Climate change poses an existential threat to species, ecosystems, and ultimately human well-being. Conventional conservation approaches, while valuable, struggle to keep pace with the rapidly changing environmental conditions. This demands a bold and innovative approach to climate adaptation in biodiversity conservation.
Conservation organizations and natural resource agencies must adopt new and more innovative approaches to protect species and ecosystems from the rapidly unfolding climate crisis. Innovative approaches that go beyond traditional conservation practices are essential to close the ‘adaptation gap,’ or the disparity between the scope of adaptation efforts and the scope of climate impacts.
In this regard, a new guide titled ‘Innovation in Climate Adaptation: Harnessing the Power of Innovation for Effective Biodiversity and Ecosystem Adaptation’ from the Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASC) network and its partners provides a practical roadmap for individuals and institutions to develop creative and innovative climate adaptation solutions.
How to Innovate?
The guide from The National Wildlife Federation, in collaboration with the CASC network and the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Climate Change Specialist Group, explores what ‘innovation’ can mean for conservation and demonstrates practical ways to achieve innovation in climate adaptation.
Innovation, defined by novelty, value, and process, arises not only from new original, and brilliant ideas but also from the reinvention of ideas used in other sectors (e.g., business or technology) and the revitalization of traditional, historical, or ancestral ideas and practices.
Essentially, innovation is about creating value through novel solutions. It’s not just about tweaking existing methods; it’s about rethinking, reinventing, and paving new ways. The guide provides a practical framework for harnessing the power of innovation in the context of climate adaptation for biodiversity.
Additionally, the guide explores a framework called the ‘innovation lifecycle’ that outlines the stages of the innovation process, including the ‘valley of death’ stage when promising innovations are often abandoned in favor of convention. In practice, the guide applies the ‘innovation lifecycle’ to adaptation planning by exploring barriers to innovation, how to create conditions that foster creativity within individuals and institutions, and how to assess and manage inherent risks.
Successful innovation is not a one-time event but rather an iterative process with different phases:
- Problem exploration and idea generation: Identifying challenges and generating ideas for possible solutions.
- Prototyping and testing: Experimenting and refining promising ideas.
- Implementation and scale-up: Implementing the most effective solutions.
- Diffusion and learning: Sharing successful innovations and adapting them for broader application.
“Climate change and the ecological changes and non-natural disasters it fuels are rapidly altering the natural world, and at a much faster pace than anticipated just a few years ago. This landmark guide underscores not only the growing climate challenges facing the conservation community but also the opportunity (and indeed imperative) to be more creative in crafting effective approaches to biodiversity conservation and climate adaptation,” said Bruce Stein, lead author, and report lead, Chief Scientist Emeritus at The National Wildlife Federation. “This roadmap cannot be enacted on its own. Adapting to climate change on a scale and scope sufficient to prevent catastrophic biodiversity losses will require conservationists to embrace an innovation mindset, and institutions to establish a culture of innovation.”
The guide identifies and explores various barriers to innovation, such as risk aversion, isolated thinking, and limited knowledge. It then presents a set of conducive conditions that foster creativity and help overcome these obstacles. These conditions encompass elements such as supportive institutional cultures, effective governance, strong knowledge exchange, and appropriate organizational capacity.
Fear of failure can stifle innovation. However, the guide emphasizes the importance of risk assessment and management as integral parts of the process. We must weigh the potential downsides of inaction and proceed as usual against the risks associated with trying new approaches. A responsible approach to risk management can pave the way for bold and innovative adaptation actions.
“The growing conservation challenges posed by climate change require creativity and a willingness for institutions to be nimble and take risks. This report is a one-of-a-kind guide for scientists and decision-makers to adopt a culture of innovation around climate change adaptation,” said Molly Cross, Regional Manager at the USGS North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center and report co-author. “The USGS provides practical science to help resource managers and communities design and evaluate innovative approaches so they can effectively help ecosystems and people cope with the challenges of a changing climate.”
“Climate change is taking conservation into new and unknown territories, where conventional practices are no longer effective. Conceiving, testing, and applying innovative approaches at scale is necessary,” said Wendy Foden, report co-author and Chair of the IUCN SSC Climate Change Specialist Group. “I encourage IUCN members and the conservation community at large to review the report. It offers valuable insights that I believe will benefit all stakeholders involved.”
The guide comes to life through real-world case studies showcasing how various organizations have overcome challenges and seized opportunities for innovative adaptation. From restoring marshes in the Chesapeake Bay to managing wildfires in Tasmania’s wilderness areas, these stories offer valuable insights and practical lessons for professionals.
The case studies and examples serve as inspiration for researchers, educators, policymakers, funders, and conservation professionals who are using this roadmap to swiftly develop and apply innovative approaches.
The guide serves as a call to action, urging individuals and institutions to embrace an innovation mindset and cultivate cultures of innovation. By embracing creativity, fostering collaboration, and learning from successes and failures, we can collectively rise to the innovation imperative and ensure a future where biodiversity thrives in the face of a changing climate.
Reference (open access)
Stein, B. A., J. A. Cushing, S. T. Jackson, M. Cross, W. Foden, L. M. Hallett, S. M. Hagerman, L. J. Hansen, J. J. Hellmann, D. Magness, G. F. Mendoza, C. Newsome, A. Pathak, S. M. Prober, J. H. Reynolds, and E. S. Zavaleta. 2024. Innovation in Climate Adaptation: Harnessing Innovation for Effective Biodiversity and Ecosystem Adaptation. Washington, DC: National Wildlife Federation.