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BirdLife’s case for the role of ecosystems in climate change adaptation


11 Dec 2009


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One of BirdLife’s ‘5 Asks’ at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is for the recognition of the vital importance of safeguarding biodiversity, ecosystems and the essential services they provide in climate change adaptation. 

Climate change impacts including drought, crop failure, sea-level rise and extreme weather events are already being felt across the world, with the poorest people and most vulnerable communities hit hardest. The effects of climate change will almost certainly persist for centuries, and depending on the level of mitigation achieved, will be of increasing severity. Adaptation is necessary to cope with present and future impacts.

Healthy, bio-diverse environments play a vital role in maintaining and increasing resilience to climate change, and reducing risk and vulnerability. This is particularly critical to the world’s 2.7 billion poor people, many of whom depend on natural resources directly for their livelihood and survival.

To coincide with the Copenhagen conference, BirdLife has published a new report Partners with nature: How healthy ecosystems are helping the world’s most vulnerable adapt to climate change.

BirdLife International’s experience shows that supporting the application of local knowledge and community engagement can build the resilience of natural and societal systems, delivering locally appropriate solutions to help communities, countries and economies adapt to climate change. 

The role of ecosystems in climate change adaptation can usefully be applied at all scales: local, landscape, national, transboundary and international. The BirdLife Partnership’s unique local-to-global structure has enabled structures and processes to be established that contribute to long-term and flexible approaches to climate change adaptation.

“Of BirdLife’s 100-plus national Partners, more than 60 are in low income countries”, said Melanie Heath, BirdLife’s Senior Advisor on Climate Change. “BirdLife Partners are working in many areas already impacted by climate change and in others where it will add to current vulnerabilities.”

Partners with Nature, includes 14 examples of BirdLife Partners’ work with vulnerable communities

The case studies, drawn from different geographic regions, include:

• conserving and restoring forests to stabilise slopes and regulate water flows, preventing flooding and landslides as rainfall levels and intensity increase 

• establishing diverse agroforestry systems to cope better with the changing temperatures, water shortages and pest infestations associated with climate change

• sustainable management of wetlands and floodplains for maintenance of water flow and quality, acting as floodwater reservoirs and as important stores of water in times of drought

• coastal defence through the maintenance and/or restoration of mangroves and other coastal wetlands, which act as coastal buffers, helping to reduce flooding and erosion and protect against cyclone damage

• integrating ‘nature-based’ infrastructure and technology into hard engineering approaches, to avoid damage to ecosystems 

The case studies demonstrate that including the role of ecosystems in different approaches to adaptation can provide many benefits. They are accessible to rural and poor communities, and are often more cost-effective and enduring, because they provide local benefits, and can be locally managed and maintained. They balance immediate needs with preparation for long-term impacts, providing alternative livelihood options in the face of climate change uncertainty. They combine indigenous and local knowledge with external expertise. They contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and to climate change mitigation by maintaining carbon storage.

“BirdLife is calling for the importance of healthy ecosystems to be effectively written into national, regional and international climate change and development policy”, said Joanna Phillips, Head of International Sustainable Development Policy at the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and co-author of Partners with Nature.

BirdLife believes that to create a climate-resilient society, adaptation priorities need to be agreed in-country, through nationally-led, inclusive and participatory processes. Therefore, BirdLife urges governments to base policy on sound science, recognise ecosystems as cross-cutting and underpinning for adaptation, and to address them within national adaptation frameworks, strategies and plans. They should significantly step up efforts to protect nature and biodiversity, as a prime strategy to ensure ecosystem resilience, recognising this as vital to addressing climate change.

Local communities and resource users should be fully involved in adaptation planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation – and support and information should be readily available to enable this.  

Sectors such as agriculture, energy and transport should apply an ecosystem approach to business planning and delivery, and ensure that ecosystem resilience is strengthened rather than weakened by their activities. They should work with other sectors in assessing risks posed by climate change and finding adaptation solutions.

BirdLife believes that the international community (including governments, international and regional institutions, and multinational corporations) has a vital role to play. They should ensure adequate funding for developing countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change, recognising the urgent and immediate needs of the most vulnerable countries. This will mean both meeting their current commitments, and providing new funding.

“Above all, the international community must work with genuine commitment and urgency to secure a legally binding agreement that cuts global emissions by the amount needed to limit global average temperature rises to less than 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels”, concluded Melanie Heath.

The report can be downloaded at

The story is available on the BirdLife website at

Image: A suggested image to go alongside the story can be downloaded from here:

Suggested Caption: Healthy, bio-diverse environments play a vital role in maintaining and increasing resilience to climate change

Image credit: Roger Safford; BirdLife

To read more about BirdLife’s work on Climate Change visit: 


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