This paper is a product of Decision Point Online


Key messages:

“We carried out the first quantitative synthesis of the literature on climate change impacts on ecosystem services, and found that:

  • more research needs to take place in regions with a lower capacity to adapt to the impacts of climate change
  • using (only) expert opinions to determine the impact of climate change can overestimate the negative impacts on ecosystem services
  • incorporating other stresses into an analysis leads to greater negative impacts
  • greater attention needs to be given to uncertainty and how an analysis can be applied in decision making

Most of us worry about climate change in one way or another, but not many of us explicitly consider how it will be impacting the ecosystem services we rely on. Maybe that’s because ecosystem services themselves are often taken for granted or undervalued, as we expect services like clean air and water to be perpetually available. However many of the decisions made, such as the ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases, threaten the provision of numerous ecosystem services. Different approaches to managing ecosystem services are being developed to deal with this problem. But how well do these approaches engage with climate change?

The fact is that climate change is having a substantial impact on ecosystem services, yet many assessments don’t link to our decision-making processes. Integrating climate change into assessments and planning for ecosystem services is vital if we are to avoid poor management decisions. For example, coastal land-use zoning that ignores the effects of sea-level rise could lead to a long-term decline in ecosystem services, such as flood protection, provided by coastal wetlands (I explored the connection between coastal wetlands, ecosystem services and rising sea level in Decision Point #97).

To add to the challenge, climate change doesn’t impact ecosystem services in isolation, it interacts with other local or global stresses on the environment. Land-use change, population growth and pollution, for example, all create their own stresses and will interact with the impacts of climate change. For instance, a logged forest could become more susceptible to erosion if climate change leads to increases in the intensity of rainfall.

So, what is the state of our understanding of the connection between climate change and ecosystem service assessment? We did a review of the scientific literature to see if we could identify important gaps. There are many studies of individual cases of climate change impacts on ecosystem services, but our review provides the first quantitative synthesis on this topic…”

Read on and access the report at Decision Point Online.

Download the PDF here.