A framework for biodiversity and climate

Hannah Reid outlines a framework for incorporating biodiversity issues into National Adaptation Plans of Action.

The author is a Research Associate working with the Climate Change Programme at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, United Kingdom.

Adaptation to climate change will have significant effects on biodiversity. Adaptation activities such as the construction of large sea walls or the introduction of non-native species may lead to deforestation, habitat fragmentation and reduced genetic variability. Similar activities may alter species distributions, population sizes, frequency of pest and disease outbreaks and the frequency of forest fires. Biodiversity, however, may benefit from other adaptation activities, such as the establishment of mosaics of interconnected terrestrial, freshwater and marine multiple-use protected areas.

The influence of biodiversity on the capacity to adapt to climate change is also significant. Functionally diverse systems may be better able to adapt to climate change than functionally impoverished systems. As biodiversity is lost, human society becomes more vulnerable as options for change are diminished.

The development of any National Adaptation Plan of Action (Tiempo, Issue 44/45, September 2002) in the least developed countries must consider the synergies between biodiversity and adaptation to climate change at project and policy levels. The National Adaptation Plan of Action Guidelines determine priority activities. These include projects, integration into other activities, capacity building and policy reform. These priority activities are considered below in the context of incorporating biodiversity issues.


Afforestation and reforestation adaptation activities can reduce soil erosion and coastal and riverine erosion and increase livelihood options. They can also promote the return, survival and expansion of native plants and animals. Plantations have lower biodiversity than natural forests, but they can still act as corridors, provide watershed functions and erosion control and reduce pressure on natural forests.

Where afforestation and reforestation activities are proposed, significant biodiversity benefits can accrue through modest changes in activity design: for example, through the use of several species and reducing the use of genetically modified organisms. Networks of forest reserves with connecting corridors provide dispersal and migration routes for plants and animals. Reserve placement must, though, take account of climate change.

Improved forest management activities can have positive effects on biodiversity and livelihood options. Such management activities include the following: increasing rotation age; practising low intensity harvesting; reducing the impact of logging; leaving woody debris; undertaking harvesting practices which emulate natural disturbance regimes; avoiding fragmentation; reducing chemical pest control; allowing some stands to age past maturity; providing buffer zones; and allowing natural fire regimes. There will be considerably less in the way of biodiversity benefits if monocultures, non-native species and same-age species are grown.

Land use and management

Any land use change or zoning should incorporate biodiversity issues, as well as looking to improve productivity and protect soil and water resources. There are adaptation options which can reduce land degradation and therefore provide biodiversity benefits. These adaptation options include: efficient small-scale irrigation; more effective rain-fed farming; changing cropping patterns; improved shifting cultivation with sufficient fallow periods; maintaining continuous ground cover; intercropping and/or using crops with lower water demands; and conservation tillage and coppicing of trees for fuelwood.

Past experience shows that an increased use of pesticide and herbicides in response to new pest species will have a damaging effect on existing plant and animal communities.

Establishing extensive land management programmes may be necessary. Such programmes could incorporate invasive species control and the cultivation of wild food and medicinal species, which would also capture the genetic variability of endemic species. For example, a study initiated by the Ministry of the Environment in Mali is looking at land degradation, biodiversity and climate change. One specific objective is to render traditional management systems more resistant to unfavourable climatic conditions. Another is to ensure the stability of natural resources management systems.

Some agroforestry systems involve various combinations of woody and herbaceous vegetation with agricultural crops. These can provide biodiversity and livelihood benefits.

Other sectors

Integrated watershed management can help conserve watershed biodiversity, and increase water retention. Such management would have the additional effect of increasing the likelihood of water availability in times of drought. This practice would also slow water movement thus reducing the risk of flash floods. However, water availability for wildlife and other non-intensive uses may decrease if demand increases and supply decreases.

Integrated fisheries management, perhaps involving aquaculture and mariculture, may take the pressure off some coastal fisheries. One must consider, when devising an integrated fisheries management programme, whether this practice may also have negative impacts on local biodiversity. Networks of marine and coastal reserves will allow for migration and dispersal thus increasing resilience.

The identification and protection (prior to a crisis) of vulnerable ecosystems and species as well as human communities should be undertaken in disaster planning. Measures must be taken to minimize biodiversity losses. Buffer zones around flood-prone areas could also be considered in terms of biodiversity corridors and protected area systems.

Enhancing natural protection systems should be considered, instead of the practice of a physical barrier construction. These systems could comprise of, for example, the replanting of mangroves, artificial beach nourishment, the creation of artificial wetlands and coral reef protection. Artificial reefs may enhance local biodiversity and livelihood options, and protect against typhoons, cyclones and storms. Precautionary approaches, such as raising the height of coastal villages, building on stilts, insurance cover and the use of expendable readily available local materials, can also avoid large construction projects. For example, mangrove plantations in Vietnam have been established which not only protect the coast against typhoon storms but also support the production of valuable exports such as shrimps and crabs. Mangroves elsewhere, however, may not be able to adapt to rising sea levels if they are unable to migrate inland.

Tools for integration

Tools are available to integrate biodiversity issues into the National Adaptation Plans of Action (and vice versa).

First, the ecosystem approach promoted by the Convention on Biodiversity provides an holistic framework that could incorporate climate considerations. It promotes management principles, such as an adaptive management approach, which may also be appropriate for dealing with climate issues.

Second, adaptation activities need environmental (and social) impact assessments. These require a sound legal framework and systematic application and should use transparent and participatory approaches to ensure long-term success. Strategic Environmental Assessments can support the broader uptake of environmental, social and development priorities in planning processes.

Third, measuring the value of environmental services is important. An estimated 40 per cent of the global economy is based on biological products and accompanying processes. Changes in current valuation practices may be required as current systems often fail to capture the value of ecological goods and services, the depreciation of natural capital and the non-utilitarian value of ecosystems.

Fourth, an holistic approach should be used, considering all aspects of sustainable development. This must, by its nature, cover all social, environmental and economic aspects.

Finally, participatory processes involving stakeholders such as the private sector, non-governmental organizations, civil society and particularly local communities should be used. Communities, for example, can help in monitoring changes in biodiversity and climate. Experiences from community-based natural resource management can provide useful lessons on participation and devolution. Flexible, non-prescriptive, decentralized approaches are preferable when determining adaptation priorities.

Two important considerations must be taken into account. The first is gender equality. The adverse affects of climate change and biodiversity loss disproportionately affect women (Tiempo, Issue 47, March 2003). The second important consideration is cost-effectiveness, in terms of both adaptation to climate change and biodiversity. Projects meeting objectives under both conventions will be more cost-effective.

Research needs

It is necessary to identify areas likely to be adversely affected by climate change and determine the extent of any overlap with key biodiversity areas. In other words, incorporate biodiversity into the selection and prioritization of adaptation projects. For example, human populations and biodiversity on islands may require prioritization. Traditional knowledge can help provide information in both arenas.

The ecological responses of proposed adaptive measures must be determined.

Current strategies used by communities to deal with climate variability and extremes, particularly those involving biodiversity, must be identified. These strategies can be built on to enhance future adaptive capacity. Traditional knowledge can also help provide this information.

A system of criteria and indicators needs to be developed and adopted on a national and, perhaps under the climate treaty, multi-national basis. This will allow monitoring and evaluation of the effects of adaptation activities on biodiversity. Local and/or regional biodiversity needs monitoring but few countries have systems in place for this. Long-term monitoring is important to account for time lags before the effects of interventions are revealed.

Capacity building

Capacity building amongst developing countries is needed in order that they have a good understanding of the issues, as well as their costs and benefits, relating to climate change and biodiversity, and to any proposed interventions. Capacity building may target specific skills gaps: for example, in the information and communication technology sector, in participatory assessment, in the use of integrated planning tools or research, in undertaking inventories, and in monitoring and systematic observation.

Capacity building can also target specific stakeholder groups such as scientists, decision makers and financial planners, civil servants, civil society, the media and local community groups. Institutional capacity building for many of these stakeholder groups may be required.

Policy reform

There is a clear need for improved procedural coherence in all areas when considering the integration of biodiversity issues into National Adaptation Plans of Action. Those involved in the Plans of Action should ideally share information, office space, skills and so on with biodiversity experts.

Streamlined governance structures may be needed. For example, a national multilateral environmental agreement (MEA) focal point or some other type of crosscutting national committee or policy research and planning unit may be appropriate. Currently, MEA focal points are often in different government departments.

Another clear need is to streamline adaptation activities with biodiversity-related commitments and other land and resource use planning frameworks. This could be undertaken through existing international and regional environmental agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity or the Ramsar Convention. There are other avenues such as through national legislation and related programmes and policies such as Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, national conservation strategies and national sustainable development objectives. The inter- connectiveness of ecosystems means that actions taken under one policy or agreement may affect the ability of a country to meet its objectives under another.

Streamlining national funding and budgeting processes will significantly increase the efficacy of any management policy.

Finally, the integrity of National Adaptation Plans of Action would be greatly enhanced if policy distortions relating to adaptation issues were removed. These distortions invariably result in the loss and the unsustainable use of biodiversity.

Further information
Hannah Reid, International Institute for Environment and Development, 3 Endsleigh Street, London WC1H 0DD, UK. Fax: +44-20-73882826. Email: hannah.reid@iied org. Web: www.iied.org.