What is the role of biodiversity in climate change adaptation? How can the impacts of climate change be mitigated without adversely affecting biodiversity? Adaptation strategies tend to focus on technological, social and economic developments. They overlook the links between biodiversity and adaptation. There needs to be greater consideration of synergies between the two in adaptation policy and planning. Most importantly, there needs to be improved understanding of the underpinning role of biodiversity, to avoid maladaptation and to develop cost-effective responses to climate change.
Scientific literature on the role of biodiversity in climate change adaptation is scarce. However, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that ecosystem-based adaptation can be a cost-effective adaptation strategy across the major adaptation sectors. Adaptation strategies that aim to enhance the resilience of ecosystems to enable the continued provision of goods and services can be particularly important for poor people. The poor are often directly dependent on natural resources and have little access to technical measures.
Biodiversity is linked to climate change adaptation in three main ways. Biodiversity can play a role in societal adaptation, biodiversity can be impacted by societal adaptation strategies and biodiversity conservation is a sector that requires adaptation strategies in its own right.
- Coastal defences have traditionally relied on ‘hard defence’ structures such as sea walls. However, resilient coastal ecosystems can play an effective role in coastal protection.
- Natural freshwater systems provide vital water regulation services, and can play a role in adaptation to water scarcity, as well as to flooding.
- Diverse agricultural systems are essential in maintaining food production under changing temperature and water conditions.
- Forests provide a range of regulating services as well as resources. They can be important during extreme events. Maintaining natural forests enhances resilience to climate change.
- Biodiversity is often overlooked in urban design and adaptation plans, although green spaces and the planting of trees can reduce heat stress and improve drainage during flooding.
- The impact of adaptation strategies on biodiversity is often negative. This can result in maladaptation – if, for example, it removes natural flood regulation properties of coastal and freshwater ecosystems.
Integrated management strategies, incorporating ecosystem management into broader cross-sectoral adaptation policies as a complement to structural and technological measures, are likely to result in more sustainable adaptation. This will require significant institutional support, which currently appears to be lacking.
- Adaptation strategies that incorporate natural resource management, such as improved agricultural practice, can be beneficial for biodiversity.
- Adaptation in biodiversity conservation is required to allow biodiversity to contribute to societal adaptation. Improving protected areas and reducing anthropogenic pressures will make biodiversity resilient to climate change.
- Coastal ecosystems will not reduce impacts in all coastal areas. The integration of ‘hard defence’ measures with proper land-use planning and ecosystem management is needed.
- The contribution that biodiversity can make to societal adaptation will differ according to the circumstances, and in many cases technological solutions will be required.
- Ultimately, a broad perspective is required, focusing on how ecosystems can be managed and conserved in order to deliver ecosystem services in a changing climate, within the context of overall adaptation policy.