Home > MEA Bulletin > List of Guest Articles > Guest Article No. 74
MEA Bulletin - Guest Article No. 74 - Thursday, 6 August 2009
Climate Change, Biodiversity and Land Degradation: Linking Sustainable Development Challenges
By Jaime Webbe, Programme Officer, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity
Taking stock of the current [activities?] of the Rio Conventions, there are many process-related actions of note. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is developing a revised strategic plan and will soon be assessing progress towards the achievement of the 2010 biodiversity target. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is in the midst of implementing the Bali Action Plan and is looking towards Copenhagen as an opportunity to negotiate a post-2012 agreement. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has begun to implement its own 10 year strategic plan.

However, looking beyond the processes, it is increasingly clear that achieving the objectives of these three Rio Conventions requires a coordinated effort on the ground and in policy fora. This need was highlighted at the recent meeting of the Ad hoc Technical Expert Group on Biodiversity and Climate Change, which the CBD convened with a mandate to provide biodiversity-related information to the UNFCCC.

The Expert Group highlighted the fact that climate change is emerging as one of the greatest threats to biodiversity. We are already seeing the negative impacts of changes in temperature, precipitation and extreme events. With measured mean annual temperature increases of 0.76°C, coral die-offs are already increasing as a result of bleaching, pest outbreaks have already been observed with increasing frequency in boreal forests, and disease-related mortality among dolphins in the Mediterranean has already been linked to higher sea temperatures. Many other examples can be found in the vulnerable polar regions and within small island developing States.

The current commitment to additional temperature increases (at least 0.5°C) could place an additional 5-7% of species at a high risk of extinction. In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that an additional 10% of assessed species will face increased risks of extinction for every 1°C rise in temperature. Furthermore, each degree of warming could yield an increase in bird extinctions of about 100-500 species.

Among the ecosystems that are most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change are arid and semi-arid areas including wetlands located in drylands – the same ecosystems that are  most vulnerable to desertification. However, even in such vulnerable areas, species have a certain natural adaptive capacity that allows them to adjust to changes in meteorological conditions. Maintaining or enhancing this natural adaptive capacity requires coordinated efforts to address the drivers of loss including: restoring or rehabilitating degraded habitats and ecosystem services; promoting the conservation and sustainable use of intact ecosystems; preserving and enhancing the protective ecosystem services that buffer communities from extreme events; and ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable in light of changing climatic conditions.

In addition to preserving species and ecosystems, and reducing land degradation threats, maintaining and enhancing the natural adaptive capacity of species has an important contribution to make to ecosystem-based adaptation. Ecosystem-based adaptation, as defined by the Expert Group, is “the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy to help people to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. Ecosystem-based adaptation aims to maintain and increase the resilience and reduce the vulnerability of ecosystems and people in the face of the adverse effects of climate change.”

Examples of ecosystem-based adaptation include the restoration of wetlands to reduce flood risks, the establishment of diverse agricultural systems that include the conservation of indigenous crop and livestock varieties to reduce weather-related losses, and the sustainable management of grasslands and rangelands, to enhance pastoral livelihoods in the face of increasing pressures.

In addition to climate change adaptation, reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases is essential to the achievement of sustainable development goals. As with adaptation, it is unlikely that mitigation efforts will be successful without coordinated efforts across the three Rio Conventions. In fact, there is increasing evidence that it would be difficult to avoid a global temperature increase over 2ºC above pre-industrial levels without reducing emissions from a broad range of agriculture, forest and land use activities through conservation and sustainable use.

Of course, the potential contribution of land use management activities to mitigation depends on the ecosystem. Forests and peatlands, for example, contain very high carbon stocks and, accordingly, also have a high sequestration potential. In fact, the mitigation potential of land use management activities is estimated to range from 0.5-4 GtCO2-eq per year for forestry activities, and from 1-6 GtCO2-eq per year for agricultural activities. Achieving this potential will depend, in part, on the extent to which countries draw on conservation and sustainable use lessons learned from the implementation of the CBD and the UNCCD.

For example, protected areas, established primarily to achieve the objectives of the CBD, currently protect about 15% of the world’s terrestrial carbon stores. Maintaining and enhancing protected areas networks can, therefore, contribute significantly to mitigation efforts.

Likewise, combating desertification and land degradation through maintaining and restoring vegetative cover can contribute to the sequestration of soil carbon. In fact, soil in tropical savannas contains more carbon than the above-ground biomass of all tropical forests. When such efforts are based on locally adapted species and varieties, biodiversity is also conserved and traditional livelihoods sustained.

Finding a balance between climate change related activities, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, and activities to reduce land degradation and desertification does, however, require careful planning. The ecosystem approach is a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way.  As such, the application of the ecosystem approach is one way in which the objectives of the different Rio Conventions can be aligned for the benefit of sustainable development.

Other tools that can link various sustainable development challenges include strategic environmental assessments, environmental impact assessments and a range of valuation techniques.

Regardless of the methodology selected, Parties to the CBD have agreed that activities to promote synergies at the national level are the most effective way to realize multiple benefits. In a world of increasing challenges, designing and implementing such activities will be critical if we are to realize the principles laid out in Rio.
| Back to IISD RS “Linkages” home | Visit IISDnet | Send e-mail to IISD RS |
© 2009, IISD. All rights reserved.