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Climate Change

Conservancy Commits to Finding Adaptation Solutions

The Nature Conservancy commits $25 million to helping nature adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Story Highlights
  • $25 million over the next three years to develop and implement ecosystem-based adaptation solutions.
  • Will demonstrate the benefits nature can provide as a solution to climate change.
  • Includes projects from around the world.
  • Helping people and nature adapt to climate change is a key solution.

Less than 75 days before the start of international climate negotiations in Copenhagen, hundreds of business leaders, NGO directors and government officials from all over the world gathered at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York to discuss solutions to pressing world issues.

On this global stage, The Nature Conservancy made a bold commitment on climate change: an investment of $25 million over the next three years to develop and implement ecosystem-based adaptation solutions at almost two dozen project sites around the world.

Along with significant emissions reductions, helping people and nature adapt to climate change is one of the most important strategies we have in combating climate change. The Nature Conservancy is already working on adaptation projects, and our scientific expertise and global reach make us uniquely able to achieve results. In short, this is an unprecedented commitment to ensuring that natural systems and the services they provide to people around the world will survive in the face of climate change.

This commitment will help nature and people prepare and respond to the environmental shifts that climate change will bring. In addition to its commitment, the Conservancy is working closely with other governments to help ensure that ecosystem-based adaptation solutions are part of a comprehensive global climate change agreement.

What Is Adaptation, and Why Does It Matter?

Even if carbon emissions dramatically ended tomorrow, the Earth could still experience warming and other effects of climate change for centuries.

From China to Utah and New York to Ecuador, global warming could cause:

  • increased fires,
  • changes in water availability and
  • rising sea levels.

These changes threaten to erode coastal areas, collapse fisheries, strain water supplies and shift habitats, with serious consequences for people, nature and wildlife.

The people most vulnerable to these changes are those whose livelihoods directly depend on nature — people like fishermen, farmers, ranchers and subsistence communities in developing countries. But everyone ultimately depends on the benefits nature provides, from clean water and air to food, fuel and shelter.

Ecosystem-based adaptation is a key Conservancy strategy that will help prepare plants, animals, ecosystems and people for the effects of climate change.

Creating ‘Living Laboratories’

Through this commitment the Conservancy will identify places where we work around the world to serve as “living laboratories” to test how refinements to conservation plans could help preserve ecosystems and the benefits they provide to people in the face of a changing climate. Scientists and land managers from across the Conservancy recently met to exchange ideas about how to address climate change threats.

Here are just a few of the potential solutions they discussed:

  • Developing incentives for communities to protect forests from fires. In the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, hotter temperatures and reduced precipitation could lead to increased hurricane intensity, drought and other factors that would increase the frequency of fires that threaten communities and their forest resources. One adaptation strategy might be to contribute business and marketing plans to sustainable community-based forestry projects. This would incentivize communities to protect their valuable forest products and give them greater economic security.
     
  • Protecting resilient coral reefs. In the Northern Reefs of Palau, more frequent El Niño events and warmer waters could lead to more coral bleaching events on reefs that thousands of people depend on for food and income. The project team suggested looking at Palau on a national, rather than project-level, scale to identify and map the reefs that would be most resilient to coral bleaching. Protecting the most resilient sites, which could help re-seed other reefs in the event of bleaching, would be like “savings in the bank” for local communities.
     
  • Managing habitat shifts. On the Meili Snow Mountain in China’s Yunnan Province, increasing temperatures could cause shrubs to move in to alpine meadow areas, which local communities use to graze cattle. Conservancy scientists have been observing this significant encroachment for many years. Because a loss of grazing land could mean a loss of livelihood for locals, the project team is considering working closely with the government and locals on ways to control the shrubs and keep the meadows clear.
     
  • Shoring up coastal areas from sea level rise and storms. In the Altamaha and Ogeechee Estuaries of southeast Georgia, rising sea levels could cause flooding and affect shoreline properties. Instead of “armoring” the shoreline with hardened structures that limit natural processes and often increase erosion, the Conservancy may work with coastal communities and decision-makers to explore ecosystem-based land planning and alternative ways to create a more resilient shoreline. Possibilities include the creation of living shorelines and the restoration of oyster reefs and wetlands providing a natural buffer to absorb wave energy, reduce erosion, filter water and provide habitat to economically important shellfish.

As part of this commitment, the Conservancy will also undertake a significant research effort to document the specific benefits of ecosystem-based approaches, including how cost-effective they are.

The Road to a Global Agreement

While creating ecosystem-based adaptation solutions is imperative, we must lessen the severity of the impacts on people and nature by significantly cutting carbon emissions as soon as possible. The best chance to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change might be in December 2009, when the world’s governments meet in Copenhagen at the United Nations climate change conference.

The Conservancy is actively participating in activities leading up to this meeting to ensure that a comprehensive global agreement on climate change includes:


To learn more and get involved in promoting a comprehensive global agreement on climate change, visit Nature.org/change.

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