Environmental activists promoting the use of solar and wind power engage with locals on the Durban beachfront yesterday. Picture: Reuters

Mercury Reporter

A plea for nature to be given a chance to help in the fight against climate change has come from one of the world’s most influential environmental movements.

In a statement directed at the 17th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP17) in Durban, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says governments cannot ignore the immediate and effective role that nature plays in stemming the impact of climate change. One of the key issues is how to make the best use of nature-based solutions in reducing harmful climate change.

“Ecosystem-based adaptation is a cost-effective, no-regrets solution that governments ought to incorporate into national policies and take immediate action to implement on the ground,” says Stewart Maginnis, the director of the IUCN’s Environment and Development Group.

“Improving the management of river systems, coral reefs, mangroves and forests all tangibly improve the resilience of people’s livelihoods, as they deal with the sudden and long-term consequences of climate change.”

There is evidence that appropriate management of nature helps to reduce the vulnerability of people to the threats posed by climate change. Protecting natural ecosystems also helps to slow the rate of climate change by capturing and storing large amounts of carbon.

Trevor Sandwith, the director of the IUCN’s Global Protected Areas Programme, says investments and commitments made by governments to conserve biodiversity in intact ecosystems, including through protected areas, is a win-win solution that is cost-effective and applicable where it really matters, at a local level by indigenous peoples, local communities, and especially women.

The IUCN, a coalition of the world’s leading environmental organisations and a large number of scientists, says one of the most advanced options for fighting climate change is a forest-based protection programme to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, known as REDD+.

“We must accelerate the implementation of an environmentally sound and socially equitable REDD+ mechanism at a national level.

“The industrialised world needs to remove bottlenecks currently holding up the flow of promised resources, and tropical countries need to seize this moment to strengthen and, above all, avoid weakening existing legislation and policies that will enable fast-start action on REDD+,” it says.

Other natural systems it says offer governments practical nature-based options in the fight against climate change are coastal and marine ecosystems, as well as the world’s grasslands and drylands. These systems are also the resources on which millions of people depend every day for water, food and safety.

Edmund Barrow, the head of the IUCN’s Ecosystem Management Programme, says people often do not realise just how effective nature can be in tackling the effects of climate change. The challenge is to find the most appropriate and sustainable ways to manage and use these resources.