Apr 18

Climate change will make conserving the world’s biodiversity – including the human benefits associated with conservation, such as clean air and water – much more challenging and expensive, research reveals.

Climate change driving up costs

According to a group of international researchers convened by Conservation International, climate change may in some cases drive up costs by more than 100%.

Focussing on species and ecosystems in South Africa, Madagascar and California, the researchers present the first ever estimates of how much it will cost the global community to adapt conservation efforts to climate change, calling the studies a ‘wake-up call’.

The results of the research have been published as a series of three papers in the journal Conservation Biology, under the title ‘Conservation Focus: Costs of Adapting Conservation to Climate Change’.


Asteropeia micraster flowers and leaves close up

Asteropeia micraster, an endangered plant belonging to the Asteropeiaceae - a family endemic to Madagascar

In Madagascar, one of the world’s most biologically rich countries, researchers predicted how climate change would affect the ranges and survival of 74 endemic plant species between the years 2000 to 2080.

They found that as the climate in Madagascar changes over time, species that are currently protected in today’s forests will be pushed out into areas where forests are unprotected or gone.

The vast majority of Madagascar’s forests have already disappeared due to habitat loss, and the researchers found that restoring forests to avoid extinction of species would in future be harder and more expensive than maintaining existing forest.

The researchers calculated that maintaining existing forests in community-managed areas costs about $160-576 per hectare, while restoring forests in the same areas would cost six times as much.


Bay checkerspot on a tidy-tips flower

Bay checkerspot on a tidy-tips flower - one of 11 species studied in California as part of research on the costs of climate change

In California, the researchers picked 11 species, including the Bay checkerspot butterfly, the grasshopper sparrow and the San Joaquin kit fox, all of which occur within a conservation area in the Central Coast of California. They then projected the costs of conserving these species in 2050 and 2100 under realistic climate change scenarios.

The results of the study showed that under climate change, the boundaries of the California conservation area will need to be dramatically expanded and many of the species studied will need interventions such as captive breeding and relocation to achieve current conservation goals.

According to the researchers, the costs of meeting conservation goals for the 11 species studied will be close to 150% higher than if there is no climate change by 2050, and could be up to 220% more by 2100 – at a cost of $2.63 billion.

South Africa

Silver tree in fynbos habitat

The silver tree, a member of the Proteaceae family, in fynbos habitat in the Cape Floristic Region, South Africa

The studies carried out by scientists in South Africa looked at options to expand protected areas in the Cape Floristic biodiversity hotspot to safeguard the survival of 316 species unique to the Proteaceae family of flowering plants.

The results demonstrated that protecting sufficient habitat for this important family of plants to make them more resilient to climate change could cost over $1 billion. However, by establishing new contracts with landowners and exploring more cost-efficient avenues to manage the important habitats in the region, these costs could be reduced significantly.

A costly wake-up call

According to Lee Hannah, lead author and senior scientist for climate change biology at Conservation International, “The specific effects of climate change on species in South Africa, Madagascar and California are very different, but the costs of conserving them will certainly increase considerably in all three regions under climate change. We can have a healthy planet and keep extra costs to a minimum by acting quickly to cut emissions and incorporate climate change into conservation plans.”

Read the full press release at Conservation International

Read the three papers in Conservation Biology – Conservation Focus: Costs of Adapting Conservation to Climate Change.

Find out more about Climate Change on ARKive

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author