Authors - Researchers for Development:
Climate change is nowadays one of the most relevant sources of pressure for the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services. There is scientific evidence that supports these negative impacts on biodiversity and derived ecosystem services (ECLAC, 2017). Given this reality, it is essential to account for this variable within conservation strategies and integrated landscape management, as well as in the restoration of critical habitats.
Protected wild areas (PWA) are considered as decisive tools for sustainable development and to face the vulnerability generated by climate change. In addition to conserving species and ecosystems, PWAs provide essential ecosystem goods and services such as clean water, genetic information banks, carbon storage and capture, disaster risk mitigation, soil stabilization and also preserve our cultural heritage (IUCN, 2018).
In Paraguay, changes in land use are threatening the integrity and connectivity of natural landscapes with the PWAs and natural reserves of indigenous peoples and communities. Between 1987 and 2012, approximately 44.000 square kilometers of forest were lost, mainly due to the expansion of livestock establishments in the Western Region of the country (NASA, 2016). According to the Minister of the Environment of Paraguay (MADES, 2018), approximately 1,057,888 hectares were deforested between January 2014 and January 2018 in the Western Region of the country, out of which 959,559 hectares, more than 90%, belongs to the Departments of Alto Paraguay and Boquerón in the Western Region, where livestock production is the main activity of that region of the country. Likewise, it also mentions that the average deforested land in the last four years in the Paraguayan Chaco reached 264 thousand hectares per year (Benítez, 2018).
According to the Strategic Diagnosis of the National System of Protected Wild Areas (SINASIP by its acronym in Spanish) of Paraguay, the population benefiting from ecosystem services is equivalent to 1,429,003 inhabitants, settled in buffer zones and areas of influence. For the ecoregions of the Western Region or Paraguayan Chaco, the population is 80,300 inhabitants, where the majority population is indigenous and rural, and depends exclusively on what the forests provide them. The Eastern Region, where changes in land use have modified the territories for extensive agriculture and for livestock purposes, as well as a growing and disorderly urban growth, there is a population of 1,348,616 inhabitants, which also shows a greater change in natural landscapes and loss of habitat, with the protected forest areas being the only remnants of forest and climate regulation, such as the provision of food for indigenous people and local communities (MADES, 2018).
The WPAs that make up the SINASIP represent a repository of a unique biological diversity, due to the confluence and ecotones formed by four large environmental complexes and natural communities: Alto Paraná Atlantic Forest (BAAPA), the Chaco (Dry and Humid), the Pantanal and the Cerrado. In these life complexes it is estimated that there are about 8,000 to 13,000 species of plants and 100,000 species of invertebrates: 4,490 plants, 2,434 invertebrates, 297 species of fish, 681 birds, 182 mammals, 159 reptiles and 85 amphibians have been identified (MNHNP, 2015, SEAM, 2016). It is also located in one of the centers of origin of cultivated plants in Latin America of about 13 species of socioeconomic importance, such as yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis), pineapple (Ananas comosus), cassava (Manihot esculenta), ka'a he'ê (Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni), among others (MNHNP, 2015, SEAM, 2016, MADES 2018). Human dependence on ecosystem services is evident in subsistence economies linked to the natural environment, where human communities take everything they need to live directly from ecosystems (Gómez Baggethun & De Groot, 2007).
Based on the results obtained in the study Assessment of vulnerability and capacity to face the challenges and opportunities of climate change in Paraguay (Id and CEDIC, 2017), the relative contributions of the ecosystem functions, goods and services present in the 11 ecoregions, from the present WPAs and areas of influence have been identified.
As a result of the analysis, the ecoregions with the highest number of WPAs are those of Alto Paraná, Aquidabán and Central Selva in the Eastern Region, with a total of 70 conservation units, where they highlight their functions of water regulation and food provision, contributing to ensure good quality water. In the same way, these ecoregions have greater ecosystem goods and services, the most important being habitable climate, good quality water, food and drinking water.
While there is not a large number of WPAs in the Western Region (23 currently), those that do exist have a large extension, with the largest area being the Defensores del Chaco National Park with 720.00 ha. The WPAs located in the ecoregions of the Medanos del Chaco and the Cerrado, fulfill an important function that is to serve as habitats of the last native peoples in voluntary isolation (Ayoreos), and from contacted villages, providing them with good quality water for consumption, food and materials for construction and fiber. In the ecoregions of the Humid Chaco, Chaco Seco and Pantanal, the greatest contributions of the WPAs have the functions of regulation of the climate, atmospheric and water, relative to the formation of soils and biological control, as well as provision of biological resources and raw material. In these ecoregions, goods and services are characterized by providing a habitable climate, materials for construction, fuel and water for consumption.
In addition, these WPAs that constitute the National System of Protected Areas of Paraguay (SINASIP) contribute to the sequestration of greenhouse gases, making this service an opportunity to contribute economically to the efficient conservation and management of protected and unprotected areas and natural reserves, allowing, in turn, the generation and recovery of support habitat for people and biocultural diversity, as well as places of enjoyment and sustainable development. The contribution of the wilderness areas that make the SINASIP up to the mitigation of greenhouse gases (GHG) is given through the protection and conservation of 97 WPAs comprised in different subsystems, through carbon sequestration, which also allows the buffering of extreme events, and water regulation.
Among the contributions of SINASIP within the adaptation to climate change can be mentioned the people living in the buffer zones (approximately 1,400,000), those that make use of biodiversity and ecosystem services, within their natural strategies and visions, which also allows them to adapt to extreme climate. The protection and conservation of protected areas and their natural capital allows to increase resilience capacity and, therefore, reduce vulnerability to climate change. Its contribution to sustainable development and local media, allows applying to emerging financial mechanisms on climate change, thus offering to the carbon market, a stock of carbon equivalent tons of 678,938,065 tons CO2, based on reference costs, generating a total of 8,987,270,000 guaraníes (MADES, 2018). This economic support contributes to sustainable development in the buffer zones, as well as being an environmental asset. It is a contribution to the REDD+ mechanism and the payment program for environmental services.
Paraguay continues to move towards the establishment of an efficient Protected Areas System, but at an insufficient pace. Unless consolidation efforts and conservation capacity are intensified, a robust, effective, efficient SINASIP can not be achieved and capable of withstanding the pressures of global changes in the short, medium and much less in the long term, which would inexorably affect livelihoods and productive systems (MADES, 2018).
The promotion of traditional knowledge is a valid strategy for adapting to climate change and nature conservation and is also related to the achievement of the Aichi (CBD) goals, the World Congress of Nature and the World Congress of Parks of the UICN, among other commitments (Lara and Vides-Almonacid, 2014). According to Vides (2014), when talking about adaptation, the traditional knowledge that local communities have about natural environment and the technologies generated to cope with uncertain climatic conditions should be recognized, since they are an essential source of information for the development of strategies to adapt to climate change at all levels.
The WPAs that make up the SINASIP constitute an alternative to climate change, since they incorporate strategies and plans towards natural solutions, where mitigation has as its main contribution the reduction of the loss and degradation of natural habitats, and adaptation, reduction of vulnerability and increasing the resilience of natural ecosystems. It has been verified at the level of the country's ecoregions, that the WPAs generate the carbon content stability, being higher in those ecoregions with more protected areas, making evident its role as buffer of extreme climatic events by maintaining the levels of water yield during episodes of drought and other instances of high variability.
Finally, understanding that Climate Change constitutes an upward threat to biodiversity and ecosystem services due to the modification of natural landscapes, it is necessary to prepare a Policy on Wild Protected Areas against Climate Change, associated with a National Restoration Plan of ecosystems and habitats. The restoration of forest ecosystems, strengthening of sustainable activities of producer groups, identification of mitigation and adaptation measures to climate change in the WPAs and surrounding communities, and installation of automatic meteorological stations (AMS) represent essential lines of action for the management plans of the WPAs today must have and build in a participatory way and counting with free prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples, the peasant communities and the productive sector.