Climate change has to be faced by society as a whole | AGÊNCIA FAPESP

Climate change has to be faced by society as a whole At the Second Regional Meeting for Latin America and the Caribbean of the Ecosystem Services Partnership (ESP), economist Joshua Farley compared the current environmental crisis to the Great Depression and World War Two (photo: Diego Padgurschi)

Climate change has to be faced by society as a whole

November 21, 2018

By André Julião  |  Agência FAPESP – The Great Depression that broke out in the 1930s was a time when Americans joined forces to face the worst crisis in their history. In just a few years, a nation with acute income concentration became a middle-class society. Similarly, the US government measures introduced during World War II (1939-45) to assure victory for the Allies included rationing food, power and other basic necessities, as well as a draconian economic policy.

According to economist Joshua Farley, a professor at the University of Vermont (UVM), just as everyone made sacrifices to defeat a common enemy during those two historical periods, a similar attitude is required to address climate change, which is currently the greatest challenge facing humanity.

Farley made this statement during his keynote presentation to the Second Regional Meeting for Latin America and the Caribbean of the Ecosystem Services Partnership (ESP), which was held at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP), São Paulo State, Brazil, on October 22-26, 2018. The conference was organized by the Brazilian Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (BPBES) in partnership with the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) and the Brazilian Sustainable Development Foundation (FBDS). It was supported by UNICAMP, the Applied Biodiversity Foundation (Colombia), and the FAPESP Research Program on Biodiversity Characterization, Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use (BIOTA-FAPESP).

Farley proposed the implementation of projects to valorize ecosystem services such as the protection of water sources, pollination and forests as part of a more sustainable economy.

Married to a Brazilian and in charge of research projects in communities in Santa Catarina State, as well as other regions of Brazil, Farley said collaboration among nations is more necessary than ever, via multilateral environmental agreements and networks such as the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

“[From the environmental standpoint] Brazil is very good at a lot of things. A large part of its territory is protected, and it uses a lot of renewable energy, but there’s strong concern about the possibility of massive business deregulation, which would allow degradation of the environment and more deforestation. These are real threats right now,” he said.

He also mentioned the risk of arriving at a point of no return, after which environmental losses can no longer be reversed. This was one of the focal topics of the meeting, according to Carlos Joly, Full Professor at UNICAMP’s Biology Institute, coordinator of BIOTA-FAPESP, and one of the creators of the BPBES.

“One question is being prepared to measure how far climate change has already affected ecosystem services, for example, and how far we are from the point of no return or tipping point. Sometimes you don’t discover you’ve gone past that point until it’s too late,” Joly told Agência FAPESP.

To prevent this from happening, IPBES members such as Joly are working on more refined modeling tools and scenarios to enhance predictability. “We’re discussing the theoretical expertise on the one hand, and the practical know-how on the other. We need the right methodologies and toolkits to estimate the tipping points correctly,” he said.

In addition to representatives of the academic community in Latin American and Caribbean countries, the conference was attended by members of NGOs, governments and companies. “When we’re talking about global accords, we can’t remain confined to academia. It’s extremely important, of course. Research is the foundation for our work. But if we don’t reach out to NGOs, governments and the private sector, the discussion will stay within the confines of academia and won’t be converted into action,” said Maíra Padgurschi, a researcher with BPBES.

“The aim of bringing this kind of discussion to a networking event for researchers is to put the different actors face to face to discuss and find solutions together.”

Pricing nature

The idea of paying for environmental services was conceived a decade ago. This idea proposed that landowners should be paid for contributing to the conservation or restoration of ecosystem services – for example, protecting springs and forests.

A program of this kind in Brazil is Recovery and Protection of Climate and Biodiversity Ecosystem Services in the Southeast Atlantic Forest Corridor of Brazil, a partnership between the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and FAPESP, via BIOTA-FAPESP and the FAPESP Research Program on Global Climate Change (RPGCC).

“We’re presenting an innovation in the sense of not focusing on just one service, or on people being paid merely because they protect a water source, for example,” Joly explained. “Forest restoration is required to protect a spring, so carbon capture is also involved. Furthermore, if the restoration project uses species that are important as homes to or food for pollinators, maintaining the pollination service can also be considered for the purposes of payment for the environmental services provided by the landowner in question.”

New ways of thinking about ecosystem services have also been developed in recent years, Joly added. These include other values, without abandoning the paradigms established in 2005 and 2007, when the concepts were consolidated in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

“Many indigenous cultures have a different worldview and see ecosystem services as contributions by nature to humankind rather than as something that can be priced or monetized,” Joly noted, citing the discussion recently published in the journal Science.

“It’s important that we consider these two worldviews, rather than just the monetarist connotations that the concept of ecosystem services inevitably brings with it,” Joly said.

According to Farley, the market alone cannot provide all the necessary solutions, as advocated by many economists. “We need something more like a hybrid system in which things like sustainability, justice and essential resources such as food are determined outside the market,” he said.

Regarding the consolidation of a similar approach in Brazil, BPBES took a key step by concluding its first biodiversity assessment – with conclusions on the first survey of the kind ever performed in Brazil, the report was launched on November 8, 2018 in Rio de Janeiro.


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