Practices options and constraints

Although climate change is a global issue, local efforts can help maintain and enhance resilience and limit some of the longer-term damages from climate change (e.g., Hughes et al., 2003; Singh, 2003; Opdam and Wascher, 2004). This section discusses adaptation options with respect to natural ecosystems. Adaptation of these ecosystems involves only reactive, autonomous responses to ongoing climate change, including changes in weather variability and extremes. However, ecosystem managers can proactively alter the context in which ecosystems develop. In this way they can improve the resilience, i.e., the coping capacity, of ecosystems (see Glossary). Such ecosystem management involves anticipatory adaptation options. Identifying adaptation responses and adaptation options is a rapidly developing field, so the discussion below is not exhaustive. However, one should realise that beyond certain levels of climate change (Hansen et al., 2003; Table 4.1, Figure 4.4) impacts on ecosystems are severe and largely irreversible.

4.6.1 Adaptation options

As climatic changes occur, natural resource management techniques can be applied to increase the resilience of ecosystems. Increasing resilience is consistent also with the 'ecosystem approach' developed by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which is a "strategy for management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way" (Smith and Malthby, 2003). There are many opportunities to increase resilience (Cropp and Gabrica, 2002; Tompkins and Adger, 2003); however, they may only be effective for lower levels of climate change (<2-3°C, Executive Summary, Figure 4.4, Table 4.1).

Effective responses depend on an understanding of likely regional climatic and ecological changes. Monitoring environmental change, including climate, and associated ecosystem responses is vital to allow for adjustments in management strategies (e.g., Adger et al., 2003; Moldan et al., 2005). Although many adaptation options are available to wildlife managers, uncertainty about the magnitude and timing of climate change and delayed ecosystem responses (e.g., Section 4.4.5) may discourage their application. Nevertheless, 'no regrets' decisions based on the 'precautionary principle' appear preferable. Actions to reduce the impact of other threats, such as habitat fragmentation or destruction, pollution and introduction of alien species, are very likely to enhance resilience to climate change (e.g., Goklany, 1998; Inkley et al., 2004; Opdam and Wascher, 2004). Such proactive approaches would encourage conservation planning that is relevant both today and in the future. Techniques that allow the management of conservation resources in response to climate variability may ultimately prove to be the most beneficial way of preparing for possible abrupt climate change by increasing ecosystem resilience (Bharwani et al., 2005).

A few key options to adapt at least to lower levels of climate change in intensively managed ecosystems (Chapter 5) have been suggested (e.g., Hannah et al., 2002a, 2002b; Hannah and Lovejoy, 2003; Hansen et al., 2003). Expansion of reserve systems can potentially reduce the vulnerability of ecosystems to climate change (McNeely and Schutyser, 2003). Reserve systems may be designed with some consideration of long-term shifts in plant and animal distributions, natural disturbance regimes and the overall integrity of the protected species and ecosystems (e.g., Williams et al., 2005). Ultimately, adaptation possibilities are determined by the conservation priorities of each reserve and by the magnitude and nature of the change in climate. Strategies to cope with climate change are beginning to be considered in conservation (Cowling et al., 1999; Chopra et al., 2005; Scott and Lemieux, 2005), and highlight the importance of planning guided by future climate scenarios.

A primary adaptation strategy to climate change and even current climate variability is to reduce and manage the other stresses on species and ecosystems, such as habitat fragmentation and destruction, over-exploitation, eutrophication, desertification and acidification (Inkley et al., 2004; Duraiappah et al., 2005; Robinson et al., 2005; Worm et al., 2006). Robinson et al. (2005) suggest that this may be the only practical large-scale adaptation policy available for marine ecosystems. In addition to removing other stressors it is necessary to maintain viable, connected and genetically diverse populations (Inkley et al., 2004; Robinson et al., 2005). Small, isolated populations are often more prone to local extirpations than larger, more widespread populations (e.g., Gitay et al., 2002; Davis et al., 2005; Lovejoy and Hannah, 2005). Although connectivity, genetic diversity and population size are important current conservation goals, climate change increases their importance. The reduction and fragmentation of habitats may also be facilitated through increases in agricultural productivity (e.g., Goklany and Trewavas, 2003) reducing pressures on natural ecosystems. However, increasing demand for some types of biofuels may negate this potential benefit (e.g., Busch, 2006).

Reducing stress on ecosystems is difficult, especially in densely populated regions. Recent studies in southern Africa have signalled the need for policy to focus on managing areas outside protected areas (e.g., subsistence rangelands - Von Maltitz et al., 2006). This can, in part, be achieved through the devolution of resource ownership and management to communities, securing community tenure rights and incentives for resource utilisation. This argument is based on the observation that greater species diversity occurs outside protected areas that are more extensive (Scholes et al., 2004). Species migration between protected areas in response to shifting climatic conditions is likely to be impeded, unless assisted by often costly interventions geared towards landscapes with greater ecological connectivity. Strategic national policies could co-ordinate with communal or private land-use systems, especially when many small reserves are involved and would be particularly cost-effective if they address climate change proactively. Finally, migration strategies are very likely to become substantially more effective when they are implemented over larger regions and across national borders (e.g., Hansen et al., 2003).

Controlled burning and other techniques may be useful to reduce fuel load and the potential for catastrophic wildfires. It may also be possible to minimise the effect of severe weather events by, for example, securing water rights to maintain water levels through a drought, or by having infrastructure capable of surviving floods. Maintaining viable and widely dispersed populations of individual species also minimises the probability that localised catastrophic events will cause significant negative effects (e.g., hurricane, typhoon, flood).

Climate change is likely to increase opportunities for invasive alien species because of their adaptability to disturbance (Stachowicz et al., 2002; Lake and Leishman, 2004). Captive breeding for reintroduction and translocation or the use of provenance trials in forestry are expensive and likely to be less successful if climate change is more rapid. Such change could result in large-scale modifications of environmental conditions, including the loss or significant alteration of existing habitat over some or all of a species' range. Captive breeding and translocation should therefore not be perceived as panaceas for the loss of biological diversity that might accompany large changes in the climate. Populations of many species are already perilously small, and further loss of habitat and stress associated with severe climate change may push many taxa to extinction.

A costly adaptation option would be the restoration of habitats currently under serious threat, or creation of new habitats in areas where natural colonisation is unlikely to occur (Anonymous, 2000). In many cases the knowledge of ecosystem interactions and species requirements may be lacking. Engineering habitats to facilitate species movements may call for an entirely new field of study. Engineering interactions to defend coastlines, for example, that change the connectivity of coastal ecosystems, facilitate the spread of non-native species (Bulleri, 2005) as well as warm-temperate species advancing polewards (Helmuth et al., 2006; Mieszkowska et al., 2006).

Ultimately, managers may need to enhance or replace diminished or lost ecosystem services. This could mean manual seed dispersal or reintroducing pollinators. In the case of pest outbreaks, the use of pesticides may be necessary. Enhancing or replacing other services, such as contributions to nutrient cycling, ecosystem stability and ecosystem biodiversity may be much more difficult. The loss or reduced capacity of ecosystem services is likely to be a major source of 'surprises' from climate change.

4.6.2 Assessing the effectiveness and costs of adaptation options

There are few factual studies that have established the effectiveness and costs of adaptation options in ecosystems. Unfortunately, this makes a comprehensive assessment of the avoided damages (i.e., benefits) and costs impossible (see also Section 4.5). But the costs involved in monitoring, increasing the resilience of conservation networks and adaptive management are certainly large. For example, the money spent annually on nature conservation in the Netherlands was recently estimated to be €1 billion (Milieu en Natuurplanbureau, 2005). Of this amount, €285 million was used to manage national parks and reserves and €280 million was used for new reserve network areas and habitat improvement; the main objective being to reduce fragmentation between threatened populations and to respond to other threats. The reserve network planned for the Netherlands (to be established by 2020) will increase the resilience of species, populations and ecosystems to climate change, but at a high cost. Although not defined explicitly in this way, a significant proportion of these costs can be interpreted as climate adaptation costs.

4.6.3 Implications for biodiversity

Many studies and assessments stress the adverse impacts of climate change on biodiversity (e.g., Gitay et al., 2002; Hannah and Lovejoy, 2003; Thomas et al., 2004a; Lovejoy and Hannah, 2005; Schröter et al., 2005; Thuiller et al., 2005b; van Vliet and Leemans, 2006), but comprehensive appraisals of adaptation options to deal with declining biodiversity are rare.

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD, http://www.biodiv.org) aims to conserve biodiversity, to sustainably use biodiversity and its components and to fairly and equitably share benefits arising from the utilisation of biodiversity. This goes much further than most national biodiversity policies. The CBD explicitly recognises the use of biodiversity, ecosystems and their services and frames this as a developmental issue. As such, it extends beyond UNFCCC's objective of "avoiding dangerous human interference with the climate system at levels where ecosystems cannot adapt naturally". The main tool proposed by the CBD is the ecosystem approach (Smith and Malthby, 2003) based on integrated response options that intentionally and actively address ecosystem services (including biodiversity) and human well-being simultaneously, and involve all stakeholders at different institutional levels. The ecosystem approach resembles sustainable forest management projects (FAO, 2001). In theory, the ecosystem approach helps the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, but applications of the approach have had limited success (Brown et al., 2005a). Integrated responses include, however, learning by doing; a proactive approach that should increase the resilience of ecosystems and biodiversity.

4.6.4 Interactions with other policies and policy implications

Formulating integrated policies that cut across multiple UN conventions, such as the UNFCCC, CBD and Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD), could produce win-win situations in addressing climate change, increasing resilience and dealing with other policy issues (Nnadozie, 1998). Strategies aimed at combating desertification, for example, contribute towards increased soil carbon and moisture levels. Mitigation strategies focused on afforestation, including projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM, see Glossary), could help ecosystem adaptation through improved ecological connectivity. The ecosystem approach can fulfil objectives specified by different conventions (Reid et al., 2005) and, in assessing adaptation strategies, such synergies could be identified and promoted.

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