It seems everyone is writing about climate change.

But there’s one report that not many conservation biologists are talking about — and they should be.

The Global Humanitarian Forum (GHF), a think-tank lead by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, recently released a report on the human impacts of climate change.

The terrifying touchstones of human impacts by 2030 are:

  • Poverty — 20 million extra people in poverty as a result of weather-related disasters and desertification.
  • Food security — 75 million people suffer hunger as a result of climate change induced environmental degradation (hundreds of millions are likely to suffer from degradation of fresh water supplies).
  • Displacement — 200 million people displaced as a result of sea level rise, desertification and floods.

It’s hardly a new observation, but poverty, hunger and peoples’ need for new land represent high barriers to effective conservation the world over.

These are the climate change impacts that conservation must pay attention to.

Most conservation biologists (including me) come from an ecological background and tend to focus on the environmental impacts of climate change; shifts in species distribution and abundance, drying streams, warming reefs, etc. Even if we agree the human dimension is critical, this is simply not our expertise. It is time to rethink the mold of a conservation biologist and build strong partnerships with those working on the human side of climate change.

As an organization, The Nature Conservancy is well aware of the close link between human well-being and successful conservation in a changing climate. For instance, together with our partners in Melanesia and Micronesia, we are approaching climate change adaptation by actively identifying those communities whose food and freshwater security will be put at risk by rising sea levels and temperatures.

In some cases, our conservation actions such as maintaining intact mangroves and reefs can help mitigate risk to communities. But it is also vital that we allow for the inevitable inland expansion of existing coastal settlements and farming areas, and the ecological consequences of this.

Climate change may well be the biggest environmental challenge we face, but not because natural communities struggle to adapt… because we do.

(Image: Sago swamps near Wewak, Papua New Guinea, that have died as a result of salt water innundation following sea level rise. Source: Geoff Lipsett-Moore/TNC.)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. At the UN conference for climate change, in Copenhagen in December, hopefully the GHF will promote the aim of developed countries working towards a 2020 goal of no less than a 30-40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions based on 1990 levels. If the planet is to reach anything close to climate stability, that’s what it will take.

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