Climate change has complex impacts on human well-being. One key pathway is through its effects on natural capital (natural resources and ecosystems).
BC3 is concerned with the scientific study of the interplay between climate change and the environment which ultimately affects human well-being. One of our crosscutting research lines is “Climate and the Natural Environment” (CNE). It addresses the interlinkages between climate change, natural capital and the benefits that derive from them in terms of human well-being. CNE research line is focused on both the role of natural capital assets (stocks of natural resources) and the flows of the benefits that derive through their management (ecosystem services) and the ways they interact with climate change. The CNE research line at BC3 therefore includes two areas of research: Natural Resources and Ecosystem Services.
The general objective of the Natural Resources (NR) research line is to investigate the links between climate change and the formation, depletion and exploitation of natural reserves of biotic and abiotic resources. Physical, ecological, social, and economic aspects are considered in these investigations, all of great relevance for local, national, and international decision making.
Ecosystem services (ES) are the benefits that societies obtain from NR. These include the direct provision of material goods, such as food, fuel and fiber, as well as the regulation of undesired events, such as climate change and flooding. Many non-material benefits, such as spiritual or aesthetic enjoyment, are also obtained from nature.
As a science-policy interface, using an ecosystem services framework allows CNE to focus on connecting climate change with human well-being through the management of NR and ecosystems. The language of ES is unique for being both rooted in science and understood by policy makers. By focusing directly on benefits to humans through ES, BC3 can bridge climate change science and decision-making, allowing the consequences of action to be understood by all actors.
The ES area thus complements the NR area within CNE by cross-cutting the two focal themes of climate research (mitigation and adaptation). It also connects closely with the centre’s vision of offering policy advice based on state of the art climate science. As a strategic research area, ecosystem services address both aspects of the response to climate change: For mitigation, carbon uptake and storage by forests play a crucial role, as well as the regulation of emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases.
Likewise, for adaptation, managing regulatory services (such as storm and flood regulation or nutrient cycling) and provisioning services (such as water supply and food production) is paramount to any comprehensive ecosystem-based adaptation strategy.
Regarding the policy vision of BC3, the CNE research area uses the NR-ES interface as this holds centre stage in regional, national and international agreements, policy initiatives and policy instruments. Using the complementary NR-ES approach conveys the importance to decision makers of jointly understanding the role of and impact on ecosystems of both mitigation and adaptation to climate change, as well as making the cost of policy inaction understood. CNE thus is key to creating a robust climate change science and policy interface.
The ES provision path starts with the ecosystem and becomes relevant to policy either directly or through the economic system. Due to its interdisciplinary lineup, CNE offers a unique ability of addressing all three sectors (natural, social and economic systems) in an integrated fashion. A multi-disciplinary perspective allows appropriate consideration not only of each ES in isolation, but of the full ecosystem services landscape with the corresponding tradeoffs and synergies. This is necessary to understand the consequences of any climate change strategy on all other dimensions of human well-being. Seeing climate change through the lens of ES offers BC3 the opportunity to use explicit ideas from ecology (e.g. thresholds and criticality), economics (e.g. efficiency) and political ecology (e.g. fairness of distribution) within a single, well-understood framework.
The link between the management of NR and the flows of benefits through ES is at the core of the CNE. On the biophysical side, the view of ecosystem services differs from traditional ecology by focusing not only on the natural production of benefits but also on the uptake of their physical carriers (e.g. water) by society and on their modalities of flow from nature to humans. CNE addresses the interactions between climate and management of land, waste and water resources to improve our understanding of:
(i) the effect of agricultural/forestry production systems on the net contribution of greenhouse gases (GHG),
(ii) different strategies to reduce GHG and to adapt to climate change,
(iii) potential impacts of climate and non-climate policies on effectiveness of policy on climate adaptation and GHG mitigation,
(iv) the environmental risks associated to changes in resource availability (e.g. water: draughts and flooding).
Besides terrestrial NR and ecosystems, CNE also focuses on the interactions between climate and management of marine ecosystems, specifically to improve our understanding of different strategies to adapt to climate change and to design new policy instruments to achieve good environmental status in marine systems. Through a focus on NR and its translation into ES, CNE focuses on (i) the contributions and reactions of extreme environments to climate change on diverse time and size scales and (ii) the vulnerability and resilience of ecosystems and natural resources to climate change.
Given the general objective of interdisciplinary climate change research at BC3 and thus the need to transit between biophysical research and socio-economic and policy research, the CNE research line pays particular attention to the human dimension by for instance understanding perception, and behavior towards adaptation to a changing environment, based on the monitoring and exploitation of natural resources. Social and economic research within CNE plays therefore a fundamental role.