What wildlife conservation has to do with the climate crisis: adaptation

Biodiverse ecosystems don’t just mitigate climate change but protect us from its devastation. The impacts of rising temperatures are already clear to see – whether through flooding, wildfires, droughts, landslides or desertification. If we look after nature, it can help humanity survive.

‘Ecosystem-based adaptation’ is a strategy for adapting to global heating that harnesses natural solutions. Not only are these often win-win, also mitigating climate change and benefitting society through services such as food and freshwater security, but data is already showing them to be more effective at protecting us from extreme weather than man-made defences.

Here are two examples of this concept made reality, through Whitley Award-winning work:


Whitley Award winner Jean Wiener in Haiti

Warming temperatures are causing glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise. In 30 years’ time, sea levels could be so high that 300 million people in coastal communities will face severe floods at least once a year.1 But healthy coastal ecosystems can help.

Habitats such as mangroves and coral reefs cause waves to break before they hit the shore, lowering both the force and height of the swell. The UN Environment Programme reports that, across 52 sites, natural habitats were found to be 2-5 times more cost-effective than engineered structures when it came to lowering wave heights.2

Whitley Award winner Jean Wiener replanting mangroves in Haiti

Whitley Gold Award winner Jean Wiener has spent 30 years working with coastal communities in Haiti. As part of his approach, he and local people have replanted 40,000 mangroves. With rising sea levels and more extreme, more frequent storms making landfall, Haiti is on the frontline of the climate crisis. But Jean’s mangrove restoration is making the island more resilient.


In addition the mangroves are benefiting marine life by acting as nursey grounds, as well as the communities who rely on fishing for their food and livelihoods. They are also sequestering carbon at five times the rate of tropical forests.3


Whitley Award winner Gargi Banjeri in the Himalayas

The erratic weather patterns caused by climate change are already exacerbating flooding and landslides in many parts of the world. With the frequency of extreme precipitation events set to double at 2C heating,4 there is an urgent need to restore ecosystems capable of dealing with them.

The Himalayan region is a Biodiversity Hotspot, and provides resources, ecosystem services and livelihoods for billions of people. However, this fragile mountain environment has been swiftly degraded through uncontrolled development, logging and mining. The result is largescale loss of biodiversity, compromised food and water security, plus floods and landslides that are already resulting in loss of human lives.

Whitley Award winner Gargi Banjeri oversees training in the Himalayas

Whitley Award winner Gargi Banerji is working with governments to make sure ecosystem-based disaster reduction strategies are included their planning. All landslides are caused by loose soil, so Gargi provides training in techniques for restoring and maintaining vegetation cover to stabilise mountainsides, which both absorbs more water and also anchors soil in place.

Through green infrastructure she hopes to build the area’s resilience to natural disasters, particularly in critical zones identified by her community monitoring teams.

Whitley award winner Gargi Banjeri at the Asian disaster risk mitigation conference

Only 1% of global climate finance is spent on adaptation,5 but nature is our best ally in this emergency. If you are in a position to donate, you can help WFN channel more support to grassroots action that’s already making a difference on the ground. Thank you.

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