Protected Areas: the “secret” natural solution to climate change

02 December 2011 | News story

Climate change is the greatest threat to biodiversity and human livelihoods, and one the most effective solutions are the world’s protected area systems, amomg them national parks and wilderness reserves. Not only do they help address the causes of climate change - the release of greenhouse gases, they also mitigate the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and everything that depends on healthy natural ecosystems.

Our existing protected areas store more than 15% of the world’s terrestrial carbon stock in tropical forests. There are opportunities to expand this storage by designing protected areas to conserve other carbon-rich ecosystems, like mangroves and seagrass beds, wetlands and peatlands, grasslands and drylands. Expanded protected area systems can also involve a much wider range of stakeholders, including governments, the private sector, indigenous peoples and local communities.

But there's more good news. Investment in protected areas also helps people, especially the most vulnerable and marginalised, to manage the unavoidable impacts of climate change. By maintaining intact and connected natural ecosystems, protected areas are effective in preserving crucial water and food supplies, including marine and coastal fisheries, preventing or reducing the impacts of disasters like floods and storm surges, controlling alien invasive organisms and contributing to human health and well-being.

The benefits of protected areas in dealing with climate change were summarized for the first time in Natural Solutions, a joint publication of IUCN and its World Commission on Protected Areas and other organizations, published in 2009. IUCN has received many requests to make this publication available in other languages.

"We are delighted to announce that with the support of GiZ and Parks Canada, we have completed our project to produce full length French and Spanish versions of Natural Solutions. These are being launched at the UN climate change conference in Durban today," says Trevor Sandwith, Director of IUCN's Global Protected Areas Programme.

"A new summary document, in the three languages is now available in booklet form and on the web. Our original partners, UNDP and the World Bank, have helped produce new summary flyers, that are easily downloaded and printable, for use in communicating the important conclusions of the study."

The potential of natural solutions to combat climate change is gaining international attention. Two leading journals, Oryx and Solutions, have recently published papers on the subject.

"We must spread the word," says Sandwith. "Protected area systems are making an enormous contribution to helping the world deal with climate change, and investment in protected area systems and those that look after them is a smart, cost-effective choice for climate change mitigation and adaptation."

For more information contact: 
Delwyn Dupuis, IUCN Protected Areas Programme delwyn.dupuis@iucn.org