26 June 2012

Nature Helps us Cope with Climate Change

Reducing carbon loss from peatlands and maintaining healthy ecosystems can help combat some of the impacts of climate change, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has confirmed.

Other key adaptation techniques involve reducing pressures on nature such as pollution and excessive grazing.

These and other principles are contained in a new climate change action plan – ‘Climate change and nature in Scotland’ – issued today by SNH.

The plan sets out ways of responding to projected trends in Scotland for warmer, drier summers; milder, wetter autumns and winters, an increase in extreme weather events including summer heat waves, continued rising sea levels and ocean acidification.

SNH says nature can help us cope with climate change. Peat is a carbon store which, if well managed, reduces the effect of carbon dioxide emissions. Maintaining healthy ecosystems provides food and water and helps control floods, diseases, pests and pollutants.

The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 commits the Scottish Government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050. The Scottish climate change legislation also set an interim target of at least 42% reduction by 2020.

Welcoming the SNH action plan before the ‘Delivering on 2020’ conference in Edinburgh today, Minister for Environment and Climate Change Stewart Stevenson said:

“Climate change is one of the most serious threats we face today. Scotland is a world leader in addressing its effects and by playing our part we can help meet this challenge.

“Nature has an important role to play and by working with nature we can develop cost effective and long term solutions to the demands and opportunities provided by climate change. I welcome the approach taken by SNH in their climate change action plan.”

The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment and associated research suggest the implications for nature include warmer temperatures and sea level rise. Examples of changes we are seeing are: the comma butterfly, which has extended its range into Scotland from England and changes in plankton and fish in our seas leading to decline in seabird populations.

Andrew Thin, SNH chairman, said:

“Tackling climate change is essential if Scotland is to thrive, both economically and socially. Nature has a huge part to play in helping us do this. Working with nature is easier, often cheaper and can be more effective in the long term. We can also help nature itself cope by helping it adapt.

“This document sets out some ideas on how nature can help. We want to raise awareness of the issues, test our ideas and work with those taking decisions on responses to climate change, so that Scotland is more resilient and prosperous as a result.

“Carbon storage too has a vital role to play in tackling climate change. The carbon stored in Scotland’s carbon rich soils – notably peat and peaty soil – is equivalent to more than 180 years of greenhouse gas emissions from Scotland at current rates.

“Restoring peat-forming habitats which have been drained or damaged helps ensure they remain as long-term carbon ‘sinks’ rather than sources of greenhouse gases.”

Phil Gaskell, the SNH climate change programme manager, said:

“We are also doing all we can to reduce the climate change impacts of our own operations. We have cut carbon emissions by more than 30% in the past five years and are taking a lead example role for the public sector.”

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