Our Burning Planet


Nature has a critical role to play in tackling the climate crisis – biodiversity conservation is key

Nature has a critical role to play in tackling the climate crisis – biodiversity conservation is key
'The Last Truffula Tree'. Deep in Ba Vi National Park in Vietnam sits a beautiful, yet spooky, forest. © jake virus/TNC Photo Contest

A key element of climate change adaptation is through nature-based solutions, including restoration of forests, wetlands and protection of habitats, including grasslands.

We are at a tipping point. From unprecedented heatwaves in Europe and deadly hurricanes in the US, to devastating floods in Pakistan and Nigeria, 2022 has seen unprecedented weather patterns, occasioned by global warming as unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions increase in our atmosphere.

In 2021, extreme weather events cost the global economy an estimated $329-billion, and 4% of global annual economic output could be lost by 2050 due to climate change.

We are in a climate emergency. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report 2022 paints a bleak picture. While the plans submitted by signatories to the Paris Agreement would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they are not ambitious enough to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C, with global temperatures predicted to rise between 2.1°C and 2.9°C by 2100.

Developing countries, including those in Africa, are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Though Africa generates less than 3% of emissions, the rapidly increasing climate shocks are bound to hit the continent and its people the hardest.

It is against this background that the Climate Summit of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – the Conference of the Parties (COP) – is being held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. The 27th edition (COP27) began on 6 November to deliberate on accelerating climate action including adaptation, mitigation and financing. This follows commitments made in the Paris Agreement, a global pledge to take climate action, penned by world leaders in 2015.

Tackling the climate crisis requires a multipronged approach. In 2015, developed countries pledged to mobilise $100-billion in climate finance for developing countries by 2020. However, only about $30-billion had been availed by 2020. Further, Africa has the smallest share of climate action investments compared with other regions. Therefore it is imperative for developed countries to meet these financial obligations, which will be instrumental for climate action.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Respecting the rights of nature is the only way out of climate chaos and biodiversity collapse

Climate adaptation, where communities and systems manage the impacts of climate change, is another key strand in tackling climate change. Adaptation is one of the most effective pathways through which communities can cope with the worst effects of climate change. Further, climate mitigation, which includes actions to reduce emissions such as the reduction of fossil fuels, transition to renewable energy sources and use of new technologies, should be explored.

Incorporating nature-based solutions

A key element of climate change adaptation is through nature-based solutions (NbS), including the restoration of forests and wetlands and protection of habitats including grasslands. The restoration of ecosystems can go a long way towards climate change mitigation and adaptation, and reversing biodiversity loss.

According to the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), NbS can provide up to 37% of climate mitigation needed until 2030, which would help achieve the Paris Agreement targets.

BirdLife Partnership, the world’s largest and oldest partnership for nature, has been leading on climate adaptation measures. For instance, in Rwanda and Burundi, BirdLife International implemented a programme to help build the climate resilience of local communities through landscape restoration by planting more than 1.2 million trees. Coupled with livelihood improvement strategies, the project helped more than 4,000 households cope with climate change in both countries.

Egypt, which is hosting COP27, has very few wetlands and they are under pressure due to various factors including rapid population growth, which has affected the ability of these lands to regulate climate change impacts, further highlighting the growing need for NbS.

Consequently, Nature Conservation Egypt – BirdLife’s partner in the country – is conducting a national scale study to assess the potential of wastewater treatment plants (WTP) to function as constructed wetlands able to mitigate climate change impacts, support resident and migratory wildlife – especially birds – while functioning as carbon sinks.

In the wider North Africa region, Morocco and Tunisia have created roadmaps and working groups focused on implementing NbS contained in their Nationally Determined Contributions across different sectors.  

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Further south in the Sahel, BirdLife partners are involved in restoration efforts under the aegis of the Great Green Wall Initiative which aims to grow 8,000km of trees stretching from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, in a bid to tackle desertification.

The restoration uses climate-smart agricultural practices, including biodiversity management, improved water use and management and sustainable land and soil management, to increase crop productivity.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Natural and social sciences joint approach needed to resolve climate crisis catastrophes

Supported by the German government and the Nature and Biodiversity  Conservation Union (Nabu) through the AfriEvolve Initiative, it is supporting local communities in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya to roll out climate-smart techniques thus ensuring food security and improved livelihoods, while ensuring integrated landscape management.

Governments are called upon not to give lip service to the role of nature and natural ecosystems in the fight against climate change. While on the one hand signatories to various conventions commit to protecting nature, action on the ground through various development projects such as infrastructure, mining and agricultural development, often damage these natural systems, which include forests and wetlands.

In their stock-taking reports to the climate summit, governments must include the extent to which their interventions have either helped or damaged nature.

Climate change and nature are inextricably linked – nature is impacted by climate change but is also part of the solution. The ongoing development of a global plan to protect biodiversity – the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework – is a chance to optimise synergies for addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. The Biodiversity Summit (COP15) in Canada this December is one such chance.

In Sharm El-Sheikh, governments should demonstrate political will by committing finances to address climate change, while focusing on helping hard-hit communities from developing nations. They must also send a strong message about the need to put nature at the heart of climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The time for more promises and lofty statements is long gone, it is now time for action. OBP/DM

Khaled Elnoby is the CEO, Nature Conservation Egypt. Ken Mwathe is the Policy and Communications Coordinator, BirdLife International Africa.

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Maria Janse van Rensburg says:

    Birdlife International and its partners in various countries, is doing the important work of reaching out to communities, businesses and governments to find practical solutions to protect nature. It is one of the best Non-Governmental Organisations in the world and by focusing on the health of birdlife the world over, it is able to detect the factors that cause eco-systems to collapse and to work on solutions to try and reverse or at least halt these impacts. Governments should be red lining areas where no development must take place and protect those areas as National Key Points. The one factor that has a huge impact on nature, is population growth. The pressure on nature to give way is constant. It is unfair that thousands of other species have to make way and/or perish before the march of homo sapiens. Here the responsibility lies with women the world over to take the responsibility of bearing children much more seriously. It should not be an emotional decision, but a rational one. Not only for the sake of the child, but also for the sake of the planet. A disproportionate share of national budgets and donor funding is used to look after children whose birth was not seriously considered. Education and birth control options should be available on every corner for women to be able to take responsibility for this important decision. It will not only go a long way to prevent the suffering of millions of mothers and children, but also for the protection of mother nature.

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