Climate change is on the world’s agenda now more than ever before and it’s about time. We are seeing the impact of climate change in real time all around us. As I write this there is a heatwave in Oregon, which had its hottest day ever recorded – reaching 108F (42.2C) on Saturday afternoon. In parallel a tornado is devastating parts of south-east Czech Republic- these are extreme weather events and few would dispute that these are directly linked to our changing climate.
The action on climate change has increased exponentially in recent years. Civil society has been picking up this issue, as well as an increase in advocacy efforts challenging the urgency with which global leaders have been dealing with this emergency. In parallel, scientific and public discourse has increasingly been linking the climate crisis to the nature crisis. The ongoing loss of biodiversity is leading directly to the climate crisis and reducing our ability to draw carbon out of the atmosphere naturally. As the climate changes, our ecosystems break down and there is a further loss of biodiversity and ability to offset carbon. The relationship between the climate and nature is the very epitome of a co-dependent relationship, as one suffers so does the other.
However, we also know that we can use this relationship to our benefit – we can make progress on both if we make progress on one or the other. Conservation efforts are key to the protection of biodiversity. The protection of nature through conservation of forests, and other means, is critical to all life on earth and the safeguarding of the future of the planet as we know it.
This is as important as reducing emissions, and some would argue that it is more cost effective and impactful in the long run. Research suggests that investing in nature could provide around 30% of the cost-effective mitigation that is needed by 2030, and will also provide a powerful defence against the impacts and long-term hazards of climate change.
So, what does any of this have to do with elephants?
As the largest terrestrial mammal alive today, elephants are a wide-ranging species, this means that they need large forest areas to exist safely and to thrive. Male Asian elephants need 800sq km of forest, which is equivalent to the city of New York or Bangalore. 80% of Asian elephant ranges exist outside of designated protected forest areas, which are also home to indigenous communities with whom these animals need to coexist to survive.
Protecting forests and the areas that connect them are an essential part of protecting an endangered species like the Asian elephant. Protecting their habitat would not only secure the future of this charismatic animal, it would also go a long way in protecting the biodiversity that exists in these forests, the ecosystem services that will enable healthy communities, and the carbon capture and sequestration that is vital to any meaningful response to climate change.