Conservation in a time of rapid climate change

Conservationists beware: climate change is not some abstract concept thought up by lofty professors, it is a reality that affects you.1-IMG_0444

This was the message from Professor Camille Parmesan, co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007. She delivered a key note lecture on climate change at Wits Rural near Hoedspruit, on Tuesday 23 September. Hosted by the Global Change and Sustainability Research Institute (GCSRI), her talk was titled: “Conservation in a time of rapid climate change”.

In her lecture, she highlighted that climate change significantly impacts wildlife and consequently, the wildlife economy, a key economic driver for Hoedspruit and neighbouring towns.

She noted that while certain species adapt well to climate change, it is a challenge for others as different species are affected in different ways.  As a result of this, the conservation sector needs to play a proactive role in addressing climate change through traditional conservation practices, managing protected areas appropriately, restoring habitats, assisted colonization (moving species from their current threatened location to a new and conducive location and increasing habitat connectivity), adaptive management and citizen science.

Over the years, the renowned professor has contributed immensely to research around issues relating to climate change, and in particular studies on the impact of climate change on wildlife. She was amongst the first to demonstrate that species are shifting their natural ranges in response to changes in temperature.

Researchers from the Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD) attended the lecture, which spoke directly to the work that AWARD is doing under the USAID-funded Resilience in the Limpopo River Basin (Olifants) project (RESILIM O).

USAID: RESILIM O aims to improve how the Olifants River Basin is managed, with a key outcome being to increase knowledge and understanding of resource management, climate change resilience and biodiversity conservation, because “healthy systems promote more resilience to climate change,” AWARD’s Dr. Marisa Coetzee, who leads the biodiversity and conservation planning work being done under USAID: RESILIM O.

“Part of our mandate is to improve natural resource management practices that mitigate threats to biodiversity and ecological integrity, and create resilience to climate change,” she explains.

The professor’s visit was significant for AWARD as it helped to unpack the evidence for ecological synergies under climate change, while acknowledging the uncertainty associated with climate change.

“She stressed that at present, climate change ‘hot spot‘ areas will remain unstable and new ‘hot spot’ areas will emerge,” says Manuel Magombeyi, researcher at AWARD. Her talk also gave an overview of the global velocity of climate change, successful case studies on climate change adaptation and conservation solutions that include protected areas.

Parmesan’s lecture was a learning opportunity for the community, game reserve staff, university researchers and students, and junior USAID: RESILIM O team members. “It’s a global issue – but the impacts are experienced especially at local level. We need to understand the potential impacts of climate change, vulnerabilities and risk-reduction approaches to increase the capacity of individuals to adapt to impacts of climate change,” says Coetzee.

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