Rhys Gerholdt, WWF-US
WWF marine biologist Marianne Fish attaches coral fragments at a nursery site. © Rhys Gerholdt
Coral reefs are among the most valuable ecosystems on Earth, providing a home and nursery for 25% of the world’s marine life. For many coastal areas, healthy coral reefs provide an important barrier against destructive storms. In Belize, they are essential to the local economy, which depends on fishing and tourism.
However, roughly one-quarter of coral reefs worldwide are already considered damaged beyond repair, with another two-thirds facing serious threats from overfishing, careless tourism, agricultural runoff, sewage pollution and rising ocean temperatures caused by climate change.
The warmer waters can force algae that lives in coral to abandon their host, depriving coral of its food and its vibrant colors. The coral turns ghostly pale—what we call “coral bleaching”—and is left vulnerable to starvation.
If the current rate of warming continues, coral reefs may be pushed past their capacity to recover.
But there is hope. About 12 miles off the coast of southern Belize, scientists are experimenting with growing and planting coral that are naturally tolerant of warmer temperatures.
Eugenio Barrios & Sergio Salinas, WWF-Mexico
Bart Wickel, WWF-US
Climatic change and variability are presenting serious challenges to a country that already is experiencing serious strain on its water resources. © Edward Parker / WWF-Canon
Freshwater ecosystems occupy approximately 1% of the earth’s surface yet possess about 12% of all known animal species. By virtue of their position in the landscape they connect terrestrial and coastal marine biomes and provide and sustain ecosystem services vital to the health and persistence of human communities. These services include the supply of clean water for food production (including freshwater fisheries, aquaculture and agriculture), urban and industrial consumption, among others. Over the past century many freshwater ecosystems around the world have been heavily modified or lost due to the alteration of flow regimes (e.g. due to damming, canalization, diversion, over-abstraction). The synergistic impacts of land use change, changes in flows, chemical deterioration, and climate change have left many systems and their species very little room to adjust to change, while future projections indicate a steady increase in water demand for food and energy production and water supply to suit the needs of a growing world population.
Susan Evans, WWF Canada
© Peter Ewins / WWF-Canada
As a Canadian working in the field of climate change adaptation, it should come as no surprise that my first foray into applying my knowledge on the ground was in the Arctic, where change is happening faster than anywhere else on the planet!
In 2009, I found myself in a remote part of Sweden discussing options for arctic conservation with an elite group of researchers from around the world. After a few days, I was soon confronted with the radical new thinking we (conservationists, land-use managers, decisions makers) would need to embrace to be successful in conserving arctic ecosystems under conditions of rapid change.
It was clear that our current approach to conservation was falling short, as evidenced by the continued decline in ecosystem services and the increased number of species on IUCN’s red list. This prompted a group of us working on WWF’s Global Arctic Programme to ask 1) how can we maintain functioning ecosystems that provide for people and nature in the face of climate change, and 2) how must we strengthen our conservation and ecosystem management approaches to ensure we’re successful in achieving our goals today and into a rapidly changing future?
This set in motion the development of an ambitious new project called RACER, Rapid Assessment of Circum-Arctic Ecosystem Resilience. After 3 years of technical analyses and countless expert discussions on how to apply resilience thinking to conservation, a new tool for identifying and mapping places of conservation importance across the Arctic was produced.
Carolina Figueroa, Parques Nacionales de Colombia
Cocuy National Natural is located in the high Andes and conserves a few of the remaining glaciars in Colombia. © Carolina Figueroa
In Colombia, recent extreme weather events have led to damaging floods in the Andean and the Caribbean region. Thousands of people have lost their houses and livelihoods. Roads and bridges have been flooded, impeding transportation of food to the main cities. Both local and national economies are under pressure as food prices have spiked and additional health care provisions have become a necessity to battle the impacts of changing environmental conditions on public health.
Climate change and increasing climate variability are certainly a contributing factor to this destructive trend. However, as in many places around the world, our changing climate is not the sole perpetrator. There is an enormous problem related to the development of vulnerable territory in Colombia. We have built houses and roads where historically there is a high probability of flooding, and wetlands and humid ecosystems have been transformed and inhabited. As a result, these degraded ecosystems cannot absorb the disturbances and buffer our developments from damage caused by extreme weather events. Some local environmentalists say it is the swamps’ “revenge,” as we should respect the flow of water.
By Tom Gardali and Dr. Nathaniel Seavy, PRBO Conservation Science
Elegant Tern, one of five new species to be added California's Bird Species of Special Concern monograph © Regular Daddy (via Wikipedia)
As managers struggle to identify actions they can take to prepare for climate change, one approach that appears promising is to modify existing conservation tools by integrating traditional conservation concerns with concerns associated with climate change. To this end, we have worked with the California Department of Fish and Game to complete a climate vulnerability assessment of bird species of greatest concern.
Traditional conservation planning has relied heavily on lists of at-risk species to guide policy and prioritize conservation actions. In 2008, the California Department of Fish and Game updated its list of at-risk bird species in the California Bird Species of Special Concern monograph. This list identifies 39 species and 24 subspecies or distinct geographic populations for immediate conservation priority. While this list is a valuable tool for many pressing conservation issues, the threat of climate change was not considered when ranking conservation priority. Hence, to support statewide climate change conservation planning, we developed a framework for assessing climate change vulnerability of California’s at-risk birds and integrating it into the existing California Bird Species of Special Concern list.
Jonathan Cook, WWF-US
Click the photo to download the report
Along the west coast of Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest island, the communities of Tikina Wai have lived near mangrove forests for many generations. Local people depend on these forests for fish, wood, medicinal plants and other resources; and the mangroves help buffer them from storms and floods. Yet Tikina Wai’s mangrove forests are threatened by human activities such as unplanned coastal development and the over-harvesting of those same natural resources. Now the impacts of climate change, particularly sea level rise, are beginning to add pressure on mangroves in Tikina Wai and elsewhere in Fiji.
Fiji’s coastal areas are not unique in this regard. Sea-level rise linked to anthropogenic climate change is affecting mangroves around the world, which already face a host of other direct threats. (Only 1 percent of the world’s remaining mangroves are adequately protected from those threats.) In 2009, with support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the Hewlett-Packard Company, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) launched a project to understand and promote mangrove resilience to climate change. WWF offices in Cameroon, Tanzania and Fiji worked closely with various partners, including government agencies, communities and research institutions, to understand how climate change is likely to affect mangrove ecosystems and to pilot a set of adaptation actions that can reduce vulnerability to those impacts.
Steve Adams, Senior Advisor for Climate Adaptation – Institute for Sustainable Communities
Signed in 2009, the four counties committed to developing a region-wide climate action plan.
Since 2008, adaptation has rapidly climbed the policy agenda at every level of government. Previous posts here at ClimatePrep have documented the leading efforts across the US and around the world: cities are assessing their vulnerabilities and taking measures to harden infrastructure, increase design capacities, and develop strategies to protect public health; states are taking proactive measures in wildlife management, water resource protection, and coastal planning; and federal agencies are increasingly active in areas as diverse as endangered species protection, federal highway planning, and community development programs. But as the Council on Environmental Quality – Interagency Adaptation Task Force noted in its 2010 report to the President, “[a]daptation requires coordination across multiple sectors, geographical scales, and levels of government . . . Because impacts, vulnerability, and needs vary by region and locale, adaptation will be most effective when driven by local or regional risks and needs.”
Stacy Vynne, The Resource Innovation Group
Aerial view of Portland, © DubbaG (via Wikipedia)
The question of how to design and implement effective adaptation measures is one that I think most adaptation practitioners are still struggling with, and will continue to struggle with, for many years to come. With hundreds of adaptation initiatives underway around the world, we are beginning to develop a set of best practices that will be valuable as we move forward with further project implementation. What many of us are finding is that adaptation isn’t a one size fits all- effective adaptation will likely vary by region and expected climate impacts as well as be driven by the local economy, demographics, and values. Where I work, The Resource Innovation Group, we are attempting to provide some insight into this challenging question of “effective” adaptation by experimenting with different approaches. We are currently embarking on a project aims to engage the greater region in collaboration around climate change adaptation through the Willamette Valley Resilience Compact.
Eliot Levine, Jonathan Cook, Sarah Freeman (WWF-US)
Click the image to download a copy of Shifting Course.
“Adaptation is not a specialist issue — it’s an issue of how decisions are made, and how to utilize the information provided by specialists in the process of decision making”.
– Workshop Participant, 2011 World Water Week
Water management institutions are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that water is where we want it, when we want it, and how we want it (e.g. potable). This is an unquestionably difficult challenge considering that roughly 7 billion people and a multitude of diverse ecosystems rely on those institutions. However, while the problems associated with an ever increasing demand for freshwater resources are difficult, institutions must also become better equipped to deal with an increasing amount of uncertainty as a result of climate change.
The quality and quantity of water, as well as the timing of when water is available to us, are largely influenced by climate. As such, institutions that manage water are essentially responsible for managing the natural variations in climate. Luckily, as archeological records illustrate, humans have been managing water resources for centuries. Over time, we have become relatively good at this—and we have a number of tools that can help us to do it effectively.
By: Stacy Vynne, the Resource Innovation Group (TRIG)
United States U.S. © Dept. of Commerce/National Climactic Data Center/NOAA Satellite and Information Service
For the past four years, the organization that I work for, The Resource Innovation Group (TRIG), has been running a series of Climate Futures Forums in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. The Forums are essentially based on the principles of Community Based Adaptation (CBA) and we have found them to be an effective means for bridging the gap between climate scientists and local decision-makers. In addition, the Forums demonstrate the value of bringing local experts into the community adaptation planning process: these “experts” are individuals that may not necessarily have academic training on climate change or adaptation, but who have observational and experiential expertise. They live, work and play in these communities and know them well. While the Forums have proven to be extremely instrumental for adaptation planning in the Pacific Northwest, I hope that by sharing the process and lessons learned here, other organizations may be interested in replication.