011

Ecosystem based

Ecosystem based adaptation Coral reefs are among the ecosystems most threatened by climate change. © CORALINA Julia Marton-Lefèvre Director-General, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Building resilience to climate change: a natural solution Healthy ecosystems can play a major role in helping people to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change. Ecosystem-based adaptation recognises the wide-ranging environmental services nature provides for free and aims to strengthen them in order to build long-term, cost-effective resilience to a warming climate. Ecosystem-based adaptation thinking is being employed around the world to reduce climate change impacts. We increasingly hear about the negative impacts of climate change, that some parts of our planet will be drier, some wetter, most warmer, and many affected by increasing uncertainty and variation in weather patterns and seasonal change. What is certain is that we need to adapt to the changes which are already underway, and to which we are committed in the coming decades. The fact that we cannot predict the exact impacts of climate | 154 | change makes us look for ‘no-regrets’ options – those that will bring cost-effective benefits under most climate change scenarios. Ecosystem-based adaptation emerges as one such response, providing natural solutions to support both people and nature to cope with the adverse impacts of climate change. Ecosystem-based adaptation may sound like an intricate invention, but in essence it means managing our natural environment to build resilience in local communities to climatic and other changes. It is not an entirely new concept either. Throughout human history, societies have adapted to changes in climate conditions by alternating settlements, agricultural patterns and other sectors of their economies and lifestyles. Many of these adaptive solutions have relied on management of our surrounding environment, giving people a chance to ‘adapt’, and nature to ‘adjust’ to cope with the changes that occur in climate patterns. www.climateactionprogramme.org

Ecosystem based adaptation Today, studies in different parts of the world – from the wetlands in the African Sahel to the coral reefs in the Caribbean and the Andean highlands – have clearly demonstrated that climate change affects farming and fisheries, water flow regimes and carbon sequestration processes, as well as human and wildlife migration, to name but a few. Healthy ecosystems provide drinking water, habitat, shelter, food, raw and genetic materials, and natural barriers against disasters – often at low or no cost. An estimated two billion people who live on less than US$2 per day directly depend on these natural resources for their wellbeing. These ecosystems are now facing greater pressure because of climate change. However, if well-managed, they can also offer a solution to people who depend on them. Coping with a fresh water crunch Water is at the centre of many climate change impacts. The latest figures tell us that about 80 per cent of the world’s population lives in areas where the fresh water supply is not secure, and climate change will bring more thirst. In many places around the world, water demand is already outstripping supply. There is little doubt that the climate in the Pangani River basin, shared by Kenya and Tanzania, is changing fast. Along the length of its 500km course, people talk of better times, lodged in living memory, when there was more water. The Pangani was higher and stronger, and flow was guaranteed through the two dry seasons of every year. However, the ice cap of Mount Kilimanjaro, which provides much of the water for Pangani, has melted considerably and may disappear altogether before the end of the century. As a result, flows in the basin have been drastically reduced, and conflict over the dwindling resource now requires wise management. Through the Pangani River Basin Management Project, IUCN and partners are working on preparing the different water users – farmers, hydropower, fishermen, Conserving ecosystems can help build resilience in communities. © IUCN/Daniele Perrot-Maître residents – for future reductions in water availability while also ensuring that enough water is left to sustain natural infrastructure such as wetlands and estuary habitats. One in three of the world’s 100 largest cities draw some of their drinking water from forest protected areas. For example, the Te Papanui Conservation Park in New Zealand’s Lammermoor Range provides the Otago region with water for free that would cost NZ$136 million to bring in from elsewhere. This is also the case of Colombia’s capital Bogotá, which relies heavily on water provided by the extremely fragile highland páramo ecosystems in the Andes – up to half of which may disappear by 2050 if climate change continues unchecked. The city recognises its dependence on ecosystems and the environmental value generated by protected areas. To cope with these threats, Colombia is implementing an Integrated National Adaptation Plan, which promotes land-use types that might respond successfully to climate change. For example, agro-ecosystems have good water regulation and carbon storage potential. That’s why the project works with some 100 farms to encourage organic farming, native tree planting, and soil and water conservation practices. In fact, how the land is used and will be used emerges as both the biggest cultural change and the key adaptation measure in the long run. Farming in times of climate change Agriculture is the mainstay of livelihoods in some of the world’s poorest countries. Farming in a drought-prone region such as the African Sahel has always been risky business but, with the onset of climate change, producing enough crops to survive until the next harvest is an evergreater challenge. This is how an old farmer from Niger, a country often making the headlines because of persistent droughts and chronic famines, describes the observed changes: “We used to wait with sowing our millet until we found the soil had been wetted to the depth of our elbow when we dug a hole by hand. Now, we sow when the soil has been wetted only to the depth of our wrist. The way the rains are now, we cannot afford to wait any longer than that. We feel that drought periods during the rainy season are also more common than they used to be.” Farmer ingenuity notwithstanding, rains can be so poor that the millet harvest is insufficient for a farming family to make it to the next harvest, 12 months later. And if all else fails, rural communities turn to wetlands for subsistence, with activities ranging from fishing to livestock grazing. It is estimated that the value of Niger’s 1,000-plus wetlands for livestock production alone is around US$35 million per year. During the dry season, wetlands are faced with growing demands, not only from people, but also wildlife – an estimated 1.8 million waterfowl come from Europe and Asia to spend the winter in Niger. And with the country’s population projected to triple by mid-century, the pressures on natural resources will grow even without the likely climate change impacts, such as decreases in rainfall and soil productivity. www.climateactionprogramme.org | 155 |