The potential for climate change to have significant impacts on species and ecosystems in Australia and around the world is becoming very clear, leading governments and natural resource management groups to develop climate-ready conservation objectives.
5 July 2013
Understanding the implications of climate change on species, ecosystems and landscapes is vital in helping biodiversity managers develop strategies that can be implemented over time to deal with the magnitude of the changes that are anticipated and address risks and uncertainties. As this works at national through to local levels objectives are going to differ wildly. Some may incorporate large amounts of change into their strategies while others less. Some might have additional plans for alternative or uncertain futures. In an effort to help governments and natural resource management groups better define their conservation objectives CSIRO recently conducted the ‘Climate-ready conservation objectives’ project by reviewing international conservation conventions, national conservation strategies and State conservation strategies.
Joining me on the line to discuss this is CSIRO’s Doctor Mike Dunlop. Now, Mike, this sounds like a massive job and I really don’t know where you’d begin. What was your strategy for looking at their strategies?
Dr Mike Dunlop: Well, I guess the real beginning was about ten years ago when I took an interest in this area and have watched a number of conservation plans being developed at a national and State level across the country. I’ve been looking to see how they dealt with climate change over those years and while they’ve tried to incorporate climate change none of these strategies have actually asked the question of “Does climate change affect what we are trying to achieve?” By that, fundamentally what it means to conserve biodiversity. So we set out then to formally investigate this across those plans.
Glen Paul: And where did you go from there?
Dr Mike Dunlop: The first step was to do a bit of theory, if you like, to develop some criteria which we thought were a good way of measuring success, measuring how you might say that a strategy would be able to successfully accommodate climate change in the future. Then we just applied those criteria to a range of documents and also, in greater detail, we did some case studies with four different agencies where we worked through the criteria and their stated objectives.
Glen Paul: And were some doing more than others in preparation?
Dr Mike Dunlop: Yeah. Look, everyone is trying to respond to climate change and there was a considerable amount of variation in how successful that’s likely to be. We didn’t really set out to rate individual strategies or agencies, we wanted to learn about conservation decision making as a whole in Australia and so we used these as samples of the whole rather than to test individual agencies or strategies.
Glen Paul: Were there any elements within those samples where you felt perhaps they weren’t taking climate change seriously enough?
Dr Mike Dunlop: There were three criteria that we had; they focused on accommodating a large amount of ecological change rather than trying to keep things the same. The second one focused on accommodating a large amount of uncertainty in the detail of future ecological change, rather than just managing for a known outcome. The third one focused on managing to maintain a wide diversity of values associated with biodiversity as opposed to values, for example, just associated with particular species. All of the strategies and plans we looked at, to some extent, dealt with each one of these criteria but they didn’t really do it to the magnitude that would be necessary to accommodate climate change. In that sense there was some indication that there is capacity to address some of these issues but almost all the strategies were well embedded in what we call the static paradigm which doesn’t accommodate a large amount of change, doesn’t accommodate a large amount of uncertainty and they tend to focus on a narrow set of values from biodiversity.
Glen Paul: OK, so what about differing values from within objectives such as species versus ecosystems versus landscape?
Dr Mike Dunlop: All the documents talk about valuing species and managing ecosystems and landscapes but often where there was talk of managing ecosystems and landscapes it was for the sake of the species that live in those ecosystems and landscapes, rather than aspects of ecosystems that people value and aspects of landscapes that people value. So ecosystems and landscapes weren’t being managed for values that people appreciate about them, they were being managed because they provide habitat for species.
Glen Paul: What about planning for the uncertainties? How does that fit into it?
Dr Mike Dunlop: Well, the uncertainties come in because biodiversity is complicated, there’s lots of different species in any one ecosystem and climate change itself is complex, there’s many different factors to climate change ranging from increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, changes in the temperature in rainfall and changes in fire and other disturbance events. So all of these different changes will affect different species in different ways and those species will interact with each other in different ways and affecting ecosystems. We have a pretty good idea of the direction of some sorts of changes in some places but the actual detail of those and the rate of them and the actual outcome for particular species or the specific changes in ecosystems, we don’t know about them. It’s not a situation where a manager can say “We have a given ecosystem type here now and we know in the future it’s going to be a different ecosystem type and so we manage for that transition from current to the known future ecosystem type.” That won’t work because we don’t know exactly what the future one will be and so we have to be able to manage for the possibility of a range of different ecosystems or a range of different species being present.
Glen Paul: Now I understand the report has been made public. Can that be gained through www.csiro.au or is there a specific website?
Dr Mike Dunlop: It is from the NCCARF website, the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility website.
Glen Paul: OK, people can download it from there and hopefully policy makers make the right choices for the future. Thank you very much for talking to me about it today, Mike.
Dr Mike Dunlop: Thanks, Glen.
Glen Paul: Doctor Mike Dunlop.
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