Natural Solutions: protected areas helping people cope with climate change

Posted on 08 December 2009
Cover page for Natural Solutions: protected areas helping people cope with climate change
Climate change poses an unprecedented level of threat to life on the planet. The facts are well known. Atmospheric greenhouse gases are creating warmer temperatures, ice melt, sea-level rise and an unpredictable climate, with a range of extremely serious and hard-to-predict consequences.

But serious as the situation has now become, much can still be done to reduce the problems created by climate change. “Natural Solutions” focuses on the role that protected areas can play in mitigating and adapting to climate change; a set of options that so far has been under-represented in global response strategies. In the rush for “new” solutions to climate change, we are in danger of neglecting a proven alternative.

Protected areas are an essential part of the global response to climate change. They are helping address the cause of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They are helping society cope with climate change impacts by maintaining essential services upon which people depend. Without them, the challenges would be even greater, and their strengthening will yield one of the most powerful natural solutions to the climate crisis.

Some of the facts:
  • Fifteen percent of the world’s terrestrial carbon stock - 312 gigatonnes - are stored in protected areas around the world.
  • In Canada, over 4,000 million tons of carbon dioxide is sequestered in 39 national parks, estimated to be worth $39-87 billion in carbon credits.
  • In the Brazilian Amazon, protected lands are expected to prevent 670,000 km² of deforestation by 2050, representing 8 billion tons of avoided carbon emissions.

Protected areas also serve as natural buffers against climate impacts and other disasters, providing space for floodwaters to disperse, stabilizing soil against landslides and blocking storm surges. It has been estimated that coastal wetlands in the United States provide $23.2 billion a year in protection against flooding from hurricanes.

And protected areas can keep natural resources healthy and productive so they can withstand the impacts of climate change and continue to provide the food, clean water, shelter and income communities rely upon for survival. Thirty three of the world’s 100 largest cities derive their drinking water from catchments within forest protected areas.