Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Convenient Solutions to an Inconvenient Truth: Ecosystem‐based Approaches to Climate Change

This is a new report just released by the World Bank:

Terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems play a significant role in the global carbon cycle. About 60gigatons of carbon (GtC) annually are taken up and released by terrestrial ecosystems, and another 90 GtC are taken up and released by marine systems. These natural fluxes are large compared to the approximately 6.3 GtC currently emitted annually from fossil fuels and industrial processes and another 1.6 GtC per year from deforestation, predominantly in the tropics (IPCC, 2002). Natural habitats are a net sink of carbon. Worldwide soils alone are estimated to store 1555 GtC. Furthermore, terrestrial ecosystems are removing an estimated 3 GtC and oceans another 1.7 GtC from the atmosphere every year. Appropriate management of terrestrial and aquatic habitats can, therefore, make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gases.

Global warming and changes in climate have already had observed impacts on natural ecosystems and species. Natural systems such as wetlands, mangroves, coral reefs, cloud forests, Arctic and high latitude ecosystems are especially vulnerable to climate induced disturbances. Enhanced protection and management of biological resources and habitats can mitigate impacts and contribute to solutions as nations and communities strive to adapt to climate change. Biodiversity is the foundation and mainstay of agriculture, forests, and fisheries. Biological resources provide the raw materials for livelihoods, agriculture, medicines, trade, tourism, and industry. Forests, grasslands, freshwater, and marine and other natural ecosystems provide a range of services, often not recognized in national economic accounts but vital to human welfare: regulating water flows and water quality, flood control, pollination, decontamination, carbon sequestration, soil conservation, and nutrient and hydrological cycling.

Current efforts to address climate change focus mainly on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly through cleaner energy strategies, and on attempting to reduce vulnerability of communities at risk by improving infrastructure to meet new energy and water needs. This report attempts to set out a compelling argument for including ecosystem‐based approaches to mitigation and adaptation as a third and essential pillar in national strategies to address climate change. Such ecosystembased strategies can offer cost‐effective, proven and sustainable solutions contributing to, and complementing, other national and regional adaptation strategies.

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