The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is providing $2 million to help ecosystems and human communities adapt to the effects of climate change, it announced last week. The gift is part of a pledge the foundation made last October to invest $50 million toward preserving biodiversity in the face of changing climates.
Biodiversity protection has long stood among the top priorities of MacArthur, one of the largest foundations in the nation. But its climate change research over the last two years has led it to see the issues as connected, foundation President Jonathan Fanton said.
“We take climate change very seriously. It threatens the very core of our conservation strategy,” he said at a meeting of the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Barcelona last October. “Changing weather patterns are likely to make places we are preserving inhospitable to animals and plants we seek to protect. Already we see our oceans becoming more acidic and species changing their migratory routes, going further toward the poles earlier in the spring.”
The recipients of the gift — the IUCN and the World Wildlife Fund — will use it to establish a new Ecosystems and Livelihoods Adaptation Network. Details on the network are still being hashed out, but it’s intended to be a resource for promoting best practices to conservation groups, governments, and others. It will aid projects such as creating protected corridors to help mountain-dwelling animals migrate to higher elevations and restoring natural barriers on coastlines, such as mangrove forests.
The network will focus on developing nations, which have fewer resources to adapt but are likely to face more acute effects. MacArthur concentrates its adaptation work in eight hotspots with high numbers of vulnerable species, many of them found nowhere else: Madagascar, the Lower Mekong River Basin, the Eastern Himalayas, the Melanesian islands, the Albertine Rift in Africa, the Insular Caribbean, and the southern and northern Andes. Since 2006 the foundation has funded assessments to determine the best strategies for protecting these areas.
“This approach is already coming to fruition in Madagascar, where we’ve funded several assessments which have produced substantial reports with technical recommendations for conservation managers,” Kate Barnes, a program associate in MacArthur’s Conservation & Sustainable Development program, wrote in an e-mail. “For example, one scientific contributor recommended enhancing protections of riverine forests in the western part of Madagascar, which provide critical refuge habitat and corridors for migratory species. We anticipate that these reports will be used by other funders, not just MacArthur, to help prioritize investments in climate-related work.”
Fanton hopes the announcement will help put to rest the idea that adaptation undermines strategies to lessen the effects of climate change. It’s a false choice, he said.
“I hope what I’m saying is now conventional wisdom, that we’ve moved beyond the idea that adaptation is somehow giving in,” he said. “We need to keep our eyes on the root causes and start addressing them. But try as hard as all of us will on prevention, I believe climate change is a reality. It’s happening, and to be practical and pragmatic we need to have plans for adapting.”
Fanton also said he expects concrete responses such as these will help make the issue more real to people.
“There is something about the adaptation initiative that brings home the climate change issue to people on the ground,” he said. “Climate can be a big topic that you can’t do much about, so why try? You can ignore it. But when there’s something you can do about it, I find people are interested not only about what they can do in their locality, but they get interest in what they can do about climate change. So part of what we’re doing is education.”
The network will work with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and other financing sources to ensure sustained funding, according to the foundation.