Mitigating and Adapting to Climate Change by Protecting Nature

On Blog Action Day, it’s important to remember nature’s role in climate change – both how it is affected and how it can help.

Urgent action is needed for climate and biodiversity. Climate change and the alarming rate of biodiversity decline worldwide are the most important human-induced environmental challenges that society faces today. Policy must strive to address both of these closely inter-related challenges at the same time.

Nature Canada supports the target of keeping the average rise in the Earth’s surface temperature to less than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels (before the late 18th Century). The highest priority for action needs to be the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (through less consumption of fossil fuels and higher efficiency in energy use in all sectors, sustainable development of renewable energy and the protection of carbon sinks like forests and wetlands).

Adapt with nature, not against it. A certain degree of rapid and significant climate change is already unavoidable. It is essential that we act to increase the ability of ecosystems to adapt and accommodate the need of species and habitats to move into areas with more suitable climatic conditions. The switch from fossil fuels to renewable energies needs to avoid harm to ecosystems and biodiversity. All climate change adaptation measures, such as flood defence, land-use changes, etc. must support, rather than weaken, the resilience and diversity of ecosystems – otherwise the problems only get worse, postponed or displaced.

Biodiversity conservation has the potential to contribute significantly to mitigating climate change, and to help human societies adapt to its impacts. Habitat conservation and appropriate management, including habitat restoration, can play a crucial role in sequestering carbon and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 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. Developing countries need extra resources to allow them to safeguard and manage their assets sustainably. New policies are needed to integrate options for meeting biodiversity, climate and sustainable development objectives.

Recognize common but differentiated responsibility to mitigate and adapt to climate change. All countries have a role to play. Developed countries should take a lead in reducing emissions, by at least 30% by 2020 (from 1990 levels) and by at least 80% (from 1990 levels) by 2050. There is a need for global post-2012 agreement on these targets. Rapidly industrializing countries need to follow this lead, and must immediately start to slow down the rate of increase in their emissions. Countries with little industry must attend to the conservation of their natural habitat.

Climate change and poverty are linked and neither can be addressed individually. The impacts of climate change are not evenly distributed – the poorest countries and people will suffer earliest and most. Actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change can either enhance or erode natural resources and ecosystems. People living in degraded ecosystems are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change including through loss of livelihood opportunities and disasters.

Land use changes, deforestation and degradation are part of the problem. Land use change is a major driver of biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions. The forests of the world are disappearing at the rate of one football pitch per year. In climate terms, tropical deforestation accounts for about 20% of all human-induced emissions every year, roughly the same volume of greenhouse gas emissions as produced by the USA or China. The loss of natural tropical forests is a catastrophe for the world’s biodiversity. Avoided deforestation and degradation, afforestation and reforestation should have a role in any post-Kyoto regime.

Photo: Mackenzie River by Garth Lenz