How conservation also fights climate change
COP28 for climate is currently being held in Dubai, while last year saw COP15 for biodiversity take place in Montreal. These high-level events show countries across the globe desperately scrambling to get a handle on both natural crises, which pose an exponential threat to life on earth in overlapping, interconnecting ways.
In many cases, measures to protect biodiversity also have knock-on benefits for our climate, and vice versa. Funding towards conservation programs supports sustainable management of natural landscapes, thereby supporting livelihoods and climate resilience. Biodiverse regions are also vital hubs for ecosystem services, providing clean air, water filtration, climate regulation and free, nature-based solutions against climate change. As habitat destruction and species loss accelerate, we risk losing not only biodiversity itself, but powerful tools in the global fight against climate breakdown.
1. Protected areas sequester carbon
Increasingly, substantial investment is being funnelled into carbon capture technologies. While these innovations are necessary to address human-created carbon emissions, it’s also critical that we prevent the degradation and destruction of our world’s naturally occurring carbon sinks – forests, mangroves, and peatlands. To effectively protect these ecosystems, we need to invest sufficient funds into their conservation and management.
Protected areas effectively sequester and store carbon on a mass scale. Intact forests, mangroves, and peatlands are some of the most efficient tools in establishing balance in the carbon cycle. It’s estimated that forests alone remove 25% of all human-generated CO2 emissions.
As an example, take Central Cardamom Mountains National Park, a legacy landscape in Cambodia. The tropical forests in this landscape remain 96 per cent intact, removing, on balance, 375,000 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year. Funding to this landscape contributes to the effective management of the park and helps reduce deforestation in the area.
2. Nature-based solutions need nature to prosper
Global strategies for fighting climate change and species loss regularly centre around “nature-based solutions”: leveraging the power of nature to protect nature. The rationale is that nature-based solutions are often inherently more sustainable and cost-effective than many other manmade alternatives. When programs and policies promote nature-based solutions, dual benefits are created for climate and biodiversity. For nature-based solutions to be truly effective, we must prioritise the preservation of large natural areas.
Nature-based solutions are approaches that incorporate the needs of wildlife, communities, and the global climate all in one. By investing funding and energy into developing sustainable methods of nature protection, climate change and biodiversity loss can be tackled holistically. Examples of nature-based solutions are habitat restoration, sustainable farming techniques, renewable energy, and ecotourism.
By way of example, take legacy landscape Chiribiquete in Colombia, which spans 66,217 km2. By investing conservation funding in this remarkably ecologically intact area, we provide solutions for people, nature and climate. The landscape offers numerous ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, air and water filtration, protection from zoonotic diseases and pandemics, and mitigation of other climate change effects. It also provides ample livelihood opportunities for Indigenous People and local communities via food, materials, medicines, water, as well as genetic resources of potential global importance, such as medicinal plants. At the same time, conservation financing preserves the habitats of endangered species such as the giant otter, Amazon river dolphin, and giant anteater.
3. Conservation supports climate resilience measures
Protected areas, and the people and communities living in and around them, are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. Local economies and livelihoods depend on the ecosystem services provided by natural landscapes, while regions rich in biodiversity are exceptionally sensitive to shifting climate patterns. Ecosystems are complex, delicately intertwined webs of life, meaning that even relatively minor changes to the climate can wreak havoc on the natural balance in ways that might not be felt in urban centres.
This is why climate resilience measures are increasingly needed in protected areas across the world. Timely, sufficient financing to these landscapes is required to brace against the impending consequences of rising temperatures.
In Skeleton Coast-Etosha Bridge legacy landscape in Namibia, persistent drought over the last eight years has placed immense pressure on livelihoods and local biodiversity. There is increasing conflict between humans and wildlife as reduced access to water brings wild animals closer to villages and settlements. Conservation programs in the region, like those funded by LLF, support activities such as improved water management and the promotion of alternative livelihoods.
4. Natural ecosystems are buffers against severe weather events
Healthy, biodiverse ecosystems improve resiliency to natural disasters, which are unfortunately increasing in frequency as global temperatures rise and environmental systems founder. The number of climate-related disasters has tripled in the last three decades alone. However, conservation of natural habitats can mitigate against these weather events: floodplains and wetlands offer protection from floods, forested slopes guard against landslides, and mangroves and coastal vegetation lessen the impact of hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons.
By absorbing large influxes of water, floodplains and wetlands serve as buffers against heavy rainfall, mitigating the often-devastating effects of floods on people and nature. While many of these habitats have already been degraded by anthropogenic activity, floodplain restoration is one nature-based solution that can complement other flood-control methods, such as floodwalls or dikes.
When a severe storm hits, coastal habitats such as mangroves, reefs, and sand dunes serve as frontline buffers to the people and wildlife living nearby. These ecosystems slow down waves, reducing their height and intensity while also mitigating against coastline erosion. This has the added benefit of protecting against rising sea levels, a key threat for coastal communities.
The frequency and severity of landslides is also rising due to climate-related factors such as extreme rainfall, rising sea levels, and frequent wildfires. Trees and forests can reduce the risk of landslides by reinforcing soil layers and lowering soil moisture levels.
5. Biodiversity and climate share the same threats
Deforestation, burning fossil fuels, and overexploitation of natural resources all contribute to climate breakdown and harm both people and wildlife. With so many common threats, it makes sense to think of protecting biodiversity as also protecting the climate. If we can minimise the extent of these destructive human-driven activites, we can alleviate pressure on the natural world as a whole.
Approximately 80% of the world’s land-based species live in forests, meaning that deforestation is one of the biggest threats to biodiversity. At the same time, forest loss and damage is estimated to be the cause of around 10 per cent of global warming. In Tambrauw Mountains legacy landscape in Indonesia, deforestation, forest degradation, and illegal logging are some of the biggest challenges to ongoing conservation efforts. Destruction of the forests drives down wildlife populations while also reducing the ability of the ecosystem to sequester and store carbon. Conservation funding to the area, ensuring its effective management and protection, is therefore key to maintaining the landscape’s integrity.