Climate and Biodiversity

New Approaches for Conserving Biodiversity: Adapting Law and Governance to a Changing Climate

The inability of current laws governing biodiversity to effectively address climate change will have momentous consequences. Laws can present barriers to actions necessary for long-term adaptation, for example by prohibiting relocation of endangered species. Underlying assumptions in a world undergoing climate change may be fundamentally different: adaptation increasingly focuses on conserving centers of evolution, not just conserving biodiversity. Current laws emphasize preserving the status quo. This means that instead of improving the resilience of a broader ecosystem to climate change, these laws often require scarce resources to be focused primarily on protecting the most endangered species. The result could be that more species will be threatened in the long-run. In addition, protected area b orders may need to be redrawn and connectivity between areas strengthened to account for changing ecological conditions. With increasing competition for resources, expanding development, and the growing effects of climate change, new legal regimes and approaches are crucial.

Over the last few decades, countries have developed and implemented institutional governance frameworks designed to protect biodiversity. Yet there remains a critical gap in most of the existing frameworks governing biodiversity: by and large, they fail to consider, much less address, the impacts of climate change.

Climate change is not just altering nature; it is challenging the very definition of what is natural. In Africa, forests are giving way to savannahs and savannahs to deserts as precipitation patterns shift. Plants and animals venture into regions where they have never been recorded. In the Himalayas, rising temperatures melt glaciers, dramatically diminishing the water supply of mountain communities. In the Caribbean, biologists desperately search for new ways to save fast-dying coral reefs and associated tourism livelihoods.