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Publication of the IPCC report on Climate Change (March 2014)

Posted: Monday 31st March 2014 by TheWildlifeTrustsBlogger

Recreated saltmarsh habitat on the Essex Coast - projects like this (undertaken by Essex Wildlife Trust) can help with climate change adaptation (photo: Terry Whittaker/2020Vision)

The Wildlife Trusts' Steve Trotter looks at the latest findings of the International Panel on Climate Change (as published today 31 March 2014): 'Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability'.

Download a copy of the summary report: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

This Report is critically important for everyone and it should ring alarm bells amongst politicians and decision-makers. It clearly shows that society needs to act – and to act decisively and quickly if we are to cope with climate change. It must bring an added sense of urgency to the way we tackle the problems that society, wildlife and people face in a changing and uncertain world.

The body of scientific observations is now overwhelming. The Report summarises the contributions of more than 1700 scientists and reviewers and finds that ‘the effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans’. This is scary stuff. The impacts are being felt on habitats, species and people across the UK – and The Wildlife Trusts believe we urgently need solutions which help the natural world to be more resilient.

While the planet and nature could quite happily thrive without humanity, people cannot live without nature. Not only do we need to minimise our emissions but we must urgently plan and learn to adapt to the climate change that is already in the pipeline as a consequence of the carbon dioxide pollution we’ve already pumped into the atmosphere.

The Report is clear: ‘there are opportunities to respond to such risks, though the risks will be difficult to manage with high levels of warming’. It continues: ‘responding to climate change involves making choices about risks in a changing world. The nature of the risks of climate change is increasingly clear, though climate change will also continue to produce surprises ... It finds that risk from a changing climate comes from vulnerability (lack of preparedness) and exposure (people or assets in harm’s way) overlapping with hazards (triggering climate events or trends). Each of these three components can be a target for smart actions to decrease risk.’

Adaptation can play a key role in decreasing these risks and there is much from our own experience that can play an important role in finding cost-effective ‘smart solutions’ that make sense for people, the economy and wildlife.

In recent months, two events illustrate the point.

Take the tragic deaths of thousands of seabirds this winter, for example. It is impossible at this stage to predict the long-term impact of this winter’s bad weather on seabird populations but we can say that these birds are under considerable stress which will make them even more vulnerable to climate change – and future events. We need to create a coherent network of marine protected areas which will provide a more sustainable and dependable supply of fish – both for birds and for fishermen.

On land, we are in urgent need of better planning to adapt to future weather events, such as flooding and drought. There has never been a stronger incentive to re-think our relationship with water and whilst we need a range of solutions to reduce the impacts of extreme weather events, the way we manage the landscape can make a big difference. Government must invest in improving the water-holding capacity of the land, making more room for water in urban and rural areas to protect people, homes, businesses and wildlife. Working with nature, not against it, is key – it makes good sense in terms of climate change adaptation, wildlife and its better for people too.

You can read more about Wildlife Trust projects to tackle flooding using natural solutions, from the rooftops of Wales where we are restoring degraded peatland habitats in the Cambrian mountains to increase their ability to store rainwater to projects that design water storage into housing projects and developments.

Actually getting to grips with tackling climate change and reducing our environmental impact at a scale more proportionate to the challenge we face will have to involve rebuilding our relationship with nature. Amidst the risk and very real concerns for the world we are creating for future generations, we need to also be thinking about how we can start to find a much more prominent place for nature in the way our society works now – within our public health system, within our schools, within our economy. According to UNICEF the UK's children are the unhappiest in the developed world and in interviews they consistently state that having access to outdoor space to play will help them be happier. We need to find ways to give all children regular access to nature. Wildlife Trusts are also increasingly working with local health care providers to provide access to nature as a form of ‘ecotherapy’. In 2013 Tees Valley Wildlife Trust concluded a six year study into the mental health benefits of volunteering and has developed partnerships with local GPs. Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Coastal Discovery Project and Avon Wildlife Trust’s Communities and Nature programme are further examples of ecotherapy projects – where Wildlife Trust offering outdoor activities and time spent in nature as part of the therapeutic process.

We must face up to the problems that climate change is causing now and is likely to create in future. We need to reduce emissions and learn to adapt by finding smart and sustainable solutions which work with rather than against natural processes.

Working with the natural environment to find solutions makes sense because:
 It works
 It’s usually cheaper and smarter use of resources
 It’s sustainable and easier to maintain
 It brings multiple benefits to people, the economy, health and wellbeing
 It benefits wildlife and adds to everyone’s quality of life.

There is still an opportunity for us to avoid the worst but for how long….
 

Steve Trotter is The Wildlife Trusts' Director of England. 

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