Climate-Smart Management Planning

Adapting for the Future

The mountains of high Asia are some of the most vulnerable in the world to climate change. From rapid warming melting glaciers and destabilizing permafrost to increasingly frequent and intense storms and resulting hazards like landslides and floods to droughts and seasonal shifts in rainfall, its effects have already begun to impact local communities, livelihoods, and ecosystems.

These ecosystems provide numerous benefits for local communities and larger economies downstream—known as “ecosystem services”—including water provision, grasslands for grazing livestock and wildlife, (eco/hunting) tourism, habitat for abundant biodiversity, and carbon sequestration, among many others. As temperatures rise and precipitation patterns shift, the mountains of high Asia are undergoing profound change, compromising these services and threatening the long-term viability of both human settlements and wildlife populations, including the snow leopard, the high altitude guardian of the headwaters of the major rivers of Asia.

No resource in high Asia is more affected than water, as glaciers and permafrost melt rapidly, snow and rainfall patterns change, and extreme events like droughts, landslides, and floods increase in frequency and intensity, impacting communities and wildlife alike. As these impacts worsen over the coming decades, community livelihoods will be increasingly threatened, risking even greater pressures on surrounding ecosystems and wildlife as people try to cope, including the snow leopard and its prey.

This is especially true for so many isolated, economically poor communities across high Asia that lack access to basic services and infrastructure. Livestock grazing in some parts of Central Asia has increased in duration and shifted to higher elevations due to climate change, increasing interactions between herders and wildlife. Longer dry seasons and less water for irrigation, combined with a growing human population, are already negatively impacting agricultural productivity, increasing pressure on protected areas as people search for more productive lands. This leads to more disturbance and impacts on behavior of species and ranging patterns and increased human-wildlife conflict.

As wildlife itself adapts to these changes, seeking new suitable habitats and food sources, it will face additional pressures from increased economic development, including large energy and transport infrastructure and other smaller human barriers like roads and fences. Mountain species like the iconic snow leopard adapt to a changing climate by changing their movement patterns to follow preferred habitats and prey, for example by migrating across the landscape or to higher elevations, which may render existing protected areas and ecological corridors ineffective and expose animals to new threats, creating new challenges for conservation efforts in the coming decades.

It is therefore critical to address these current impacts and future risks to both communities and wildlife as a critical component of conserving snow leopards across their vast range in high Asia. Snow leopard conservation across the GSLEP landscapes must be “climate-smart,” with the explicit consideration of climate change impacts as part of both management plans and implementation activities, to reduce risks for both people and wildlife.

Accomplishing this will, however, be challenging for a number of important reasons, some of which are unique to high Asia: extreme topography across vast landscapes that make management interventions costly and difficult; limited capacity to monitor and understand climate change and it’s specific regional and local impacts, including deteriorated or insufficient hydro-meteorological networks and other ageing infrastructure; and limited or insufficient funding for research and monitoring across the range to assess how climate change and other factors are affecting both people and wildlife.

To address these challenges, the following recommendations are proposed for both policy makers and technical staff to facilitate climate-smart snow leopard conservation across high Asia.

Recommendations for Policymakers

1. Enhance data collection, monitoring, and scientific research across the range on climate change and its impacts on people and wildlife through new funds for capacity building and training programs, hydro-meteorological data networks, and scientific research, relying on existing regional institutions and platforms where appropriate and creating new ones where necessary.

2. Support and promote integrated approaches to landscape management that addresses climate change risks and conserve ecosystem services as part of all sustainable development and conservation planning, policies, and implementation.

3. Develop new programs and projects to harness the power of ecosystems to help species and people adapt to climate change, increase resilience to current shocks and stressors and reduce disaster risks, and plan for longer term change through ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA) as well as ecosystem-centered adaptation.

4. Develop and enhance mechanisms for formal community consultation to prioritize adaptation actions that are mutually beneficial for local and regional sustainable economic development and snow leopard conservation.

5. Incorporate snow leopard protected areas and their management in strategies for meeting country Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and adaptation commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

6. Develop and promote new financial mechanisms that provide incentives to build climate resilience through ecosystem-based adaptation approaches, e.g. payments for ecosystem services (PES) between hydropower developers to incentivize upstream best management practices, green bonds to incentivize nature-based approaches to infrastructure development, or other examples.

Technical Recommendations

1. Ensure that snow leopards have continued access to their natural prey base, particularly as human-driven activities may begin shifting to higher elevations and encroaching on snow leopard habitat as people adapt to shifting climates.

2. Increase research efforts on understanding snow leopard ecology and behavior (including predation and competition) and their prey to fill information gaps on questions such as susceptibility to disease and genetic makeup. Under a changing climate, exposure to disease may increase. Increased knowledge of snow leopard genetics will give us a better understanding of their adaptive capacity and how best to manage populations.

3. Increase monitoring of population range shifts, changes in phenology, changes in population abundance, changes in behavior and the correlation of any of these with changes in weather and climate.

4. Identify critical ecosystem services throughout the snow leopard range for both current and future climates to prioritize areas most important for both snow leopard conservation and community livelihoods.

5. Increase the permeability of landscapes for the snow leopard by ensuring habitat connectivity (should not be limited to PAs), e.g. by eliminating or avoiding physical and other barriers for migration and ensuring continued protection and conservation outside of PA borders.

6. Increase the extent of protected areas and complement government managed protected areas by community-managed areas (taking into account future climate change induces habitat change of snow leopard and prey) to include stepping stones, movement corridors and climate refugia.

7. Integrate consideration of climate risks in all protected area management plans and activities through appropriate tools and approaches, including assessing historical change, current impacts, and future projected change. Adopt and facilitate scenario planning approaches to plan for uncertainty in future climate change, depending on emissions scenarios.

8. Reduce pressures from other threats, many of which are likely to be exacerbated by climate change, through increasing the capacity of humans to manage the effects of climate change

9. Limit and prevent further the encroachment of livestock grazing on snow leopard habitat to reduce human wildlife conflict.

10. Create local ownership and responsibility for wildlife, including the snow leopard and its prey.

11. Enhance snow leopard landscape connectivity by either increasing protected areas or conservation efforts in buffer zones, including developing corridors, to help wildlife access new territory as habitats shift with climate change.

12. Avoid, minimize or compensate habitat loss and fragmentation caused by poor land use, development, infrastructure development, etc., on unprotected land, especially in key corridors used by snow leopards and their prey.

13. Monitor trends (such as an increase in poaching) that might indicate that communities facing increased hardships due to climate change are turning to methods of earning income that adversely affect snow leopards and other wildlife.

14. Empowerment of communities (including designation of rights and responsibilities on management of ecosystems and wildlife) and help people adapt to the changing climate by promoting alternative livelihoods (carefully examined) that conserve ecosystem services and do not negatively impact snow leopards.

15. Follow Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) resolution 11.26 to “develop general guidelines for mitigation and human adaptation projects to ensure that they are not harmful to migratory species” and “ensure that an environmental impact assessment is conducted prior to undertaking major adaptation and mitigation projects.