The scientific consensus is that this thickening layer of heat-trapping gases is affecting the global climate and regional weather patterns. Those changes, in turn, are affecting biodiversity. Scientists have already observed substantial and systematic effects on a wide range of species
and ecosystems, and this situation is expected to significantly worsen in the decades ahead. In the past 30 years, numerous shifts in the distribution and abundance of species have resulted from climate change
. Adverse effects range from the disappearance of toads in Costa Rica’s
cloud forests, to the death of coral reefs throughout the planet’s tropical marine environments. Scrubbing the skies: How to chill a global greenhouse
Combustion of coal, oil, and natural gas accounts for most global CO2 emissions. Climate discussions and international policy usually focus on reducing these emissions by shifting to climate-friendly energy options. Less well known is the fact that trees absorb CO2 and release it when cut down. The 34 million acres of tropical forests
destroyed each year—a combined area the size of Ohio—release 20 to 25 percent of total global CO2 emissions.
The international community first recognized the threat of climate instability at the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Some 182 nations, including the United States, agreed to voluntarily reduce GHGs emitted by industrial countries to their 1990 levels by 2012. More importantly, the signatories agreed to stabilize GHG atmospheric concentrations to prevent dangerous anthropogenic, or human, interference with the climate system.
Since then, scientists estimate that stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 at a safe level will require reducing CO2 emissions and other heat-trapping gases to 80 percent of the 1990 global levels. According to some scenarios, this means reducing or preventing the release of 1.2 trillion tons of CO2 by 2050. Energy-efficiency improvements throughout the global economy could prevent one-third or more of these emissions while also cutting energy costs.
Roughly one-fourth of the necessary reductions, about 370 billion tons, could be achieved by preventing tropical deforestation, regenerating fragmented landscapes into connected conservation corridors, restoring several billion acres of degraded lands, and improving land productivity worldwide through the adoption of best practices in agriculture and forestry. Taking advantage of selective energy supply options such as solar or wind power that have no adverse effects on climate and biodiversity could help reduce the remaining energy-related emissions. Taking action: CI adjusts strategy to accommodate a warmer world
Strengthening existing conservation efforts not only helps to mitigate the threat of climate destabilization, but also offers greater resilience against weather disasters that threaten both people and habitat. CI already has a solid record in creating protected areas and conservation corridors. In the past three years, for instance, our Centers for Biodiversity Conservation have helped establish or improve the management of roughly 55 million acres of parks and protected areas in the biodiversity hotspots
and high-biodiversity wilderness areas
However, species’ ranges will adjust in response to climate change, and this will influence our ability to conserve them in existing parks. Shifting of range boundaries because of warming has already taken place during the past 30 to 70 years. Expanding our conservation strategies to meet that challenge is now central to CI’s mission, and we believe this will significantly reduce the extinction risk associated with global warming.
Researchers from the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science
(CABS) at CI, in partnership
with The Nature Conservancy, are leading efforts to anticipate the effects of climate change on biodiversity, and to integrate that knowledge into our conservation planning. CABS research has concentrated on South Africa’s Cape Floristic Region
, a biodiversity hotspot and one of the world’s six plant kingdoms. A pioneering multispecies modeling study conducted by CABS and South African researchers reveals how climate change might influence conservation efforts in protected areas. It shows which species will be most affected, whether their numbers will shrink or grow, and how the changes will unfold over time. Such information will allow conservationists to add new parks and corridors that are more resilient to wild weather swings. Tapping emerging carbon markets: A huge profit potential
No discussion of climate change is complete without determining ways to mitigate GHG emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. The Center for Environmental Leadership in Business at CI is working with industry to reduce companies’ CO2 emissions and enhance their competitive advantage. The strategy employs energy-efficiency improvements like solar or wind power, and the money saved can be invested in multibenefit land-based CO2 offsets.
These projects absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in trees, other vegetation, and soil. Well-designed and well-executed offsets can help counter climate change and sustain protected wilderness habitats while fostering alternative, sustainable livelihoods among impoverished local communities
. Conversely, poorly designed monoculture projects that promote large areas planted with a single tree species, can harm biodiversity, disrupt watersheds, and have little impact on sustainable development.
Launched in 2002, CI’s offset strategy allows companies to invest in CO2 mitigation while both contributing to conservation and supporting local economies. This approach offers a number of important benefits, including biodiversity protection and improved human welfare. Many cash-strapped developing countries have forests that are carbon- and biodiversity-rich habitats. By not logging
or clearing their forests, developing countries could market these carbon services to companies and to industrial nations seeking cost-effective ways to offset their high emission levels, either voluntarily or for regulatory compliance requirements.
In addition to CI’s offset program, the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Alliance initiative has been launched to develop standards for benefits of land-based offset projects. Several companies with strong environmental leadership records have joined the alliance. They include BP, the world’s second largest energy company; Intel, the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer; and SC Johnson, the Fortune 500 household products company.
Creating sound CO2 mitigation investments that help people and biodiversity could potentially bring in billions of dollars for biodiversity conservation and struggling economies. Will this strategy reverse the global warming trend? By itself, no—much more needs to be done in industrial countries to reduce CO2 emissions. However, it will help stabilize GHGs, while countering the massive deforestation now taking place in the hotspots and wilderness areas. Combined with research to anticipate habitat changes brought on by climate change, such investments will help life on Earth weather the coming century.