4.7 Implications for sustainable development
Over the past 50 years, humans have converted and modified natural ecosystems more rapidly and over larger areas than in any comparable period of human history (e.g., Steffen et al., 2004). These changes have been driven by the rapidly growing demands for food, fish, freshwater, timber, fibre and fuel (e.g., Vitousek et al., 1997) and have contributed to substantial net gains in human well-being and economic development, while resulting in a substantial and largely irreversible loss of biodiversity and degradation in ecosystems and their services (Reid et al., 2005).
The consequences of policies to address the vulnerability of ecosystems to climate change at both the national and international level are not yet fully understood. There is growing evidence that significant impacts on the environment may result from perverse or unintended effects of policies from other sectors, which directly or indirectly have adverse consequences on ecosystems and other environmental processes (Chopra et al., 2005). Land re-distribution policies, for example, while designed to increase food self-sufficiency also contribute to reducing carbon sequestration and loss of biodiversity through extensive clear-cutting.
Effective mechanisms to analyse cross-sectoral impacts and to feed new scientific knowledge into policy-making are necessary (Schneider, 2004). There is substantial evidence to suggest that developing and implementing policies and strategies to reduce the vulnerability of ecosystems to climate change is closely linked to the availability of capacity to address current needs (e.g., Chanda, 2001). Thus, prospects for successful adaptation to climate change will remain limited as long as factors (e.g., population growth, poverty and globalisation) that contribute to chronic vulnerability to, for example, drought and floods, are not resolved (Kates, 2000; Reid et al., 2005).