Thresholds of Climate Change in Ecosystems

Ecological thresholds occur when external factors, positive feedbacks, or nonlinear instabilities in a system cause changes to propagate in a domino-like fashion that are potentially irreversible.  This report reviews threshold changes in North American ecosystems that are potentially induced by climatic change and addresses the significant challenges these threshold crossings impose on resource and land managers. Sudden changes to ecosystems and the goods and services they provide are not well understood, but they are extremely important if natural resource managers are to succeed in developing adaptation strategies in a changing world.

The report provides an overview of what is known about ecological thresholds and where they are likely to occur. It also identifies those areas where research is most needed to improve knowledge and understand the uncertainties regarding them. The report suggests a suite of potential actions that land and resource managers could use to improve the likelihood of success for the resources they manage, even under conditions of incomplete understanding of what drives thresholds of change and when changes will occur.

Key examples of climate-induced threshold changes are presented.  This synthesis effort identified a suite of potential actions that, taken together or separately, can begin to improve the understanding of thresholds and increase the likelihood of success in developing management and adaptation strategies in a changing climate, before, during, and after thresholds are crossed.  In general, it is essential to increase the resilience of ecosystems and thus to slow or prevent the crossing of thresholds; to identify early warning signals of impending threshold changes; and to employ adaptive management strategies to deal with new conditions, new successional trajectories, and new combinations of species.

Connecting Biodiversity and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation: Report of the Second Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Biodiversity and Climate Change

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has, as its three objectives, the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources. Efforts towards the achievement of these objectives are, however, coming under threat from one of the world’s other major environmental, social and economic challenges…climate change.
Climate change is threatening individual species such as the King Protea in South Africa and the polar bear in the Arctic. Climate change is also threatening entire ecosystems such as the cloud forests of South America and the coral reefs of South-east Asia. Climate change will affect where species live, when they move and how they interact.

Where species and ecosystems are well protected and healthy, natural adaptation may take place, as long as the rate of change is not too rapid and the scale of change is not too great. However, where climate change stacks as an additional threat upon other stresses such as pollution, overuse or invasive alien species, natural adaptive capacity may be exceeded. It is important, therefore, to ensure that climate change is not considered in isolation.

In fact, the links between biodiversity and climate change flow both ways. Biodiversity, and associated ecosystem services are the cornerstone of sustainable development. This relationship has long been recognized through the decisions of the Conference of Parties to the CBD and through the adoption of Millennium Development Goal number seven on environmental sustainability. Biodiversity also has a very important role to play in climate change mitigation and adaptation. The importance of this relationship is only now coming to light, spurred by decision IX/16 of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD.

The good management of ecosystems such as wetlands and forests, remains an effective mitigation option given the high sequestration potential of natural systems. The permanence of carbon sinks is also tied to the maintenance or enhancement of the resilience of ecosystems.

With regards to climate change adaptation, healthy, intact ecosystems have long provided critical ecosystem services, providing people with food and shelter, protecting communities from drought and floods, and building the basis of much of our traditional knowledge, innovations and practices. As climate change threatens food security, increases exposure to natural disasters and changes the very nature of the environment in which we live, these ecosystem services will become even more important and valued.

This document has been produced by a suite of world-renowned experts in the fields of biodiversity and climate change. It was welcomed by the fifth meeting of the Bureau of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD and helps up to better understand how these two great challenges interact and how we can best work together to achieve our common goals. The scientific information contained in this report clearly demonstrates that the synergies among the three Rio Conventions are no longer an option but an urgent necessity. A joint work programme among the three Rio Conventions is an idea whose time has come.

Forests for Climate Change Adaptation in the Congo Basin: Responding to an Urgent Need with Sustainable Practices

An innovative framework is needed whereby goods and services from sustainably managed Congo Basin forests are integrated into climate change adaptation strategies. Such strategies should also contribute to poverty reduction and biodiversity conservation in a way that enhances the forests’ ecological resilience to climate impacts. For a region where livelihoods and national development are closely linked to natural resources, choosing the best pro-poor pathway for climate change adaptation is fundamental to sustainability and poverty alleviation. An understanding of ecosystem services and their trajectories in future climate scenarios will be required. Participation by multiple stakeholders, including women and minority groups such as indigenous communities, is crucial to ensure their interests are reflected in national planning and policies. This information brief reiterates the opportunities for integrating poverty alleviation and climate change adaptation strategies into an ecosystem approach1 to regional forest policy and management.

Developing Adaptation Strategies to Climate Change Impacts on Tropical Forest Systems

The annual report describes the third year activities of the ‘Tropical Forests and Climate Change Adaptation’ (TroFCCA) project. The report, which covers the period from August 2007 to 31 August 2008, highlights the activities undertaken in accordance with the plans for year 3 and the financial transactions accompanying those activities.

The primary objective of TroFCCA is to contribute to national processes of adaptation to climate change, particularly by streamlining adaptation into national development processes through the assessment of vulnerability and the identification of adaptation strategies for the prioritised forest-based development sectors in the different regions. The project is implemented in eight countries across three continents: Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Mali in West Africa; Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua in Central America; and Indonesia and the Philippines in South East Asia.

The project comprises three phases, each with a central theme guiding the implementation of the overall project objective. The phases are surrounded by activities that stretch over more than one year; thus there are overlapping activities in phases 1 and 2 and also in phases 2 and 3. The third year report covers activities of phases 2 and 3.Other cross-phases activities also covered in this report are capacity building, development of climate scenarios, visibility and outreach actions, network and policy analysis, a science–policy dialogue process, and the consolidation of relations with partners etc. The main activity of the third year was the selection of pilot sites for testing the methodologies for vulnerability assessment, including identification and screening of adaptation strategies.

The report provides highlights of project status and current progress and gives a summary of the actual realisation versus the planned activities for the period. The progress made in each of the 12 steps of the methodology guiding the implementation of the project is also documented in the report. There is a discussion on the approach to the development of adaptation strategies that constitutes the central theme of phase 3, the last phase of the project following pilot studies in participatory testing of the methodologies for vulnerability assessment of the prioritised development sectors linked to the forest. Changes in the composition of the various teams are also described including communications and visibility actions. There were significant contributions from the project to scientific meetings, the Thirteenth Session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, etc including the organisation of special sessions at two international meetings on tropical forests and climate change adaptation. Activities with partners and collaborations with other institutions brought a high measure of success during this period and they are discussed. In continuation of phase 3, project activities planned for year 4 are shown.

Included is a section on each region, highlighting the activities implemented and their contributions to each output target. The great achievement in capacity building through graduate students research programmes are covered in the regional reports. As an indication of the status and realisations of the project, there is a summary table of the progress made so far for each of the output targets. Finally, there is a financial report summarising the expenditures in year 3 and the budget requirements for year 4.

Adaptation to Climate Change in Africa: Synergies with Biodiversity and Forest

Forests, and the biodiversity contained within them, play key roles in supporting national economic activities and providing livelihood portfolios for many in Africa. They provide valuable ecosystem services such as climate regulation, hazard protection, water conservation, watershed protection, and also provisioning goods such as fuelwood, foods and nutritional supplements, and medicinal products etc. Forests are therefore at the frontline in moderating climate impacts on Africa by reducing exposure to climate extremes such as heat, drought and floods, and also the sensitivity and adaptive capacity of forest dependent people. Inarguably, forests should play a major role in national development strategies and be the entry point for climate changeadaptation in Africa.

Climate Change Adaptation for Conservation in Madagascar

Madagascar’s imperilled biota are now experiencing the effects of a new threat—climate change. With more than 90% endemism among plants, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, the stakes are high. The pristine landscapes that allowed this exceptional biodiversity to survive past climate changes are largely gone. Deforestation has claimed approximately 90% of the island’s natural forest and what remains is highly fragmented, providing a poor template for large-scale species range shifts. The impacts of current and future climate change may therefore be much different than past impacts, with profound implications for biodiversity.

The article reviews evidence of past response to climate change, models of future change and projected biological response, developing insights to formulate adaptation actions for reducing extinction in Madagascar’s biota. Then it explores the cost of implementing actions and examine new income opportunities developing through efforts to mitigate climate change.

Adapting Landscapes to Climate Change: Examples of Climate-Proof Ecosystem Networks and Priority Adaptation Zones

Summary1. Climate change has been inducing range shifts for many species as they follow their suitable climate space and further shifts are projected. Whether species will be able to colonize regions where climate conditions become suitable, so-called ‘new climate space’, depends on species traits and habitat fragmentation.2. By combining bioclimate envelope models with dispersal models, we identified areas where the spatial cohesion of the ecosystem pattern is expected to be insufficient to allow colonization of new climate space.3.For each of three ecosystem types, three species were selected that showed a shift in suitable climate space and differed in habitat fragmentation sensitivity.4. For the 2020 and 2050 time slices, the amount of climatically suitable habitat in northwest Europe diminished for all studied species. Additionally, significant portions of new suitable habitat could not be colonized because of isolation. Together, this will result in a decline in the amount of suitable habitat protected in Natura 2000 sites.5. We develop several adaptation strategies to combat this problem: (i) link isolated habitat that is within a new suitable climate zone to the nearest climate-proof network; (ii) increase colonizing capacity in the overlap zone, the part of a network that remains suitable in successive time frames; (iii) optimize sustainable networks in climate refugia, the part of a species’ range where the climate remains stable.6. Synthesis and applications. Following the method described in this study, we can identify those sites across Europe where ecosystem patterns are not cohesive enough to accommodate species’ responses to climate change. The best locations for climate corridors where improving connectivity is most urgent and potential gain is highest can then be pinpointed.

Matching National Forest Policies and Management Practices for Climate Change Adaptation in Burkina Faso and Ghana

Many studies have suggested various kinds of forest policies, management planning and practices to help forests adapt to climate change. These recommendations are often generic, based mostly on case studies from temperate countries and rarely from Africa. We argue that policy and management recommendations aimed at integrating adaptation into national forest policies and practices in Africa should start with an inventory and careful examination of existing policies and practices in order to understand the nature and extent of intervention required to influence the adaptation of forest ecosystems to climate change. This paper aims to contribute to closing this gap in knowledge detrimental to decision making through the review and analysis of current forest policies and practices in Burkina Faso and Ghana and highlighting elements that have the potential to influence the adaptation of forest ecosystems to climate change. The analysis revealed that adaptation (and mitigation) are not part of current forest policies in Burkina Faso and Ghana, but instead policies contain elements of risk management practices which are also relevant to the adaptation of forest ecosystems. Some of these elements are found in policies on the management of forest fires, forest genetic resources, non-timber resources, tree regeneration and silvicultural practices. To facilitate and enhance the management of these elements, a number of recommendations are suggested. Their implementation will require experienced and well-trained forestry personnel, financial resources, socio-cultural and political dimensions, and the political will of decision makers to act appropriately by formulating necessary policies and mainstreaming adaptation into forest policy and management planning.

Climate Change, Vulnerability and Adaptation in Latin America

It is now widely agreed that we are facing a climate change with the main features being global warming and the universal deterioration of natural habitats and livelihoods. These side-effects also extend to sea-level rise, change of weather, decrease on the freshwater supplies, impacts on farming and health. Latin America plays a key role itself. We only have to think about the Amazon tropical forest, its biodiversity but at the same time the deforestation that takes place and the fact that 35 percent of the worlds freshwater is found in the region. Furthermore, the impacts on the people’s livelihoods are substantial, considering for example that 30-40 percent of the working population is employed in farming and bearing in mind the fact that Latin America is a continent with a high degree of poverty and therefore vulnerability. At the same time, there are various efforts towards adaptation taking place, focusing mainly on alternative sources of energy such as for example the use of bio-fuels in Brazil and the micro-hydro system in Peru. The aim of this dissertation is to present, discuss and analyze climate change and the issues of vulnerability and adaptation in the Latin American region.

Maryland Climate Action Plan

On April 20, 2007, Governor Martin O’Malley signed Executive Order 01.01.2007.07 (the Order) establishing the Maryland Commission on Climate Change (the Commission). Sixteen State agency heads and six members of the General Assembly comprise the Commission. The principal charge of the Commission is to develop a Plan of Action (the Climate Action Plan) to address the drivers of climate change, to prepare for its likely impacts in Maryland, and to establish goals and timetables for implementation.

The Order emphasized Maryland’s particular vulnerability to climate change impacts of sea level rise, increased storm intensity, extreme droughts and heat waves, and increased wind and rainfall events. It recognized that human activities such as coastal development, burning of fossil fuels, and increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are contributing to the causes and consequences of climate change. While noting Maryland’s recent climate initiatives, the Order emphasized that continued leadership by example by Maryland State and local governments is imperative.

The Commission is supported by three Working Groups whose members were appointed by the Commission Chair, Shari T. Wilson, Secretary, Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE): Scientific and Technical Working Group (STWG), chaired by Donald Boesch, President, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, and co-chaired by Frank W. Dawson, Assistant Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Robert M. Summers, Deputy Secretary of MDE; Greenhouse Gas and Carbon Mitigation Working Group (MWG), chaired by George (Tad) Aburn, Director of MDE’s Air and Radiation Management Administration, and co-chaired by Malcolm Woolf, Director, Maryland Energy Administration (MEA); and Adaptation and Response Working Group (ARWG), chaired by John R. Griffin, Secretary of DNR, and co-chaired by Richard Eberhart Hall, Secretary, Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) and Don Halligan, Assistant Secretary of MDP. These Working Groups and the technical work groups (TWGs) that support them represent diverse stakeholder interests and bring broad perspective and expertise to the Commission’s work. The Commission’s work was facilitated by a consultant, the Center for Climate Strategies (CCS).