26 January 2012
Differences in the speed with which species are adapting to climate change are an increasing threat to the functioning of ecosystems. This is just one of the findings of Natural England’s Climate Change Risk Assessment and Adaptation Plan published today.
The report also identifies mountain, coastal and wetland areas as being particularly at risk due to their vulnerability to a range of factors linked to climate change including warmer temperatures, decreased rain fall and sea level rise. A five year adaptation plan has been formulated to help address the threats identified.
From changing phenology and species ranges to ocean acidification the direct impacts of climate change on the natural environment are already being observed. Future responses to climate change could profoundly affect the natural environment in positive or negative ways. These changes present threats and offer potential opportunities for Natural England in its role of protecting and enhancing the natural environment.
The Climate Change Act 2008 introduced a new power for the Secretary of State at Defra to direct providers of public services to prepare reports on how they are assessing and acting on the risks and opportunities arising from a changing climate. Natural England is voluntarily reporting under this framework.
These Adaptation Reporting Power (ARP) reports complement the wider sector based Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) that has recently been published, and will be used to inform the development of a National Adaptation Programme (NAP).
The report Natural England’s climate change risk assessment and adaptation plan highlights that climate change driven threats fall into three distinct categories:
direct effects on species and their interactions that threaten the ability to protect species and ecosystems;
Indirect threats mediated through responses of government, society and individuals, for example greater competition for land and water, global effects of climate change leading to increases in commodity prices and a subsequent pressure for agricultural intensification
actions to promote mitigation and adaptation in other sectors if consideration is not given to their effects on the natural environment.
An important conclusion is that the threats will not be uniform and there are some areas in which multiple risks appear likely and my interact. These include coastal areas with soft coastlines such as dunes, and coastal wetlands; freshwater ecosystems such as rivers, lakes and wetlands; upland and lowland peatland; historic parklands and other woodland areas, and high upland areas. This finding reinforces the view that wetland, montane and coastal systems appear particularly vulnerable in the short term.
To address the threats we have identified, a five year Adaptation Plan has been developed, with specific commitments for different areas of our work.
The plan is based on three principles;
an adaptive management approach - measures will be regularly reviewed and lessons learnt for future work;
an ecosystem approach - we will consider the full range of ecosystem services a healthy natural environment provides to people
broad delivery partnerships to safeguard and enhance environmental benefits, involving government agencies, local authorities, non-government organisations, land managers and local community groups.
The report also highlights actions which reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (such as preventing further deterioration of peatlands) or by promote carbon sequestration (e.g. through tree planting; conversion to permanent pasture; peatland restoration and protection of soil carbon).
In November 2010 we published an interim report Assessing and responding to climate risks to Natural England’s objectives which describes the processes we put in place to assess climate risks to our corporate objectives and to identify and implement appropriate responses.