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Using ecosystems to counter climate crisis only natural

Protecting nature and enhancing livelihoods

Tapping the natural power of ecosystems to counter climate change is gaining traction. This follows stark evidence that urgent action to address both is necessary. The period between 2015-2019 was the warmest on record, and on a longer timescale 47 percent of the world’s ecosystems have declined since the advent of humans.

Creating a virtuous circle, it is possible to enhance climate resilience by protecting ecosystems. But we cannot forget the place of people, especially those who are poor, in devising nature-based climate solutions. That is why the Green Climate Fund (GCF) is supporting climate action that balances land use and nature by protecting ecosystems in ways that also boost people’s livelihoods. One example is in Uganda.

Developing countries, many of them with large rural populations, are searching for ways to maintain the ecosystems which act as bulwarks against increasingly severe climate effects. But they also want to avoid impacting people’s lives by reducing their access to the land for their sustenance and incomes. This is the reason why developing countries are increasingly turning to approaches that protect both ecosystems and livelihoods.

The central importance of fortifying natural defences against climate change is not always apparent. As we often take the benefits of natural ecosystems for granted, their essential role in bolstering resilience to climate change is also often overlooked. The ecosystems on which we depend work so well that we generally only notice them when they don’t work, during times of environmental collapse. Nevertheless, it is becoming evident that the resilience of nature is essential in dealing with climate change. We now know that well-functioning natural ecosystems enhance the way our planet is dealing with the global warming we have imposed on it.

But a UN report released earlier this year shows ecosystems need help. In a stark call to action, the report found that human society is in jeopardy from the accelerating decline of natural ecosystems. It shows that nature is being destroyed at a rate tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the past 10 million years, and that natural ecosystems have lost about half their area – with a million species now at risk of extinction. The study finds among natural habitats, wetlands have suffered the most, with 83 percent being drained across the world since 1700.

The onset of climate change has stimulated further thinking about the crucial role of ecosystems. The often underacknowledged benefits provided by ecosystems, ranging from supplying stable water supplies to cities to supporting ground vegetation that prevents flooding and landslides, also buttress communities from worsening climate effects. That is why GCF is directing climate finance flows to help communities in developing countries enhance their ability to deal with climate change by protecting and reinvigorating natural ecosystems – including natural wetlands.

Beekeeper Shildah Nabimanya, 18, who lives in Uganda’s western Sheema district, understands well the destructive ecological and social damage that followed when people moved into the local wetlands near where she lives. That is because she was one of those people, along with her family, and saw the destructive effects first-hand.

“I now know that I am not supposed to be destroying the wetlands because when I destroy them it will affect me in the future.” - Shildah Nabimanya, a beekeeper who lives in Uganda's western Sheema district

By switching from growing rice to beekeeping, Shildah Nabimanya is helping to protect wetlands and improve her family’s livelihood.

She told a visiting GCF mission: “When this wetland was drained, we faced shortages of food and water, and mothers had to fetch water from far away on hot sunny days. Children were no longer going to school, and were forced to go and fetch water.”

Ms Nabimanya said her family’s troubles began when people started to drain the wetlands to plant crops and raise cattle, which was then followed by a severe drought in 2010. Her family’s life was particularly difficult as her father died from an illness a number of years ago, leaving behind her mother and four brothers and sisters. After the draining of the wetland, an insufficiency of available water meant it became impossible to pursue any family activities beyond those directed towards sustenance alone.

But now Ms Nabimanya is more positive about her future, after joining an initiative financed by GCF, in tandem with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Government of Uganda, which is helping relocate people away from wetlands to allow these vital ecosystems to regenerate. She is part of a local agricultural cooperative, the Masheruka Environmental Restore Wetland Disaster Monitoring Committee and Cadres Association, in Sheema district. This cooperative of 76 people was formed in 2014 on the outskirts of the Rwizi Wetland to provide more productive and sustainable farming practices. Most days, Ms Nabimanya can be found tending a collection of beehives nestled in a banana tree grove where the cooperative is located near Sheema town.

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