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VULNERABILITY ASSESSMENTS OF PROTECTED AREAS OF THE GREATER VIRUNGA LANDSCAPE VIS A VIS CLIMATE CHANGE AND OTHER THREATS TO BIODIVERSITY UNDER DIFFERENT CLIMATE CHANGE SCENARIOS

Publication overview

The study was carried out under the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) involving the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda. The collaborative transboundary framework of programs, plans and activities is aimed at conserving the network of Protected Areas (PAs) in the Greater Virunga Landscape (GVL). The GVL covers areas and communities around the PAs of Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda; Virunga National Park in DRC and five national parks (NP) in Uganda: Mgahinga Gorilla NP, Bwindi Impenetrable NP, Queen Elizabeth NP, Rwenzori Mountains NP, and Semliki NP. The landscape is, part of the Albertine Rift, is unique and a biodiversity hot spot as it contains several species of conservation concern such as the Mountain Gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), chimpanzees, African elephants and plants such as the Giant Lobelias and Dendrosenecios.

Climate change is a major threat in the landscape with effects on biodiversity within and outside the Protected Areas. Climate Change is has compounding effects, aggravating the impacts of other threats to biodiversity. These have impacts on the livelihoods of frontline communities that struggle to cope with the wrath of crop raiding animals. It is necessary to understand what will happen to the plants and animals under these changes.  This will be necessary for implementing the GVTC Climate Change Strategy with the overall objective of strengthening landscape-wide resilience to climate change and ensuring climate compatible conservation measures for sustainable livelihood in the GVL.

The purpose of this study is to strengthen the knowledge base on climate Change related aspects in order to enhance common understanding of Climate Change risks and its impacts on biodiversity and associated services as well as socio-economic systems. The specific objectives were to:

1) Assess the gaps in knowledge on Climate Change and its impacts on Protected Area management in the GVL;

2) Describe how species, ecosystems, and ecological processes within the GVL are affected by climate change to determine how ecosystem services will be affected by future changes;

3) Undertake forecast climatic conditions sufficiently robust and that take into account exposure, adaptive capacity and sensitivity components;

4) Describe how current threatening processes such as invasive species, mining, land use, diseases of humans, livestock and wildlife will change under different climate change forecasts and what these changes mean for the future of the PAs in GVL

5) Propose appropriate actions for managing and mitigating negative changes in biodiversity and ecosystem services in the GVL

The findings give a consolidated status report on VA to enable a better understanding of the cause/effect relationships behind climate change and its impact on PAs focusing on biodiversity, species, ecosystems, people, economic sectors and socio-ecological systems within specific PAs. 

The methods for the Vulnerability Assessment (VA) involved participatory as well as image analysis techniques. The CARE CVCA tool that measures vulnerability to climate change at multiple levels: communities, households and individuals. The approach, examines vulnerability according to the IPCC-identified components of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. The assessment determines the magnitude of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity using context specific indicators. The image analysis consisted of Land Use Land Cover change and land degradation hotspots assessment implemented for identifying/assessing the drivers and impacts of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem services.  Climate modelling was carried out to generate projections for the GVL.

The key gaps in knowledge on Climate Change and its impacts on Protected Area management in the GVL. How species, ecosystems, and ecological processes within the GVL are affected by climate change to determine how ecosystem services will be affected by future changes;

3) Undertake forecast climatic conditions sufficiently robust and that take into account exposure, adaptive capacity and sensitivity components;

4) Describe how current threatening processes such as invasive species, mining, land use, diseases of humans, livestock and wildlife will change under different climate change forecasts and what these changes mean for the future of the PAs in GVL

5) Propose appropriate actions for managing and mitigating negative changes in biodiversity and ecosystem services in the GVL

Drivers of Climate Change in the in the GVL: The study, as expected, shows that climate change is occurring in the GVL and is mainly driven by anthropogenic factors, especially increased land use intensity. This is driven by increased population growth and its associated demand for land for agriculture and settlement. In addition, there is unsustainable utilisation of natural resources.

Current effects of climate change on species, ecosystems, and ecological processes and potential future effects on ecosystem services: Climate change will negatively affect species, ecosystems and ecological processes in the GVL if appropriate mitigation and adaptation actions are not implemented.

Forecast of climatic conditions taking account of exposure, adaptive capacity and sensitivity: The GVL still provides a wide range of ecosystem services that vary spatially. The climate forecast for the GVL in the near future (2020-2039) under both RCP 4.5 and 8.5 generally shows an increase in both rainfall and temperature.

Changes in threatening processes under different climate change forecasts:  The projected climatic conditions will thus affect several ecosystem services and processes in the GVL. These effects are more likely to occur in DRC and Uganda and under RCP 8.5 as compared to RCP 4.5.

The following actions are proposed for managing and mitigating negative changes in biodiversity and ecosystem services

Basic Sustainable Land Management Practices such as Mulching, Terracing, Planting Trees along boundaries and others must be encouraged and scaled up. In addition, alternative livelihood strategies must be identified for the most vulnerable households.

The adaptive capacity of households that are increasingly dependent on tourism related activities in the GVL is unclear. The receding Glaciers and Snowline in the Rwenzori mountains could have adverse effects on tourism making the communities Vulnerable. Community Based Enterprises such as the Rwenzori Mountaineering Services may face difficulties if visitor numbers drop. Hence, efforts need to be made to diversify the tourism products beyond the current options.

Protected Areas allover the GVL are faced with increasing population pressure and demand for resources, hence there is a need to managing the human population growth.

The Protected Areas in the GVL are faced with the threat of Alien Invasive Species. Restoration of degraded ecosystems must be treated as a matter of priority. Current measures are inadequate in many of the PAs.

Whereas the Protected Areas in the GVL are mainly mountains, research within the Afroalpine Zone on the Mountains has received very little attention. Moreover, monitoring efforts should be strengthened on the mountains. We recommend the formation of a Centre of Mountain Related research in the GVL. Ultimately, Research and Ecological Monitoring must be enhanced.

Livelihoods of communities requires additional attention. Sustaining promising/successful interventions.  Mechanisms for utilizing the money for revenue sharing need to be strengthened. The issue of compensation for the communities over lost crops needs to be harmonised between the PAs.

Year of publication
2019