New Guidelines to Help Countries to Better Plan Climate Change Adaptation Measures for Migratory Waterbirds

Budapest, 28 September, 2022 - Climate change is already negatively affecting many waterbird species and new Complementary Guidelines on Climate Change Adaptation Measures for Waterbirds – proposed for adoption at AEWA’s 8th Meeting of the Parties in Budapest – provide much needed practical guidance to help resource-constrained countries to understand the impacts of climate change on their waterbird populations and key sites, plan adaptation measures and implement mitigation policies. These new guidelines build on the existing AEWA MOP-approved guidelines (Conservation Guidelines No. 12 - Guidelines on measures needed to help waterbirds to adapt to climate change and Resolution 6.6 - Updated Advice on Climate Change Adaptation Measures for Waterbirds).

The effects of climate change on waterbirds have been the subject of numerous research in the past few years. A study conducted by an international team of experts published in the journal Bird Conservation International (BCI) predicts that Afrotropical waterbird species breeding in Southern and Eastern Africa, such as the globally threatened Maccoa Duck (Oxyura maccoa), White-winged Flufftail (Sarothrura ayresi), and even other more common species, will be more exposed to climate change impacts compared to most species found in the temperate zone of the Palearctic. Another study published in Global Change Biology predicts that by 2050, as much as 87% of Critical Sites in Africa will be rendered less suitable for waterbirds due to the impacts of climate change, which is especially alarming considering these sites harbour significant parts of already threatened waterbird populations. 

The changes driven by climate change that are expected to affect waterbirds and their habitat include changes in temperature throughout the year, in seasonality, in rainfall and drought, in timing and duration of inundation of inland wetlands, and sea-level rise. How these changes will affect the connectivity between breeding and non-breeding areas of migratory waterbirds is also an important aspect to consider. Waterbirds will be indirectly affected through habitat availability, morphology, genetics, behavior including phenology, and interspecific interactions. The latest UN Environment Programme Frontiers Report points out that long-distance migratory waterbirds such as the White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) or the Red Knot (Calidris canutus) - both listed under AEWA - are particularly vulnerable to phenological change caused by climate warming effects. Their chicks for instance face higher mortality with the mismatch of food availability or exposure to extreme weather conditions.

The current effects of climate change are already being felt by waterbird species listed in Annex 2 of AEWA, highlighting the need for coordinated measures from the Parties of AEWA. The 2019-2027 AEWA Strategic Plan – in line with Targets 13.1 and 13.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals – envisages integration of appropriate mitigation and adaptation measures into the planning and implementation of all species and habitat conservation measures.

As one of the products of the Climate Resilient Flyway project (CRF) supported by the German International Climate Initiative, and implemented by Wetlands International, the Complementary Guidelines on Climate Change Adaptation Measures for Waterbirds provides practical advice to AEWA Parties on the use of the new information sources on the impacts of climate change. These include the Critical Site Network Tool 2.0 which was also developed as part of the CRF project in order to assist on-the-ground implementation of AEWA Resolution 6.6 at national and at site level. The guidelines lead the practitioners through a stepwise process that is organised in five stages, namely: 

1. Review the impact of climate change on biodiversity in the target country;

2. Assess the vulnerability of AEWA species to climate change in the target country;

3. Assess the vulnerability of Critical Sites to climate change in the target country;

4. Identify climate change adaptation measures to support AEWA populations at their key sites or in the wider landscape;

5. Integrate the needs of waterbirds into national climate change mitigation and adaptation policies.

The application of this workflow and the various tools is illustrated through the example of the Verlorenvlei Estuary in South Africa, in a series of annexes at the end of the guidelines document. 

As successful adaptation depends on strengthening waterbird populations at the areas that are still suitable for them now, the guidelines encourage taking no-regret conservation actions as soon as possible even based on incomplete knowledge.



About AEWA MOP8:

From 26-30 September 2022 in Budapest, Hungary, AEWA MOP8 brings together the full range of AEWA Contracting Parties and partners including representatives of other international treaties, international and national non-governmental organizations as well as experts from the scientific community. 

MOP8 will decide on issues of crucial importance for the conservation of migratory waterbirds and their habitats across Africa and Eurasia and decisions made in Budapest could help strengthen the flyway approach to the conservation of migratory waterbirds across a geographic range spanning 119 countries.    

The official slogan of MOP8 – Strengthening Flyway Conservation in a Changing World – captures the need for AEWA Parties to use this MOP and make collective decisions to ensure stronger resources for the implementation and the delivery of the Agreement, through particularly challenging times with the pressing global issues related to climate change, biodiversity loss and shifting priorities in particular due to the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic. Strengthening flyway conservation can only materialize with sustainable funding, compliance, and increased implementation.

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The Complementary Guidelines on Climate Change Adaptation Measures for Waterbirds were compiled by Szabolcs Nagy as part of the Wetlands International’s CRF project team, and they were used in the training organised in December 2021 in the framework of the project for Anglophone African Contracting Parties to AEWA. Following that training, the document was further developed, and a case study was added to the Annex to demonstrate the use of the various tools and the entire workflow of the planning process.

Last updated on 16 December 2022

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