Natural ecosystems and protected areas – convenient solutions to the climate change crisis

19 October 2010 | News story

World decision makers are paying inadequate attention to one of the strongest global tools in combating climate change, says a consortium of powerful international environmental organisations.

Two reports highlighting the importance of nature in our fight with climate change, Convenient Solutions to an Inconvenient Truth: Ecosystem-based approaches to Climate Change and Natural Solutions: Protected Areas Helping People Cope with Climate Change, were presented during the Protected Areas Day at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity  in Nagoya.

“In the rush for ‘new’ solutions to climate change, we are in danger of neglecting a proven alternative” says Alexander Belokurov, Landscape Conservation Manager of WWF International. “Protected areas are an investment which societies have made for a millennia, using traditional approaches which have proven their potential and effectiveness in modern times.”

Natural Ecosystems, especially Protected Areas, offer proven and cost effective solutions to the impacts of climate change, according to two publications released by the World Bank and the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) of IUCN with its partners The Nature Conservancy, the UNDP, Wildlife Conservation Society, the World Bank and WWF.

The reports’ authors argue that natural ecosystems hold vast amounts of carbon, and that effectively managed protected areas are a good way of maintaining those carbon stores and reducing our vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Improved protection and management of natural habitats protects carbon stores and the biological resources and ecosystem services on which human lives and livelihoods depend. Such ecosystem-based approaches should be integrated into national strategies to address climate change and complement investments in cleaner energy and infrastructure.

Nature’s role in Mitigation Terrestrial and marine ecosystems play a significant role in the global carbon cycle, storing and sequestering atmospheric carbon. Fifteen percent of the world’s terrestrial carbon stock - 312 Gigatonnes - is stored in the forests, grasslands, mangroves, seagrass beds and other natural ecosystems in protected areas around the world.

In Canada, over 4,000 million tons of carbon dioxide is sequestered in 39 national parks, estimated to be worth $39-87 billion in carbon credits. In the Brazilian Amazon, protected lands, including state parks and indigenous reserves, are expected to prevent 670,000 km² of deforestation by 2050, representing 8 billion tons of avoided carbon emissions.

Nature’s Role in Adaptation Natural ecosystems and protected areas also serve as natural buffers against climate impacts and other disasters, providing coastal protection, regulating water flow and flood dispersal, stabilizing soil against landslides and blocking storm surges. The value of coastal wetlands in the United States in providing protection against storm surges and hurricanes is estimated at US$23.2 billion a year From Honduras to Vietnam, and India to Myanmar and Indonesia, healthy mangrove ecosystems have demonstrated their value in protecting local communities from cyclone and tsunamis.

Forests, grasslands, wetlands, marine and other natural systems provide a range of goods and services often not recognised in national economic accounts but vital to human welfare: clean water, fisheries, agrobiodiversity, food, shelter and sources of income for vulnerable communities. Thirty three of the world’s 105 largest cities derive their drinking water from catchments within forest protected areas. How well these services are maintained will depend on effective management, appropriate governance mechanisms and adequate financial support. Currently financial support to the global protected areas network is estimated at less than half of what is needed for maximum efficiency.

Speaking for the consortium Nik Lopoukine, Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, said “The role of natural ecosystems and protected areas need to be recognized in both the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biodiversity as powerful tools to increase resilience to climate change. Investing in improved management of natural habitats and protected areas is an investment in proven, green solutions to address climate change and to ensure the security of vulnerable communities”.

Quotes on the Reports:

Convenient Solutions to an Inconvenient Truth: Ecosystem-based approaches to Climate Change.

“Protection and sound management of natural ecosystems maintain carbon sinks and provide natural solutions that enable societies to adapt to climate change”. Warren Evans, Director, Environment Department, The World Bank.

“Development agencies, countries and the Conventions on Biological Diversity and Climate Change need to recognise that conserving and restoring ecosystems is a cost-effective and socially responsible approach to both mitigating and adapting to climate change, while providing communities with the ecosystem services essential for human welfare”. Dr Robert Watson, C.B.E, Chief Scientific Advisor, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, U.K.

Natural solutions: protected areas helping people cope with climate change

“Natural solutions: protected areas helping people cope with climate change, clearly articulates for the first time how protected areas contribute significantly to reducing the impacts of climate change,” says Lord Nicholas Stern, who wrote a foreword for the report.

“The living conditions of rural communities, whose livelihoods are already threatened by climate change, will significantly worsen without immediate action” said Nik Sekhran, Head of UNDP’s Biodiversity and Ecosystem Programme.

To download the reports please go to:

Convenient Solutions to an Inconvenient Truth: Ecosystem-based approaches to Climate Change.
Full document available in English and French. Summary document in English, Spanish, French download at
www.worldbank.org/biodiversity

Natural Solutions: protected areas helping people to cope with climate change.
Full document available in English, Spanish in preparation. Summary document English, French, Spanish: www.iucn.org/wcpa

For more information or to set up interviews in Nagoya, please contact:

For IUCN/WCPA:

Nik Lopoukhine, Chair IUCNWCPA, email: nik.lopoukhine@pc.gc.ca
Trevor Sandwith, Head of Protected Areas Programme, IUCN, email: tsandwith@tnc.org
Nigel Dudley, Vice Chair WCPA, email: nigel@equilibriumresearch.com
Kathy MacKinnon, Vice Chair WCPA email: kathy.s.mackinnon@gmail.com
Penny Figgis, Vice Chair, WCPA, email: penelope.figgis@ozemail.com.au