Managing ecosystems in the context of climate change mitigation: a review of current knowledge and recommendations to support ecosystem-based mitigation actions that look beyond terrestrial forests.

Published online
25 Jan 2017
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Epple, C. & García Rangel, S. & Jenkins, M. & Guth, M.

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Ecosystem management can play an important role in climate change mitigation and adaptation if current practices are evaluated and improved to move towards sustainability. Terrestrial and coastal ecosystems store more than five times as much organic carbon as there is carbon in the atmosphere, whilst net emissions from land cover change and ecosystem degradation are responsible for about 10% of the total yearly anthropogenic carbon emissions. Sustainable land use practices that maintain carbon stocks or enhance sequestration can provide a range of additional benefits that are crucial for sustainable development. Parties to the CBD have decided to promote the implementation of ecosystem-based approaches for climate change mitigation including the conservation, sustainable management and restoration of natural forests, grasslands, peatlands, mangroves, salt marshes1 and seagrass beds. Aichi Target 15 calls on Parties to enhance ecosystem resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation. This review summarizes current knowledge on the potential of ecosystems beyond terrestrial forests to contribute to climate change mitigation. It provides information on the capacity of existing management techniques for peatlands, grasslands and savannahs, coastal ecosystems and croplands to sustain and enhance carbon stocks and carbon sequestration. Recommendations are made for maximizing synergies with climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction, sustainable development, environmental protection and biodiversity conservation, including through landscape-scale approaches that take into account the legitimate interests, knowledge and capacities of all stakeholders. Available evidence concerning the importance of biodiversity for ecosystem resilience and functioning, and thus the long-term effectiveness of ecosystem-based mitigation actions, is also presented. A key message from this study is that knowledge is already available to guide concrete planning and target setting regarding ecosystem-based approaches to climate change mitigation. Relevant information has been compiled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), donor-funded projects, certification schemes and voluntary project standards. Lessons learned from climate change policies and actions targeting forests can inform actions related to other ecosystems. A recommended first step in designing ecosystem-based mitigation approaches is to assess the extent and drivers of the degradation and conversion of ecosystems, together with opportunities for their restoration and sustainable use. Planning at landscape level, as well as active stakeholder engagement, can help to develop efficient and effective measures. A review of incentives related to land use can detect opportunities to make climate-friendly forms of management more economically viable. Donors who are interested in supporting integrated land management may wish to invest in the collection of regionally specific baseline data for the planning of mitigation and adaptation actions based on ecosystems. While many ecosystem-based mitigation measures can provide win-win solutions, some forms of ecosystem management such as afforestation of, or biofuel cultivation on, peatlands and natural grasslands may also pose significant risks. Thus, likely outcomes of such actions need to be carefully assessed to avoid unintended consequences for climate change mitigation and adaptation, disaster risk reduction, biodiversity conservation and local livelihood conditions. We anticipate that the information provided in this document can support Parties in their implementation of CBD Decision X/33, as well as in their efforts to achieve Aichi Target 15.

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