Climate change, which is often referred to as global warming, is the process of changes in our planet’s weather patterns over long periods of time. Over the past century, the Earth has warmed by an average of about 1°C. This might not seem like much, but scientists agree that reaching the 2°C mark could be catastrophic for people, wildlife, and the environments they depend on.

Why is our planet getting warmer? This 60-second Royal Society video explains:

To recap, as our planet warms, we experience more frequent and extreme weather events like forest fires, ice and wind storms, flooding, dry land and warming winters. The effects also include increased risks to human health, as well as damage to our homes, businesses, economy and society. You don’t need to look much further than many climate-linked events including forest fires in Fort McMurray, Alberta (2016) or damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in the fall of 2017 to get an idea of what’s in store.

So what can we do about it? The good news is that there are a lot of solutions out there to help us dial down our impact. New technologies, improving energy-efficiency and progressive policy incentives all help reduce emissions, protect biodiversity and mitigate the impacts of climate change. But parks and wild spaces are also a big part of the solution – bigger, in fact, than many of us realize, especially when it comes to adapting to climate change.

A report from an intergovernmental committee on protecting biodiversity shows that North America’s more than 13,000 protected areas – including intact wilderness and wildlife areas, parks, and indigenous protected and conserved areas – play very important roles in helping people, species and ecosystems adapt and mitigate to the impacts of climate change. These include:

  1. Conserving biodiversity. Under changing conditions, protected areas offer plants and animals a stable environment to live in.
  2. Protecting ecosystem services. These include clean water, and helping regulate weather and temperature. Healthy, intact natural areas also safeguard against floods and storms.
  3. Connecting landscapes, which help plants and animals shift ranges and survive in new locations.
  4. Capturing and storing carbon. Forests, oceans and grasslands help reduce levels of greenhouse gasses through natural processes.

The UN IPCC says that 20 – 30 per cent of Earth’s plant and animals may face extinction without the establishment of interconnected natural areas. When combined with studies showing that years of habitat destruction – led by deforestation and agriculture – is pushing the world into an era of “biological annihilation”, it’s clear we need to act now.

To help raise awareness about the important role parks and protected areas play in climate resilience, we’ve launched Just 1 Tree, a new Mission that gives kids an opportunity to learn about how biodiversity is impacted and what they can do about it.  This is in addition to other climate-focused Missions Flip the Switch, What’s at Steak, Operation Conservation, and Carbon Footprint Investigation.

We’ll be following this introduction with more inspiring stories about how people are protecting biodiversity and fighting climate change over the next few months, so please keep an eye out.  In the meantime, get your kids involved!