Can PES fund climate change adaptation?

Can payments for ecosystem services fund climate change adaptation?

Coastal wetlands, such as mangroves, can be lost due to sea level rise. This is means essential ecosystem services, such as the maintenance of fisheries, coastal protection, and carbon sequestration, could be lost along with them. However, it doesn’t have to be this way – these wetlands can move landward in response to sea level rise, but only if there’s no coastal development in the way.

To adapt to climate change, it’s crucial that coastal land is set aside to accommodate wetland migration. Unfortunately, this comes with an opportunity cost, as this land might otherwise been used for urban or industrial development. For cash-strapped local planning authorities, such long term planning decisions may be prohibitively costly. However, emerging markets for ecosystem services, such as the carbon market (voluntary or otherwise), may have the potential to offset some of these high costs.

We explore this issue by comparing the cost of expanding the reserve system in Moreton Bay (near Brisbane) with and without sea level rise. And we looked at the contribution that payments for ecosystem services might make.

The methodology used to expand the reserve network under a range of sea level rise scenarios and potential payments for ecosystem services.

Sea level rise meant additional (landward) sites needed to be added to the protected area network to allow for wetland migration and to compensate for the wetlands lost at lower elevations. At all budget levels, the higher (business as usual) sea level rise projections resulted in a much higher cost of expanding the protected area network.

Despite these high costs, payments for ecosystem services have the potential to substantially reduce the net cost of expanding the reserve network under sea level rise. We found that a carbon payment alone could be used to expand the reserve network by 60% under the lower sea level rise scenarios, but only up to 37% under the higher (business as usual) sea level rise scenarios.

This highlights the need to develop markets and payment mechanisms for ecosystem services to support climate change adaptation policies for coastal wetlands. Alternatively, delaying the implementation of climate change adaptation policy may risk losing key areas of coastal wetlands, the species they support, and services they provide.

Check out the details in Conservation Letters.

Citation: Runting RK, Lovelock CE, Beyer HL & Rhodes JR (2017). Costs and Opportunities for Preserving Coastal Wetlands under Sea Level Rise. Conservation Letters. 10(1):49–57.