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Adaptation and biodiversity synergies

In Africa, forests play key roles in supporting national economies, provide valuable ecosystem services, mitigate climate impacts and should play major roles in national development strategies.

Adaptation to Climate Change in Africa: Synergies with biodiversity and forests

Johnson Nkem (1), Monica Idinoba (1), Maria Brockhaus (1), Fobisse Kalame (1), Adriaan Tas (2)

1Tropical Forests and Climate Change Adaptation (TroFCCA), Center for International Forestry Research 2Stockholm Environment Institute


Forests play key roles in supporting national economic activities and providing livelihood portfolios for many in Africa. They provide valuable ecosystem services like climate regulation, hazard protection, water conservation, and also affordable goods like fuelwood, foods and nutritional supplements, and medicinal products etc. most of which depend on biodiversity. They are at the frontline in mitigating climate impacts on Africa by reducing exposures to scourging heat, dust storms and floods. Inarguably, forests should play major roles in national development strategies and be the entry point for climate change adaptation in Africa.


Climate change, biodiversity and forest loss are cross-cutting issues that need to be addressed simultaneously and urgently for adaptation in Africa especially with other emerging global challenges fueling food crisis. The same drivers of biodiversity loss in Africa are also largely responsible for the vulnerability to climate change, most importantly drought, poverty, low institutional capacities, and inappropriate policies with preferences for short-term economic gains. The synergy between adaptation to climate change and biodiversity conservation requires a unifying strategy to enhance the sustainability of the forest resource pools on which poor communities directly depend for their livelihoods. This approach has recently been acknowledged in discussions on cooperation between conventions within the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Both of which have stressed the need for common approaches to their national implementation, which also provides a cost-saving option for African countries.

In spite of the frequency of drought disaster in several parts of Africa, there are no national or regional institutional structures for climate change adaptation, and for biodiversity conservation except in designated protected areas, like there is for food and water in response to drought and desertification. The role of biodiversity and the integration of biodiversity conservation into climate change adaptation programs remain insufficiently addressed.

Tropical forests weave most of African landscape and provide shelter for other ecosystems but they are currently experiencing rapid deforestation and degradation with significant reduction in forest cover and fragmentation across the landscape. Over 4 million ha/yr of forest in Africa is estimated to be lost annually since 2000. Carbon emissions resulting from this annual loss in forest and other vegetation are estimated to range from 440 to over 1200 Mt CO2/yr in sub-Saharan Africa (IPCC (2007).

As an ecosystem providing livelihood opportunities for over 1.6 billion people worldwide living in extreme poverty (e.g. water, household energy, foods and healthcare medicines) (UNCCD et al, 2004), forest is also an indispensable asset for designing poverty reduction strategies and contributing to the realization of some of the other MDGs in developing countries.

Forest ecosystems in tropical Africa are important repositories for vital livelihood resources and ecosystem services, and, at the same time, constitute major wildlife habitats including corridors for transmigrations. The biodiversity of tropical forests in Africa is being threatened by climate change and extreme climatic events, and by a range of human activities, including those in response to climate change pressures, like over-exploitation for fuel wood, food, medicinal plants, overgrazing, water catchment and river channel destructions. Such activities have resulted in habitat modifications and the loss of endemic species and have also endangered other species.

Several studies and predictive models have strongly emphasized the vulnerability of African tropical forest biodiversity to various climate change scenarios, and the resulting direct consequences on wildlife population and the livelihoods of humans. Such loss in biodiversity predisposes the region disproportionately and amplifies its vulnerability to climate change impacts. According to the IPCC1, although there are some conservation plans for ecosystems and biodiversity implementation in many parts of the world, these plans have failed to consider current and projected climate change impacts. Conservation of biodiversity is strongly targeted at protected areas, yet adaptation options need to be designed and executed outside these areas. Climate change adaptation strategies in Africa should therefore simultaneously have an integrative plan for biodiversity conservation and livelihood adaptation strategies that match local resource use patterns without jeopardizing the resilience of the forest ecosystem to climate change impacts.

Recommendations for synergies with biodiversity and forests

  1. It is important to recognise the linkages between biodiversity loss and vulnerability to climate change in Africa, and how these could exacerbate poverty and compromise food security;
  2. Adaptation strategies should encourage the conservation of habitats and biodiversity (fauna and flora) that underlies livelihood adaptation especially in rural areas;
  3. There is need to provide and support participatory and open multi-stakeholders discussion platform that encourages the integration of biodiversity conservation into mainstream climate change adaptation strategies, and beyond protected areas.
  4. It is essential to build the capacities of actors, sectors and institutions in their use and management of multiple forest resources across scales (local, national and regional) and over time in order to balance economic growth and livelihood adaptation while ensuring the resilience of the forest ecosystem to climate change.
  5. Implementing institutional arrangements and governance structures that promote synergy in the planning and implementation of agro-ecosystems and forestry programmes for mitigation and adaptation projects to derive maximum benefit to the environment as well as the local communities or economies;
  6. Encourage afforestation and reforestation programmes that are in compliance with climate, community and biodiversity standards;
  7. Building regional institutional capacity and decision-support systems for managing transboundary resources that ensure quality, regulation capacity and demand in the use of resources
  8. Planning management strategies that are long-term and dynamic, and which encourage the sharing of information, intelligence and experiences in tracking natural resource flow across territorial boundaries in curbing illegal trade and practices that affect biodiversity conservation and adaptation.
  9. Integrating landscape approaching in land use management to avoid maladaptation in other sectors and section of the communities
  10. The identification and implementation of action for adaptation at the local level needs informed and connected actors, with flexible institutional environment to find local responses to climate change and to maintain resilience and enhance the adaptive capacity of actors and institutions in the governance structures.

Significance of linking adaptation with biodiversity and forests

  • The linkages between livelihood benefits of biodiversity conservation and climate change adaptation could serve as incentives for change of practices like bush burning and overgrazing that could result in maladaptation.
  • A space for a direct impact in policy implementation is expected as new forest governance reform schemes are currently ongoing in Africa (FLEG).
  • Building climate change adaptation capacity into transboundary resource management strategic plans will reinforce regional initiatives such as wildlife corridors (e.g. Northern Savannah Biodiversity Conservation Project), river basin authorities (e.g. Nile, Niger Rivers), and forest management (e.g. Congo Basin Forests) in response to climate variability in Africa.
  • Integrating biodiversity conservation strategies into mainstream forestry and climate change adaptation programmes will permit the communities directly involved to appraise the performance of climate change adaptation strategies in terms of both livelihood and biodiversity outcomes.
  • Cross-national collaborations will be facilitated through networking and the identification of best practices in various regions, and sharing of experiences, information of those who have been.
  • Building on initiatives that commonly contribute to the implementation of the CBD and the UNFCCC, including the process of national adaptation programmes of action (NAPAs) and the framework for achieving the 2010 targets set at the Conference of Parties of the CBD2 in 2002.
  • Building biodiversity assessment and management capacity of local communities to enhance their adaptive capacities to climate change especially under the new forest governance reform programmes currently in most countries in the region.


1: IPCC Technical Paper V (2002) Climate Change and Biodiversity

2: Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2006) Global Biodiversity Outlook 2

This note was prepared as a contribution to the scoping paper on adaptation in Africa prepared by SEI and UNEP for the African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN) 2008.

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