Climate Change and Conservation

Climate change is no longer a distant vision of a troubled future but the collective reality of the 21st century. As noted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), human influence on the climate system is clear and growing and will likely impact the lives and welfare of millions of people across the globe. Simply put, climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity today.

Over the past century there has been a drastic rise in global temperatures with significant repercussions on people and wildlife alike. This has been driven by huge increases in greenhouse gas emissions, largely generated through the burning of fossil fuels and land use change.

Many of the world’s biggest challenges, from poverty to wildlife extinction, are either driven by or exacerbated by climate change. We are already seeing increases in the severity and frequency of extreme weather events, changes in vital ecosystems, rising sea levels, melting ice caps and ocean acidification resulting in major climate migrations and destabilisation. These events threaten to erode the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health, and quality of life worldwide. However, it’s not too late to make a difference and DSWF is committed to mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change in our mission to protect wildlife and their habitats.

We must also acknowledge that climate change is no longer the sole responsibility of Governments.  Nor is it the sole responsibility of historical carbon emitters or developing countries rushing to outpace neighbours and competitors in an economic race. Recognition, change and responsibility is required from the bottom-up consumer as well. The production of harmful industries and practices by companies is driven by our consumer habits and therefore sits squarely with us as a purchaser.  We as individuals need to be an equal informed player in addressing the issues and becoming part of the solution. It’s a collective issue which needs global buy in at all levels.  

Why is climate change important to DSWF?

According to a recent report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), almost half of plant and animal species in the world’s most naturally rich areas could face local extinction by the turn of the century if carbon emissions continue to rise unchecked. If we are serious about turning the tide on species extinction and creating a world where humans and wildlife can coexist, tackling the drivers of climate change and adapting to its impacts is a fundamental necessity.

DSWF works in locations and countries where individuals and communities are affected by increasing climate issues every day.  Climate threats destabilise their livelihoods and work and threaten their homes. As partners to their work, it is our responsibility to help elevate their cry to enact and enforce change and ensure a sustainable future.

What is the role of wildlife and their habitats in combating climate change?

Protecting wildlife and their habitats is one of the most substantial and underrated solutions to the climate crisis. Natural climate solutions, such as the protection of forests, wetlands and grasslands can provide up to 37% of the mitigation needed to keep a global temperature rise below 2°C. The world’s forests alone absorb 2.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year, yet an area the size of a football pitch is destroyed every second through human exploitation and forest fires. Protecting these landscapes, and the wildlife within, is therefore essential to reduce atmospheric carbon levels and to prevent further emissions from entering the atmosphere. 

Whilst maintaining and restoring these habitats necessitates the conservation of many species, the protection of wildlife plays a crucial role in mitigating climate change in its own right. For example, elephants as environmental architects are key in the development of trees and foliage making way for new growth, the dispersal of seeds allowing forests to thrive. Just one elephant per square kilometre could increase the amount of plant mass in forests by up to 60 tons per hectare, enough to suck up more than 10 billion tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide.

Similarly, rhinos and other large herbivores also have a key role to play in combatting climate change. For example, rhinos clear huge areas of grassland which regulate forest fires preventing further emissions entering the atmosphere.

What is DSWF doing to mitigate and adapt to climate change?

By working with ground-based conservation partners in Africa and Asia, our holistic approach to conservation is helping conserve 158,000 km2 of prime wildlife habitat. Large portions of this landscape include forest, grassland and wetland ecosystems which are essential in carbon sequestration on a global scale alongside a huge variety of species which allow these landscapes to thrive.

Alongside supporting traditional law enforcement activities to protect these habitats, DSWF is working with community members living adjacent to wildlife to develop alternative livelihood programmes. These programmes reduce reliance on environmentally destructive activities whilst simultaneously enhancing income potential. We also run a far-reaching conservation education programme inspiring and motivating children to become the environmental leaders of tomorrow. To learn more about DSWF’s work, click here.

DSWF is currently conducting an in-depth review of our own carbon footprint and working to develop a strategy to reduce the negative environmental impact of our UK-based office.