Climate change and sustainability strategies can also benefit biodiversity

Climate change and sustainability strategies can also benefit biodiversity

From the Making Biodiversity Count Series

Climate change and sustainability strategies can also benefit biodiversity

By Dr. Rob Newell, Adjunct Professor, School of Environment and Management, Royal Roads University

Biodiversity Action Agenda Item 1.6

Illuminate the co-benefits of integrated planning and inclusion of biodiversity plans in Official Community Plans, Integrated Community Sustainability Plans as well as Disaster Management Planning.

What are ‘co-benefits’ and why are they important for biodiversity planning? Co-benefits for biodiversity take place when strategies that are not directly related to conservation and enhancement help biodiversity. For example, wetland protection is critical for species that rely on these habitats. However, it can also be an important strategy for flood control and preventing damage to property and community infrastructure. Exploring and revealing co-benefits of biodiversity strategies is useful for understanding how ecology within a sustainable development framework is linked to the social, cultural, and economic needs and well-being of communities.

Co-benefits and integrated planning

In our research on community climate action in Canada, we explored the co-benefits of climate mitigation and adaptation. This refers to the benefits that come from local climate action strategies that go beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change. This research involved mapping relationships between climate action strategies and benefits. Our results painted a comprehensive ‘picture’ of the different social, economic, and ecological objectives that can be achieved (whether intentionally or unintentionally) through climate mitigation and adaption efforts. It also showed that illuminating these relationships can support integrated planning because it can provide planners and decision-makers with the necessary knowledge for implementing climate strategies and policies that support sustainable development goals.

Bridge over pond near apartment buildings
Dockside Green by Dr. Rob Newell

As with climate action, a co-benefits approach can be quite useful for designing and implementing biodiversity strategies and policies through an integrated, holistic perspective. There are many co-benefits associated with biodiversity enhancement and conservation. These include stormwater control, local aesthetics, opportunities for local wildlife tourism, and improvements in mental and physical health as a result of better access to nature and nature-based recreation. Our climate action co-benefits research (as well as our research on integrated planning) revealed that climate action and biodiversity in particular share a number of strategies and common approaches for achieving objectives. For example, protecting natural space and vegetation enhances biodiversity by providing habitat, while also serves as important strategies for maintaining carbons sinks (i.e., climate mitigation) and providing cooling during extreme heat events (i.e., climate adaptation). When exploring the many relationships between climate and biodiversity strategies and goals, it becomes clear the most effective way to address these two issues is through integrated approaches. It can even be argued that comprehensive climate action cannot be done without biodiversity strategies, and vice versa.

Co-benefits and systems perspectives

The co-benefits concept is useful for thinking about how community plans can engage in biodiversity enhancement and nature-based strategies, while also achieving broader sustainability goals. However, this perspective could easily be flipped by arguing that broader objectives for sustainability and human well-being can never be achieved without strategies for biodiversity and ecosystem health. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment conveys this message by describing a variety of ecosystem services that are essential to human well-being, such as provisioning (e.g., food, water, resources), regulating (e.g., climate, floods, water quality), cultural (e.g., recreational, aesthetic, spiritual), and supporting (e.g., soil formation, photosynthesis) services.

Watercolour illustration of kids exploring the woods
'Exploring Kids', watercolour, by Leanne Cadden

The more recent Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report echoed this thinking by explaining that a continued loss in biodiversity at the current rate will have dramatic consequences for ecosystem services and (thus) human well-being. Through this perspective, co-benefits of biodiversity strategies are not simply additional or ‘bonus’ benefits; rather, they represent humanity’s reliance on nature and the necessity of ecological health for human well-being.

Ultimately, thinking about the co-benefits of biodiversity strategies is a way of embracing a system perspective in planning. Illuminating co-benefits in planning is not so much about figuring out how to ‘tick off multiple boxes’ with a single strategy or policy; instead, it is an approach that allows communities to recognize the many ways that ecosystem health is inextricability linked with human well-being and community liveability. After all, what would life be like without opportunities to visit parks and trails in our communities? What would it be like to be in a city that constantly experiences floods and has no vegetation for cooling public spaces and buildings? What would it be like to live in a place without a trace of natural beauty, whether this be as small and seemingly ‘mundane’ as urban vegetation or as vast as the landscape that surrounds a city and provides views for its residents and visitors?

Co-benefits and you
What can you do to make biodiversity count?

What can you do to promote integrated approaches to biodiversity planning in your community? The first thing that you can do is simply spend some time thinking about the number of benefits that your community experiences from its local nature and ecosystems. Systems are complex, and it can be an illuminating exercise to reflect on the relationships between biodiversity, human well-being, and your community’s vitality. Once you have done this, share your ideas and insights with friends, colleagues, neighbours, and community associations. Sharing your thoughts will increase local awareness and help others see connections between biodiversity and the many things about their community that they deeply value.

Another thing you can do to promote integrated planning is participate in community engagement activities. Many local governments will engage community members in planning processes, particularly when developing an Integrated Community Sustainability Plan. Participate in these processes to share your thoughts and insights around the co-benefits of biodiversity strategies. Articulating these co-benefits to your local government and other community members will highlight the ways biodiversity enhancement and conservation is integral to community plans and for achieving a variety of social, economic, and environmental objectives.

About Making Biodiversity Count Series

In February 2019, the Biodiversity Action Agenda, authored by Women for Nature was published. It asks all Canadians to take immediate action on biodiversity loss as there is no recovery from extinction. As a 24-point action agenda, it offers a combination of actions, including low-hanging fruit as well as long-term systemic changes. Follow our blog for bi-weekly posts exploring each action.