New book proposes solutions to social and ecological challenges posed by climate change

October 27, 2011

The impacts of climate change on the world's land and sea will become more pronounced in the years to come. According to the authors of a new book, the impacts of this change will fall hardest on poor communities that are highly dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, but much can be done to protect the environment and maintain human well-being in the face of climate change.

The book -- titled "Adapting to a Changing Environment: Confronting the Consequences of Climate Change" -- outlines how societies dependant on natural resources can confront the challenges posed by climate change. The book was officially launched at the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association's Scientific Symposium in Mombasa, Kenya (Monday, October 24 -- Friday, Oct. 28). Published by Oxford University Press, the book is now available through the publisher's website.

Written by Dr. Tim McClanahan, a coral reef fisheries expert at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and Dr. Joshua Cinner, a human geographer at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, the multi-disciplinary book uses the lens of coral reef fisheries of the western Indian Ocean to examine the consequences of climate change for ecosystems and society. Critically, the book develops a conceptual framework for how societies dependant on natural resources can confront climate change and provides an associated "tool box" of adaptation options.

"The coastal communities of Africa and the islands of the western Indian Ocean are particularly vulnerable to climate change and an effective plan of action is needed to avert human suffering," said Dr. McClanahan, lead author and head of WCS's coral reef conservation program. "The book fills a need by providing context-specific options for resource managers in building the adaptive capacity of societies and maintaining productive natural resources."

"Climate change may fundamentally alter the sea as we know it," added Dr. Cinner. "For those that depend on the sea for their livelihood, these changes could be devastating. But there are options to reduce climate change impacts on both reef ecosystems and reef-dependant societies."

McClanahan and Cinner combine their fields of expertise to provide a holistic overview on how climate change will affect coastal ecosystems and the well-being of communities reliant on these resources. The book starts by focusing on the impacts of climate change on the world's oceans, coral reef systems, and fish populations to provide the context to the challenges facing coastal communities, fisheries managers, and local governments. Chapters on the vulnerability of coastal societies outline how people are likely to be impacted by climate change and their options for adaptation. In-depth research with local fishermen reveals how, if unassisted, they may inadvertently respond to climate change in ways that actually make things worse for coral reefs and themselves.

The authors develop a framework for climate action to provide a basis for solutions that are transferable to other contexts beyond coral reefs. Suggested courses of action are provided in chapters discussing the complex but critical need for building the adaptive capacity of society and maintaining resources at levels that will avoid ecological and social catastrophes.

"This new book offers a valuable resource and a course of action for resource managers," said Dr. Caleb McClennen, Director of WCS's Marine Program. "It also highlights the importance of multi-dimensional plans including local communities, scientists, managers, and governments that reflect local situations and needs for long-term solutions."

From Fiji to Kenya to Glover's Reef, Dr. McClanahan's research has been examining the ecology, fisheries, climate change effects, and management of coral reefs at key sites throughout the world. This work has been supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
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Wildlife Conservation Society

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