World Wildlife Day 2017: Blogs from the Wildlife Conservation Society
Identifying Conservation Solutions to the Global Climate Crisis
By Benita Hussain
March 3, 2017
[WCS is recognizing World Wildlife Day with a series of blogs from across our programs.]
The goal of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord was to limit our global temperature increase to well below 2°C in order to avoid catastrophic effects of climate change. Focusing on polluting industries and fossil fuels is absolutely necessary for meeting that 2 degree cap, but it will not get us all the way there. Efforts to safeguard wildlife and wild places, however, gets us closer since protecting and restoring nature both minimizes carbon emissions and creates more resilient landscapes.
Intact wild places constitute less than ten percent of the planet’s lands and waters, yet are a crucial part of a comprehensive climate solution. Preventing loss of critical forests and habitats, restoring coastlines, and promoting sustainable food consumption can help fill 25 percent of the gap towards a two-degree cap. Applying hard science and implementing large-scale initiatives to protect wild areas is one of the best ways to store carbon and build long-lasting resilience for communities, animals, and landscapes.
One area of focus that is especially important is protecting intact forests. Intact forests are the most undisturbed wildlands and forests in the world, with the capacity to actually reverse the tide of carbon emitted from fossil fuels, saving us an incredible 25–50 percent of carbon emissions annually. Armed with these data, WCS and partners invest in the full suite of forest conservation tactics, with an emphasis on keeping lands undisturbed.
These tactics include preventing deforestation in the first place through policy engagement and financial incentives. By supporting governments, forest managers, and communities using the international “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation” (REDD+) mechanism, WCS has protected nearly 4.8 million forest hectares in over 11 countries in the last three years.
In two key globally-important landscapes, WCS is working alongside communities and our government partners to deliver millions in carbon revenues to protect forests. The Makira REDD+ Project (Madagascar) and Keo Seima Forest (Cambodia) — are on track to avoid the release of at least 43 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in the next 25 years.
In addition to preventing deforestation, another major tactic is restoring and re-growing native forests to support carbon storage. This year, WCS is launching a long-term partnership with World Wildlife Fund-UK and Birdlife International. Our vision is that by 2050, one trillion of the world’s trees can be saved from loss and better protected through collective action by all sectors of society. Further protecting the world’s remaining intact forest landscapes can be done through the Five Great Forests Initiative and the EU Sustainable Wildlife Management Initiative.
While work on restoring coastal and terrestrial ecosystems will lead to long-term temperature stability, building resilience in natural systems that have already been impacted by climate change is also important. Significant work is being done to protect coral reefs resistant to temperature increases, to understand the crucial role of intact ecoystems in helping wildlife and human communities adapt to climate change, and to assess the impact of human responses to climate change on biodiversity.
Climate-smart planning tools, along with scenario planning, are helping global communities and resource managers prepare for climate impacts — whether that means restoring coastal mangrove forests in Papua New Guinea to resist storm surges or using beaver mimic dams to improve freshwater flow in western Montana.
Through WCS’s US-based Climate Adaptation Fund, seeded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, private investments have been made available to rebuild and restore ecosystems and landscapes degraded by more extreme weather, changing migratory and growth patterns, and erosion. Since 2011, over $12 million in grants have been awarded for 66 U.S. projects, ranging from floodplain re-connection to adaptive forestry techniques to headwater protection and more. In addition, WCS is scaling its grant-making globally through the Climate Adaptation Innovation Fund, which will distribute up to $15 million annually.
All told, these interventions have the potential to store 50 percent of greenhouse gasses over the next 50 years — that same impact that would be achieved by ceasing the use of fossil fuels altogether. In that context, keeping the global temperature rise to below 2°C starts to feel a bit more achievable.
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Benita Hussain is Director of the Conservation Solutions program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).