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Exploring links between biodiversity, carbon storage and other ecosystem services

13 August 2014

A review by UNEP-WCMC of the relationship between biodiversity, carbon storage and the provision of other ecosystem services has identified broad agreement that forests, especially natural intact forests, provide a wide range of ecosystem services, and that biodiversity is important in supporting them.

At the request of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), UNEP-WCMC conducted a critical literature review and brought together essential information on the links between biodiversity, carbon storage, regulating ecosystem services such as water purification, pollination, and soil erosion control, and the provision of timber, fuelwood and food.

Our report provides guidance for the International Climate Fund (ICF) that can be used in the selection and design of investments aimed at reducing deforestation and forest degradation in tropical developing countries. The ICF is based on the assumption that, “tackling deforestation offers big opportunities to reduce poverty, reduce emissions and protect biodiversity,” (DECC, 2011).

The report supports an understanding of the strength of these relationships, and illustrates how intact tropical forests may help developing countries adapt to climate change. The review also relates the findings to specific policy interventions, such as conversion of agricultural land to agroforestry, by considering general issues relating to the trade-offs and impacts of potential ICF activities on biodiversity, carbon storage and other regulating ecosystem services.

It was found that efforts to conserve intact, natural forests and restore degraded areas to near natural levels of intactness and diversity are likely to be broadly effective at preserving carbon storage and other ecosystem services, such as soil erosion control and water regulation. In particular, biodiversity provides resilience to environmental changes in tropical forests.

However, confidence in the evidence supporting links between biodiversity and particular ecosystem services varies. The evidence for some relationships is well established, including the relationship between biodiversity and pollination services. For others, such as between species richness, carbon storage, and sequestration, the relationships are more complex and other ecosystem dynamics may be important.

It is clear from the literature review that tropical forests are important sources of food and medicine, making them essential to peoples’ livelihoods and health. The use of biodiversity by communities is often associated with particular types of knowledge, cultural practices and preferences. Interventions aimed at enhancing the benefits to livelihoods and the sustainability of ecosystem services should therefore recognise and make use of the role played by traditional and community knowledge and practices.

Overall measures to conserve and restore tropical forests are likely to benefit local populations (subject to issues of access and use rights). The report also identifies scope for further areas of investigation into the mechanisms by which biodiversity may play a role in delivering carbon storage benefits and other ecosystem services, as well as the identification of practical experiences of forestry interventions and the factors that influence their success.

Publication information
Hicks, C., Woroniecki, S., Fancourt, M., Bieri, M., Garcia Robles, H., Trumper, K., Mant, R. (2014) The relationship between biodiversity, carbon storage and the provision of other ecosystem services: Critical Review for the Forestry Component of the International Climate Fund. Cambridge, UK

UNEP-WCMC was able to draw on expertise for this report from long experience working with forestry issues in developing countries. In particular, the Centre works to support the UN-REDD Programme - the United Nations Collaborative Initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) in developing countries - particularly the work on safeguards and multiple benefits.