A longside continued research, it is already clear that enough scientific evidence is available now to support decisions and actions that promote ecosystem health, adaptive capacity, and mitigation potential and that augment options for societal adaptation to climate change.
Forum participants identified four strategies for advancing the science while moving into action:
- Research to advance understanding about the response of ecosystems to climate change and their potential role in mitigation and adaptation
- Communication of current knowledge to diverse audiences
- Development of interdisciplinary networks, particularly to incorporate financial drivers
- Translation of science to action
There is still much to be learned about how ecosystems will respond and adapt as climate change progresses, what optimal management and conservation practices will best facilitate resilience, and how to scale up nature-based solutions to climate change and other global challenges. Forum participants discussed the need to support interdisciplinary, sustained research and knowledge exchange networks, focusing on research questions related to the interconnections between climate, ecosystems, and human societies. Priority areas could include
- Understanding how complexity enhances ecosystem resilience
- Understanding how societal adaptation can be supported and enhanced
- Identifying the point at which restoration of an ecosystem is likely to fail as the climate warms
- Identifying early warning metrics and measurements
- Modeling complex socio-ecological systems
- Identifying the benefits and tradeoffs associated with ecosystem management
Expanded and modified data collection could also be undertaken. This could include increased measurements across different spatial and temporal scales that could help to tease apart dynamic processes that may not be captured with more limited or sporadic collection. Simplified but robust parameters to evaluate ecosystem health and change would also be useful and would form the basis of metrics for policy makers.
Many researchers are motivated and excited to translate and communicate existing knowledge about ecosystems and climate change to diverse audiences of policy and decision makers, as well as other stakeholders. Understanding the makeup of stakeholder groups, their priorities, and considerations such as the economics underlying potential options may allow for constructive discussions that can inform actions. It may be appropriate to engage a range of stakeholders, including policy makers, business leaders, the media, communities, indigenous and migrant populations, and scientific groups. Boundary and communications organizations that provide expertise in sharing knowledge across diverse stakeholder audiences can also serve an important role in facilitating discussion and progress. Engagement will necessarily be iterative, as data and knowledge are communicated across disciplines and sectors, with recognition and balance given to the needs of this generation with those of the next.
Setting up an interdisciplinary network could include merging questions between different disciplines and/or applying multiple approaches to address a set of common questions. Broad inclusion of a range of perspectives—including those who benefit from the status quo, those who benefit from healthy ecosystems, and those who make decisions—could inform research questions and priority areas to help ensure that new knowledge can inform both short- and long-term goals and actions. Additionally, identifying and analyzing the financial agents and forces involved in ecosystem degradation, protection, and use could inform how to translate the science to action. For example, researchers could study how reputational rewards and other incentives related to ecosystems and climate can change behaviors. Research could also evaluate how ideas propagate through social systems to bend actions in desirable directions.
Many researchers in the ecosystem science community are actively working to translate and disseminate scientific knowledge to decision makers and other stakeholders in constructive, useful ways that can inform actions. As highlighted throughout this report, efforts to maintain and manage ecosystems can help mitigate the impacts of climate change while also sustaining or creating many other services that benefit communities around the globe. Therefore, conveying this information such that it can be used to implement environmentally sound decisions and policies is of great importance to scientists.
However, communication between scientists and decision makers can be challenging. In addition to translating information about ecosystem value and opportunities, other
“The climate challenge is about finding an accelerator pedal for action rather than transitioning from doing nothing to doing something.”
—CHRIS FIELD, Stanford University
considerations should be kept in mind in order to facilitate productive conversations and knowledge exchange. For example, discussing the economics of ecosystem services and nature-based solutions is key to explaining tradeoffs, costs of management actions, and the importance of systems providing multiple benefits. The cost of nature-based solutions at scale will often be large (although some may be less costly than many engineered solutions), and the people and entities who can afford to pay tend to be those who profit from the current system. Economic considerations also lead to political questions, such as who receives the benefits and bears the costs of an option and how those that do not gain (or lose) direct benefits will be compensated. A lack of political will, regulatory authority, and public empowerment can also affect progress toward ecosystem management and implementation of nature-based solutions. Further, management actions not intended specifically for ecosystem services are often not aligned with long-term sustainability or the global good and may not be advantageous to local communities.
Additional barriers to action include the difficulty of undertaking efforts at larger scales and at times across national borders, the need to think and act on long-term problems, institutional and governmental inertia, and aversion to thinking about topics where some outstanding science questions remain, as is the case with ecosystem science.
Climate change is here, and within the next few decades, societies and ecosystems will either be committed to a substantially warmer world or major actions will be taken to limit warming to moderate levels. Ecosystems play a major part in both of these future scenarios. The complex responses to climate change can act as a buffer to major change in many cases through the presence of extensive and connected ecosystems, species diversity, habitat heterogeneity, and genetic variability.
Improved communication of the value of ecosystem services is needed to inform decisions at local to international levels. Nature-based solutions such as ecosystem management can play a major role in climate change mitigation and societal adaptation, but they will provide the greatest benefit when used concurrently with actions to reduce fossil fuel emissions and change behavior. Benefits of these solutions can be particularly useful when ecosystems are managed for multiple services and transcend institutional, geographic, or habitat-based boundaries.
By promoting the evidence base that exists more widely to inform decisions, identifying and investigating tractable knowledge gaps in ecosystem science, and researching how key elements of complexity that enhance resilience and climate adaptation can be supported and enhanced, natural and social scientists may be able to advance conversations that put science into action. Although this is a difficult task, the rewards of these efforts have the potential to be vast, providing a more secure future for both ecosystems and society where both are able to thrive.
“Ultimately, we need to change the zeitgeist of our relationship with nature and bring its value central to decision making. To help achieve this, we, as natural scientists, must go outside our comfort zones and forge more “radical collaborations” with social scientists, economists, engineers, and policy makers—with all the end users of our research. Only by doing that will we be able to ensure our deep knowledge about the workings of the natural world and inform the process by which high-level pledges for nature get translated into action.”
“NATHALIE SEDDON, University of Oxford