Key findings: Local communities living in and around PAs are heavily dependent on the surrounding ecosystems, and are becoming increasingly affected by climate change. However, the inter-relationships between PAs, climate change and communities are not yet well understood. A series of recommendations are therefore provided to enable better integration of climate change information into PA management.
In order to better understand the relationships that exist between climate change, PAs and communities in West Africa, five national studies were commissioned and were subsequently consolidated in a regional report by IUCN PACO.
PAs in West Africa, and in the five core project countries in particular, are subject to considerable pressure, principally caused by human activities (including poaching, the over-exploitation of resources, and bush fires, among others). Habitats are deteriorating and changing, and wildlife populations are gradually diminishing. PAs are becoming increasingly vulnerable, particularly to the effects of climate change, as are the surrounding ecosystems.
The ecosystems surrounding PAs are heavily used by the local communities living in the vicinity of PAs. Indeed, in all five national reports, the most important activities identified around PAs were agriculture, livestock farming, fishing and logging (timber and non-timber forest products). These activities are also highly dependent on climatic conditions for their optimal development. The main climate threats identified by the local communities and in the literature review (namely drought, flooding, strong winds, and irregular rainfall) have an impact both on their livelihoods and well-being. A loss of the animal and plant biodiversity used by the communities, a reduction in grazing land, a drop in crop yields and animal production, a drop in household income, food insecurity, a deterioration of community health and in general an increase in poverty have all been mentioned as consequences of climate change. As a result, resources located within PAs are becoming more attractive as those outside PAs no longer suffice to meet communities' needs, and the communities can thus, in turn, have a negative impact on the PAs. Incursions into PAs for poaching, to find grazing land, new fields and non-timber forest products have indeed been observed.
However, the relationship between climate change, PAs and the communities living around them is not yet very well understood by PA managers and political decision makers. Much effort in terms of research, awareness-raising and information is therefore still needed. Some adaptation action plans and programmes have already been implemented in the countries and at a regional level to help communities to adapt to the impacts of climate change policies have also been developed. However, these plans do not take into account how these three elements interact, and more efforts are needed to better understand and reduce the negative interactions between climate change, PAs and the local communities.
To improve the understanding of these relationships and implement appropriate actions, five recommendations concerning the different stakeholders in PA management have been made:
1. Researchers should develop appropriate tools for collecting and analysing data to better understand the interactions between PAs, local communities and climate change;
2. PA managers should set up integrated systems which take climate change into account to monitor PA biodiversity;
3. PA managers should enhance their actions to raise awareness regarding the direct and indirect effects of climate change among local communities;
4. Funders should improve the capacity of PA managers and representatives of affected communities to implement climate change adaptation plans and use monitoring and evaluation tools; and
5. Public authorities should develop integrated climate change adaptation and PA management policies.