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Maximizing the effectiveness of national commitments to protected area expansion for conserving biodiversity and ecosystem carbon under climate change

Carroll, C. et al. | Global Change Biology | 2021

Abstract

Global commitments to protected area expansion should prioritize opportunities to protect climate refugia and ecosystems which store high levels of irrecoverable carbon, as key components of an effective response to biodiversity loss and climate change. The United States and Canada are responsible for one-sixth of global greenhouse gas emissions but hold extensive natural ecosystems that store globally significant above- and below-ground carbon. Canada has initiated a process of protected area network expansion in concert with efforts at reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, and acknowledged nature-based solutions as a key aspect of climate change mitigation. The US, although not a party to global biodiversity conventions, has recently committed to protecting 30% of its extent by 2030 and achieving the UNFCCC Paris Agreement’s mitigation targets. The opportunities afforded by these dual biodiversity conservation and climate commitments require coordinated national and regional policies to ensure that new protected areas maximize biodiversity-focused adaptation and nature-based mitigation opportunities. We address how global commitments can best inform national policy initiatives which build on existing agency mandates for regional planning and species conservation. Previous analyses of global conservation priorities under climate change have been tenuously linked to policy contexts of individual nations and have lacked information on refugia due to limitations of globally available datasets. Comparison and synthesis of predictions from a range of recently developed refugia metrics allow such data to inform planning despite substantial uncertainty arising from contrasting model assumptions and inputs. A case study for endangered species planning for old-forest-associated species in the US Pacific Northwest demonstrates how regional planning can be nested hierarchically within national biodiversity-focused adaptation and nature-based mitigation strategies which integrate refugia, connectivity, and ecosystem carbon metrics to holistically evaluate the role of different land designations and where carbon mitigation and protection of biodiversity’s resilience to climate change can be aligned.