The Effect of Climate Change on Conservation

Lynn Scarlett helps assess the effects of climate change on conservation efforts.

Lynn Scarlett led the Interior Department’s first Climate Change Task Force while serving as deputy secretary from 2005 to 2009. Last year, she joined the Conservancy, where as managing director for public policy she helps assess the effects of climate change on conservation efforts.

The Nature Conservancy:

With weather patterns changing, sea level rising, and species moving into new regions, what do you think conservation means today?

Lynn Scarlett:

For most of the 20th century, we thought of conservation in terms of islands of protected areas: “Here’s an important spot. Protect it.” In this era of rapid change, those anchor places may be important, but we also need to be thinking about connectivity. We want places that are connected both by latitude and by elevation, so that species have an opportunity to move if changing habitat conditions necessitate that. We need to work across communities and incorporate entire landscapes and watersheds in our plans.

The Nature Conservancy:

Reducing carbon emissions depends on developing renewable energy. How can we do that without threatening species and ecosystems?

Lynn Scarlett:

It gets back to the “whole systems” approach. Let’s look at a great big space, identify places with high solar or wind energy potential, and ask where those overlap with critical water supplies and places of high biodiversity so development can be steered accordingly. These are things we’re doing both here in the United States and as far away as Mongolia.

The Nature Conservancy:

How does the Conservancy help influence public policy about climate change?

Lynn Scarlett:

I think our environmental agencies have gone through a transformation in the past decade or so: Climate considerations are now stitched into everything. The Conservancy has been really influential in that process because we have a huge group of scientists who can help understand these challenges. We also have a great history of partnerships on the ground. When you put together our science, collaboration and strategic investment capacity, the Conservancy positions itself as a leader in helping public agencies and others figure out what to do and where to go.


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