Encouraging diversity to tackle climate change

3rd February 2019

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Greater diversity in nature based solutions is needed to tackle climate change says Wadham Fellow Nathalie Seddon.

  • Example of a monoculture forest

  • Example of a monoculture forest

  • Professor Nathalie Seddon is Tutorial Fellow in Biology at Wadham College

    Professor Nathalie Seddon is Tutorial Fellow in Biology at Wadham College

Commenting on the current narrow focus on afforestation in climate policy, Nathalie and a team of Oxford scientists stress the importance of maintaining diverse, intact, natural ecosystems in an article published in Nature Climate Change this month.

“In the fight against climate change, forests make excellent allies. However, unless a diversity of species-rich resilient ecosystems are restored and protected — guided by science and implemented through local stewardship — the battle cannot be won,” she writes.

A concentration on afforestation in climate policy runs the risk of compromising long-term carbon storage, human adaptation and efforts to preserve biodiversity. An emphasis on diverse, intact natural ecosystems — as opposed to fast-growing tree plantations — will help nations to deliver Paris Agreement goals and much more they say.

The idea that natural ecosystems can help us fight both the drivers and impacts of climate change has been gaining traction over recent years, including recent emphasis in the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report.

In particular, the Paris Agreement on climate change calls on all parties to acknowledge “the importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems, including oceans, and the protection of biodiversity, recognized by some cultures as Mother Earth”, and 66% of signatories to the agreement commit to ‘green’ or ‘nature-based solutions’ in their climate pledges.

The researchers claim that high-level pledges for ‘nature’ tend to translate into targets for afforestation, often monocultures with non-native species, which can, over the long-term, produce maladaptation to climate change, compromise carbon storage and negatively impact biodiversity and sustainable development in general. Intact forests have been estimated to hold more carbon than degraded forests. To enable long-term carbon storage mitigation, policy must move away from encouraging single-species plantations

According to recent research, grasslands, wetlands, agricultural lands, mangroves and peatlands all act as carbon stores which barely feature in climate change policy. Moreover, some of these important, naturally treeless habitats are threatened by afforestation.

While the understanding of the role that biodiversity at all levels, including a diversity of habitats, can play in mitigating and adapting to climate change is growing rapidly, policy development and implementation for climate change and biodiversity remain largely separate. The result is a lack of robust targets for nature in climate pledges, beyond areas of forest to be planted or restored.

“We call on scientists studying biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services to fully engage with and inform the process by which high-level pledges are translated into on-the-ground actions.,” said Nathalie.