Water-related ecosystems and biodiversity are crucial in adapting to climate change in Africa

A researcher at the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country is participating in the study of this continent where the effects of climate change are already clear

  • Ikerketa

First publication date: 24/07/2018

Maintaining biodiversity and water-related ecosystems and using them sustainably are essential for adapting to the adverse effects of climate change in Africa. This is the conclusion reached by a piece of research, published in the journal Ecological Economics, and which has the participation of a UPV/EHU researcher

Water-related ecosystems and biodiversity are crucial in adapting to climate change in Africa
Amaia de Ayala researcher of the UPV/EHU and of the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3). Caption: Egoi Markaida. UPV/EHU.

Climate change is already one of the main reasons why ecosystems and biodiversity are changing and deteriorating. The Fifth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Experts on Climate Change states that African ecosystems are already being significantly affected by climate change and that future impacts are expected to be even greater. In this context, it is necessary to understand how the management and improvement of ecosystem services, understood as the whole range of benefits that nature provides society with, can boost the capacity of a society to adapt to climate change.

The researchers, Amaia de Ayala of the UPV/EHU and of the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3), Laetitia Pettinoti of the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3), and Elena Ojea of the University of Vigo, have conducted a study, published in the “Ecological Economics” journal, into the importance of the benefits of water-related ecosystems in Africa when it comes to adapting to climate change.

Water-related ecosystem services are those that provide water or depend on it, be it saltwater or freshwater.  “Our study has focussed on the ecosystems of hydrographic basins, such as wetlands, riverine forests, mangroves, floodplains and rivers. These ecosystems provide various services, such as the provision of food, raw materials, water and medicines, maintenance of soil quality and habitats, flood control and the promotion of leisure activities and culture,” explained Amaia de Ayala.

Africa, highly vulnerable to climate change

The study focuses on Africa for three main reasons: river flows are essential in providing ecosystem services necessary for millions of livelihoods on the continent; Africa is highly vulnerable to climate change and this calls for a political solution; and little research has been conducted into the relationship between ecosystem services and climate change. “So the results obtained in our research provide guidance in the design of policies on the adaptation to climate change on the African continent,” said Amaia de Ayala.

The researchers have taken another look at 36 assessment studies of the last three decades carried out in Africa, and have created a database of 178 monetary estimates of water-related ecosystem services. This has enabled them to produce a meta-analysis for Africa for the first time.

The study concludes that the countries most vulnerable to climate change display greater degradation of their biodiversity and ecosystems. This also leads to a vicious circle, since the more degraded their ecosystems are, the more vulnerable they are to the effects of climate change. GDP per capita is positively correlated with the estimate of the ecosystem services, while the percentage of rural poverty has a negative effect on them.

“So, given that the less vulnerable countries have firstly a smaller adaptation gap, and secondly higher water-based ecosystem services estimates, this study suggests that adaptation based on ecosystems could be a crucial step in adapting to climate change in Africa," concluded Amaia de Ayala.

Adaptation based on ecosystems encompasses the use of biodiversity and the benefits of ecosystems as part of a general adaptation strategy to help people to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change. In other words, it uses “green infrastructure” and the benefits provided by ecosystems to boost the resilience of human societies to climate change. In fact, 25 African countries have already included ecosystem-based adaptation in their National Plans of Action to Adapt to climate change.

Bibliographic reference