PARCC West Africa

Guidelines for PA managers in the face of climate change

Key findings: In the face of climate change, PA managers will increasingly have to manage for change, rather than focus on maintaining existing systems. Key elements of management planning are to (i) review existing goals and objectives from a climate change perspective, in order to adopt forward-looking goals; (ii) assess vulnerability to climate change to identify and select adaptation actions; and (iii) build capacity for adaptation to climate change and monitor the effectiveness of actions.

Practical guidelines have been developed to present good practices and approaches to plan and manage protected areas in the face of climate change, with a focus on West Africa. They are primarily aimed at protected area managers and planners, but can also be useful to other stakeholders involved with the management of protected areas. This report adapted key elements of the IUCN WCPA Best Practice Protected Area Guidelines Series: 'Responding to Climate Change, Guidance for protected area managers and planners' (Gross et al., in press), which we complemented with examples and considerations specific to the West Africa region, drawing on the findings of the PARCC project.


In the face of climate change, protected area managers will increasingly be challenged to manage for change rather than focus on conserving existing systems. A key aspect of climate adaptation for PA management will be reviewing existing goals and objectives from a climate change perspective to adopt forward-looking, climate-informed goals. This involves taking into account the broader physical and institutional landscapes, broadening the temporal aspect of planning, emphasizing ecological and evolutionary processes, and dealing with uncertainty. Adaptation strategies will need to consider specific threats and needs of protected areas, and be capable of addressing the most relevant climate impacts.However, constraints such as competing demands or limited resources may prevent the development and implementation of stand-alone plans. Integrating climate considerations and adaptation into existing processes can help overcome these challenges and connect longer term-adaptation needs with short-term conservation challenges.


Climate vulnerability assessments provide the information needed to help identify adaptation options, including lists of important conservation targets, projections of key climate variables, and ecological consequences of changing climatic conditions. A number of approaches exist for assessing the vulnerability of species, habitats, ecosystems, biomes and human communities. Key decisions to be made include selecting the area, period, and the number and specific types of conservation targets to be assessed. A number of climate projections can be used that differ in geographical scale, climate variables, time resolution and methodology. Results from vulnerability assessments can help determine priorities by identifying those vulnerabilities that provide a critical link between conservation goals and adaptation actions. Criteria used to identify vulnerabilities vary with the goals of a protected area or planning process and may include: ecological significance, implications for other relevant societal values, magnitude, likelihood, reversibility or timing of impacts, as well as potential for successful adaptation. In this context, the results of the PARCC project are particularly useful, especially those from species distribution models that helped define expected species distribution under future climate change scenarios and traits-based vulnerability assessments that identified species vulnerable to climate change.


Identifying and selecting adaptation options can be done through a variety of techniques including brainstorming workshops and scenario planning. It usually involves a mix of topical experts, park managers and decision-makers, citizens or others with local knowledge. “No-regret actions" are actions that PA managers can undertake to be ready for climate change regardless of any chosen strategy and regardless of the extent of climate change the PA is likely to experience. These include: ensuring that management capacity is in place for effective management in a changing climate; making sure that there is institutional support for adaptive management; increasing knowledge and information of impacts and responses to a changing climate; increasing awareness and motivating action by others through improved communication; and engaging participants and partners in common solutions.

Best practices for adaptation at the PA system-level include expanding the PA network in ways that enhance species and ecosystem adaptation to climate change; planning for a mix of PA sizes in the system, but prioritizing for very large representative units; planning PAs that have high physiographic diversity; ensuring that the legal and regulatory framework allows park managers the flexibility to adapt to climate change; ensuring landscape and seascape permeability by retaining and/or enhancing linkages, corridors and connectivity and prioritizing the protection of large, intact systems; integrating PAs into surrounding landscapes so that there is joint planning and considerations for connectivity and transboundary wildlife, among others, as well as regularly reviewing PA boundaries to see if adjustment is necessary. The results of the connectivity assessment of the regional PA network as part of the PARCC project will also be particularly helpful in selecting which PAs and/or missing links between PAs are the most important to maintain, or strengthen, in order to enhance PA connectivity. Furthermore, the development of the West African systematic conservation planning system and the identification of priority areas for conservation will inform the design of new PAs in the region, taking into account climate change impacts on species distributions.

Finally, strategies to consider at the protected area level include (i) managing for existing conditions by enhancing ecological integrity and resilience where there is very low species turnover expected, and almost no species considered climate change vulnerable; (ii) actively managing to maintain specific ecological values where some turnover is expected but not very high, with only a few species vulnerable to climate change identified; (iii) managing for significant modifications to former ecological conditions where there is a high turnover, and a significant number of species expected to be affected by climate change; and (iv) moving to new ecological goals and managing a new ecosystem type where there is a very high species turnover, and very high number of species considered vulnerable to climate change. Data on expected species turnover within PAs have been compiled as part of the PARCC project, as well as the list of species considered as vulnerable to climate change, and will therefore support identification of the best management strategy. Another key element of management planning in the face of climate change is building capacity for adaptation to climate change. The PARCC project also contributed to building capacity at multiple institutional levels through a number of regional and national training workshops on the themes of protected areas and climate change.


Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) are the basis for identifying successful adaptation processes and management actions, and thus adaptive management. A well designed monitoring and evaluation programme shows how management actions address climate vulnerability, and measures how these actions contribute to adaptation. Good practice includes using established principles and supporting adaptive management, identifying how M&E will contribute to adaptation, anticipating and designing monitoring for change, and including adaptation-specific indicators in existing monitoring practices. The use of the revised Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT), developed as part of the PARCC project, can help monitor how effectively climate change aspects are incorporated into PA design and management.

Misrachi M., and Belle E. 2016. Guidelines for protected area managers in the face of climate change in West Africa, Insights from the PARCC project. UNEP-WCMC technical report.