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Climate change affects ASEAN biodiversity

  • Jamal M. Gawi

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Tue, February 16 2016 | 04:52 pm



Western scientific explanations are not sufficient to describe the implications of climate change for ASEAN biodiversity, as there are wide gaps in geo-ecological and socio-economic contexts between ASEAN and Western countries.

The issue is timely now that the ASEAN Conference on Biodiversity is under way in Bangkok on Feb. 15-19.

COP21 in Paris at the end of 2015 resulted in promising commitments from most countries involved in the negotiations, one of which is the commitment to try to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius or better yet, 1.5 °C. However, the threat of global warming is already prominent, and changes have already taken place in all aspects of life on Earth.

These changes, mostly negative, affect humans and nature alike. Health issues, food security, seashore changes and socio-economic implications have been well recorded and reported by many scientific publications and popular media. The publication, like it or not, has triggered worries and fears among many people but at the same time also forced human beings to actively think of strategies to cope with these clear and present dangers.

On the nature front, backed up by scientific information, some experts have shown that different plant and animal species will respond to climate change in different ways and on different time scales, and at the ecosystem level, those combined responses are unlikely to be linear.

First, there are range shifts. A warmer climate will lead to changes in the distribution of plant and animal species (Parmesan, 2006). These changes can be movements of certain species into areas where they were not previously found, the disappearance of species from regions where they once were, or a shift in the abundance and location of individuals within a species range.

Most range shifts will see species move toward cooler climates and will take two forms: the move of species across the Earth'€™s latitudes toward the poles and the move of species toward higher places.

Second, there are phenological shifts. These are changes in occurrence of specific events in the lifecycle of species. Changes in specific temperatures or precipitation will affect breeding, reproduction and other behavioral traits in many plant and animal species.

Inability to cope with the above two climate change-driven events may lead to species extinction.

As in many other regions, climate change will add another layer of stress to the many stressors that already endanger biodiversity in the ASEAN region, one of the most diverse ecosystems comprising 20 percent of the world'€™s terrestrial and marine biodiversity.

Unfortunately, the implications of climate change for ASEAN biodiversity are rarely studied. There is a serious lack of information, which has proven unable to tackle with the current institutional setups either at the member state level, the level of intergovernmental bodies like the ASEAN Secretariat or at the level of research institutions within ASEAN member states.

Picture above shows a hypothetical model based on climate change theories and research conducted elsewhere. ASEAN countries located in mainland Asia (A) will experience a shift of species distribution toward the poles, especially of highly mobile species, with possible similar or less pronounced upward movement. In oceanic-locked countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam and Kalimantan part of Malaysia to a certain extent (B), species will move upward with limited poleward movement.

How to respond?

The poleward and upward movements of biodiversity in ASEAN will have very serious implications for future biodiversity conservation, especially for the management of current and future protected areas.

Given the above trends, land managers and policymakers in ASEAN countries are faced with a complex set of decisions. They can accept the changes as a natural process and accept extinction and the possibility of major shifts of biota while maintaining a focus on mitigating the impacts of conventional stressors, such as illegal logging, wildlife trade and unsustainable development in the surrounding ecosystem, habitat fragmentation, invasive species and forest fires.

Alternatively, they can also opt to actively manage the protected areas and the surrounding ecosystem by considering, although unpredictable, the best possible pathways for species movement. Some options include developing corridors, establishing transboundary protected areas, and/or enlarging the boundaries of protected areas to include lowland and upland areas. All of those options will need tough but creative negotiations with other competing land uses and stakeholders, especially the private sector and local communities.

In the context of ASEAN, it is not only plant and animal species that move, but people too. There are plenty of examples that due to warmer climate, rural communities are moving to higher ground to make their commercial crops more productive.

A famous case is that of coffee farmers in Central Aceh. Due to a warmer climate and consequently more pest outbreaks, farmers are moving toward higher places far beyond 1,000 meters above sea level to continue cultivating their famous, world-class Arabica coffee. Unfortunately, in doing so, the farmers have to enter protected areas and clear the land for their crops.

A lack of information about climate change that leads to wrong decisions by local governments coincident with a lack of action and ignorance by the central governments of some ASEAN countries further sacrificed biodiversity in many protected areas.

At the regional level, the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) as the formal ASEAN institution tasked with supporting biodiversity conservation, backed up by the ASEAN Secretariat, should move beyond merely implementing donor-sponsored projects to become an institution with a clear vision to protect ASEAN'€™s biodiversity, for example, by dictating a biodiversity agenda that is tailor-made for the ASEAN region and at the same time responds to the interests of the majority of the ASEAN people.

This future role for the ACB and the ASEAN Secretariat seems to be compromised due to the lack of expertise and a limited internal source of funding. Without these resources, it will be difficult to expect the ACB to dictate any future research and initiate capacity building of park managers that will link climate change with biodiversity conservation in ASEAN.
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The writer is a biodiversity conservation and governance specialist with a PhD in environmental studies from the University of Indonesia.

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