So what is climate change adaptation and mitigation?
Due to historic emissions of greenhouse gases, it is now too late for us to avoid climate change. However, humans can influence the degree of future changes by reducing our current rate of greenhouse gas emissions – this is referred to as climate change mitigation. Targets have been set globally under the Kyoto protocol on how we can do this, with the Welsh Government pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions in Wales by 3% per annum* in areas of devolved competence compared to a baseline average of emissions taken during the time period 2006 - 2010. More information on climate change targets in Wales can be found in the Climate Change Strategy for Wales (2010) on the Welsh Government website.
As well as mitigating to reduce future changes, we must learn to deal with those changes we are already committed to due to current and historic emissions – the term we use for this is climate change adaptation. It is essential that our methods of adapting to climate change do not conflict with our mitigation measures. For example, if each home in the UK was to install an air conditioning unit in order to deal with the increased temperatures expected as a result of climate change, then energy demand would increase significantly, resulting in more greenhouse gases being emitted! Adaptation measures can vary significantly in type and scale, from implementing small scale community projects to undertaking catchment wide management of water resources or the construction of coastal flood defences.
Climate change, and its associated changes, will bring new challenges to the National Parks of the British Isles. Questions will be raised across the social, economic and ecological spectrum with regards to how we manage our Parks, for what purposes, and difficult decision will need to be made in order to respond to these challenges. However, we believe that as a National Park, we should be setting an example to other Authorities, sectors and the general public on the importance of implementing climate change mitigation and adaptation measures. Not only are we doing this to protect the special qualities which make Snowdonia so unique, but also to maintain the functioning of our natural environment and to ensure that we are adequately prepared for changes climate change will inevitably bring.
Adaptation and mitigation schemes are likely to bring with them a certain degree of divergence, and where a conflict of interest exists, clarity will be needed with regards to prioritisation in order to ensure clear and concise decision making. Examples of where conflicts could arise include:
- Construction of new lakes to provide water to urban areas vs landscape preservation of the National Park;
- Carbon storage schemes such as planting of woodland vs biodiversity interest of habitats such as blanket bog, heathland etc;
- Promotion of the tourism and leisure industry within National Parks vs efforts to maintain the cultural identity of local communities.
Whilst these are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential conflicts, it clearly demonstrates the wide range of factors that need to be considered as part of the decision making process. However, despite the potential conflicts of interest, we believe that by adopting a holistic approach to management where the consequences of a decision on all other interests are considered, multiple benefits can be gained from management choices.
A common term used to describe the holistic management of our natural environment is the ecosystem approach to land management and conservation. The term illustrates the need to consider the consequences of actions on every part of the environment in order to maintain the health of an ecosystem whilst at the same time gaining multiple benefits from that ecosystem. This would include the provision of essential services which we rely on for our survival to the protection of the natural environment. Examples of services that derived from ecosystems include the supply and management of water resources, sustainable woodlands as sources of timber, enjoyment and biodiversity, and the maintenance of soil health for agricultural benefits. In addition to ensuring the sustainability of these crucial services, healthy ecosystems will provide multiple benefits by maintaining habitats and species populations at favourable conditions, which themselves are crucial for the functioning of our natural environment.
How will these changes affect Snowdonia and its communities?
The above changes in our climate will not go unnoticed – they will have major impacts on our everyday lives, as well as on nature, and the natural resources they produce. In Snowdonia, major industries such as agriculture, tourism and forestry will have to adapt, whilst local Governments will need to ensure public services and essential infrastructure are able to cope with climatic changes. It must be noted that climate change does not mean doom and gloom to us all! Provided adequate adaptation measures are properly implemented, climate change could bring new opportunities to many living and working within Snowdonia National Park.