Botanic Gardens Conservation International
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Editorial - Responding to climate change

Volume 4 Number 2 - July 2007

Sara Oldfield

Climate change is now generally accepted to be one of the big challenges of our time. Steps to mitigate and adapt to new and often dramatic climatic conditions are being widely debated and encouraged by politicians and the media. Environmentalism is fashionable but still the value of maintaining plant diversity is not given the attention it deserves. Explaining the links between plant diversity, ecosystem functions and the global climate is a key role for botanic gardens. At the same time safeguarding plant diversity in the face of increased environmental threats is ever more important.

In this issue of BGjournal the impact of climate change on plant species in various parts of the world is described and the responses that can be made by botanic gardens are considered. It is vital that we act and demonstrate the actions that are being taken so that the work of botanic gardens is seen as relevant and part of the solution. BGCI is developing major initiatives in response to climate change and these are set out in our new Five Year Plan 2007-2012 (see BGCI website). Facilitating exchange of ideas and expertise between our global membership and associated botanic garden networks remains invaluable in delivering the Plan. Climate change was certainly a key topic for discussion at the highly successful 3rd Global Botanic Gardens Congress held in April this year and some of the papers presented here result from these discussions.

Provision of accurate information on the impact of climate change on wild plants will be crucial to guide and prioritise conservation action. BGCI is preparing a baseline report on this topic that will be available by the end of this year. The baseline report will be made available to policy makers and will be used to develop a response to climate change within the framework of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC).

It is likely that increasing political and popular attention will focus on biodiversity and its relationship to climate change in the run up to the 2010 Biodiversity Target, “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on earth”. We have to ensure that plant diversity is at the forefront of discussions. The successful implementation of the GSPC, building on five years of successful initiatives to promote and implement the targets, will help to ensure the security of the world’s vegetation and thereby reduce the amount of carbon emissions significantly. Professor Stephen Hopper, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has pointed out that conserving the world’s natural vegetation will reduce carbon emissions by an amount more than equivalent to those generated by the world’s combined transport systems. Using the baseline report as a starting point, BGCI is also planning a webbased information service on the impact of climate change on wild plants. This will link with our PlantSearch database, providing information on threatened plants likely to be at most urgent risk as a result of increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, altered hydrological patterns and other consequences of changing climatic conditions. The information service will be designed to provide clear messages and resources for the education and public awareness work of botanic gardens and to highlight ongoing activities around the world that people can get involved in.

There is much that we can all do to decrease our carbon footprints and BGCI is reviewing its own internal policies to make sure that we minimise our impact. We welcome suggestions and ideas to guide our review and look forward to working with all our members in addressing the challenge of climate change.

Sara Oldfield
Secretary General, BGCI