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Biodiversity and Climate Change

In a nutshell

We cannot address biodiversity loss without tackling climate change, but it is equally impossible to tackle climate change without addressing biodiversity loss. Protecting and restoring ecosystems can help us reduce the extent of climate change and cope with its impact.

In practice

Climate change could undermine our efforts for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. We need to help biodiversity adapt to changing temperature and water regimes and we have to prevent, minimise and offset any potential damages to biodiversity arising from climate change adaptation and mitigation measures.

The Commission White Paper on Adapting to Climate Change – Towards a European Framework for Action (April 2009) and the EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change both recognised the importance of ecosystems in tackling climate change. The White Paper encouraged the development of "measures which address biodiversity loss and climate change in an integrated manner to fully exploit co-benefits and avoid ecosystem feedbacks that accelerate global warming".

Protecting biodiversity can help us adapt to climate change. Healthy ecosystems will be more resilient to climate change and so more able to maintain the supply of ecosystem services on which our prosperity and wellbeing depend. Ecosystems-based approaches should be an integral part of the overall adaptation and mitigation effort. We can, for instance, ensure the effective management and restoration of Natura 2000 areas, working with- rather than against – nature.

The impacts of climate change on man are largely mediated by natural systems. Climate change will significantly affect economies and societies through its impacts on ecosystems.

Healthy ecosystems must lie at the centre of any adaptation policy and can help mitigate climate change impacts, by absorbing excess flood water or buffering us against coastal erosion or extreme weather events. Forests, peatlands and other habitats are major stores of carbon. Protecting them can also help us limit atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

Consequently 'conventional' pressures that cause the fragmentation, degradation, over-exploitation and pollution of ecosystems must be reduced ('ecosystem climate-proofing'). This is why we have a strategy to reconnect natural areas using green infrastructure to restore the health of ecosystems and allow species to thrive across their entire natural habitat. The underlying principle of green infrastructure is that the same area of land can frequently offer multiple benefits if its ecosystems are healthy.

Biodiversity climate change adaptation tools, such as flyways, buffer zones, corridors and stepping stones, enhance the coherence and interconnectivity in Europe.

Climate change and Natura 2000

An effectively managed, functionally coherent and well-connected Natura 2000 Network can play a vital role in helping society adapt to, and mitigate, the impacts of climate change.

A guidance document presents the latest scientific information on the risks posed by climate change to species and habitat types of EU conservation concern. It also provides advice, supported by good practice examples, on how to deal with the impact of climate change when managing Natura 2000 sites. It is primarily addressed to site managers and policy makers.

A supplement has been developed to assess the vulnerability of Natura 2000 species and habitats. This supplement is based on best available knowledge. Caution is advised in the use and interpretation of the results: for many species, no or little information is available on the impacts of climate change; for habitats, most of the assessment is based on expert knowledge.

  • Guidelines supplement: assessment of the vulnerability of species and habitats of Community Interest to climate change

For more information

Discover how water management can help us adapt to climate change.

Find out more about the EU action on adaptation to climate change.

Read our factsheet on nature's role in climate change (August 2009).

Discover the Rio Conventions' Ecosystems and Climate Change Pavilion, a platform to raise awareness and share information about the latest practices and scientific findings on the synergies that can be realized through implementation of the three Rio Conventions. (Factsheet)

Impacts of climate change and selected renewable energy infrastructures on EU Biodiversity and the Natura 2000 network (Summary report)

Assessing the potential of ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation and mitigation in Europe (Final report)

"Towards a Strategy on Climate Change, Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity (Discussion paper)

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