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14.7: Combatting Climate Change Through Ecosystem Conservation

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    Complex natural ecosystems play an important role in mitigating the destructive effects of climate change. Prominently, living plants sequester greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (Zarin et al., 2015); in contrast, their loss due to habitat loss increases greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have also shown how ecosystems with high complexity (Betts et al. 2018) and species diversity (Mokany et al., 2014; Isbell et al., 2015) are better buffered against climate change. Lastly, by maintaining and restoring carbon-sequestering ecosystems, we also provide opportunities for climate-sensitive species to persist despite the threat of climate change pace.

    One of the foremost initiatives aimed at combating climate change through ecosystem conservation and restoration is known as the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+, program. Set up by the UN, REDD+ provides financial incentives to local communities and landowners that make conservation of carbon-sequestering ecosystems worth more than destroying them. Funding for REDD+ is obtained through carbon trading programs, in which individuals and organizations looking to offset their emissions buy carbon credits. The funds obtained through REDD+ are then invested in initiatives that promote ecological restoration and reduce local dependence of intact ecosystems by creating alternative income streams such as sustainable crop, timber, honey, milk, and meat production.

    The original aim of REDD+ was to safeguard primary old-growth forests, but the diversity of goals set out by REDD+ also include improving ecosystem connectivity, protecting threatened species, and preventing further loss and degradation of carbon-sequestering ecosystems other than forests.

    Yet the future of these opportunities is not secure. Concerns exist regarding the effectiveness of REDD+ programs, much of which is based on problematic implementation, long-term funding security, lack of monitoring, and lack of concrete conservation goals (Phelps et al., 2011; Panfil and Harvey. 2015; Fletcher et al., 2016). For example, there are concerns that REDD+ programs can develop into a form of perverse subsidies, such as when native vegetation is cleared to establish plantations (Figure 14.7.1) with trees that have a high risk of becoming invasive (Lindenmayer et al., 2012). Similarly, there are concerns about the strong emphasis on forests, possibly at the expense of other important ecosystems and ecosystem services (Bond, 2016). Conservation biologists continue to be hopeful that REDD+, as with the range of approaches described in this chapter, will provide opportunities for land managers and scientists to successfully protect and restore biodiversity now and into the future.

    Figure 14.7.1 The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program aims to promote forest conservation by paying landowners to protect forests on their lands. However, there are concerns that some REDD+ funds have become a form of perverse subsidies, for example when native vegetation is cleared to establish plantations of invasive trees. To ensure program sustainability, it is important to strike a balance between meeting short-term development goals and ensuring the protection of a complex and adaptable biological landscape that can provide a variety of ecosystem services over the long term. Photographs by Johnny Wilson, CC BY 4.0.

    This page titled 14.7: Combatting Climate Change Through Ecosystem Conservation is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by John W. Wilson & Richard B. Primack (Open Book Publishers) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.