Climate Change and Nature Conservation
What the World Land Trust is doing
By Professor Renton Righelato
Former Chairman of WLT Trustees
That the world overall is getting warmer is indisputable. Snowlines and icecaps are retreating, natural habitats are changing, often unpredictably, and sea levels are beginning to rise. There too is little doubt that the main culprit is our profligate use of fossil carbon, creating the main greenhouse gas* , carbon dioxide. And the problem has been exacerbated by the destruction of huge areas of forest, creating even more carbon dioxide and removing the best way we have of taking it back from the atmosphere.
|Sir David Attenborough, Patron of the WLT, about Carbon Balanced:
"I welcome WLT's new Carbon-balancing programme as a way of helping put back what we are taking away. I would urge everyone to think deeply about what is important in life and to consider the consequences of daily activities. Balancing your carbon emissions with the WLT means that we are able to put even more back in to our key objectives – acquiring land for conservation."
Global warming will affect all of us; indeed rising sea levels, desertification or other loss of agricultural land could result in many human populations around the globe being displaced. The same applies to the flora and fauna in natural habitats. So, as a charity concerned with nature conservation, the World Land Trust has developed a two-pronged approach:
- Regenerating and protecting forest land to remove carbon dioxide;
- Creating, where we can, wildlife refuges that can accommodate climate change.
Cutting carbon dioxide levels
A strategy for carbon emissions should firstly be based on using less carbon-derived energy – driving more gently and less frequently, using more efficient engines etc. Secondly we must develop alternative, carbon-free, energy sources. And thirdly create and maintain stable carbon sinks, which means protecting established forests and grasslands and the re-establishment of stable forests and steppes.
To address this issue which, ultimately, affects us all, WLT has a Carbon Balanced programme (www.eco-services.worldlandtrust.org/offsetting), which helps everyone - individuals and companies alike - measure their emissions, reduce where they can and offset their CO2 by supporting forest regeneration.
Some of our projects involve ecotourism to support local communities. We believe that, on balance, controlled ecotourism is less damaging than destructive use of forests.
Nature reserves policy and climate change
The possible impacts of climate change on potential new reserves is one of the many factors WLT takes into account to make its land purchases most effective. Of course, there is still a lot of uncertainty in climate change predictions, but there are some general points that can be made:
- The need for refuges for wildlife will grow as global warming squeezes suitable habitat into smaller areas and competition for land with grows
- Reserves covering a wide altitude range can offer the potential for flora and fauna to retreat to cooler, wetter or drier levels as the local climate changes. A good example of this is some of our recent purchases in Ecuador such as the Christopher Parsons Reserve.
- Low lying land close to the sea may be at particular risk and its capacity to enable habitats to retreat could be important.
- In many situations, protecting land may help mitigate the effects of climate change. For example, many of the projects we fund the protection of rainforest or regeneration of damaged forest (see for examples our projects). Work to recreate reefs and mangrove forests can lessen the impact of storms as well as binding carbon dioxide.
* Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas because of the sheer quantities released. Other gases such as methane and water vapour are more potent than carbon dioxide, but exist in the atmosphere at lower concentrations, or at relatively constant concentrations, compared to carbon dioxide. [Return to text]