By MLA Peter Biggs (*) – In the Falkland Islands, the foundations of our livelihoods are reliant on our environment - fishing, agriculture, tourism - and these key sectors would not exist without healthy ecosystems.
Living closely alongside nature, as we have done for generations, we cannot fail to recognize just how important the natural environment is to us, not just because of everything that it provides, but as a vital part of the Falkland Islands national identity and way of life. Our beautiful Island nation is unlike any other - with exceptional landscapes, seascapes and a diversity of flora and fauna - so we must not ignore the challenges that we face.
The Falklands' approach to its natural resource economy is to find balance, ensuring future generations will enjoy both prosperous habitats and economic sustainability. More than 50 per cent of our GDP is generated from fisheries and as a result ocean health is respected, ingrained, and actioned. We take pride in being stewards of our natural environment and have agreed to the extension of many international agreements on biodiversity and climate action, including Kyoto II and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
We are all aware of how human activity is resulting in large-scale changes in climate and changes in ecosystems. Studies in the Falkland Islands have suggested that climate change is likely to have a multitude of effects on our ecosystems.
Soils could dry out and lose carbon content, with potential impacts on soil health and erosion. There is an increased risk of fires, especially in habitats like dwarf shrub heath, tussac and bogged acid grassland that are dry and flammable.
Certain species, particularly those near the edge of their range, may be at risk due to changes in climate that mean the local conditions will no longer be suitable to their physiology. There is less information on the potential effects of climate change for the marine environments of the Falkland Islands, but these are likely to include changes to food-webs and species distributions, ecosystem level shifts and potential loss of species.
Changes for land, freshwater and marine systems are likely to be significant for the economic activities, like fisheries and agriculture, that they support. We will need to adapt to and mitigate climate change and its impacts, including planning to cope with some of the above effects and their secondary consequences for the Falkland Islands' environment, society, and economy.
As a frontier nation, climate change impacts are already affecting us, however this makes us ideally placed to make a global contribution through facilitating scientific research. The Falklands is home to the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI), which collaborates with other world leading research institutes to facilitate environmental research on the Islands.
The research undertaken by SAERI, Falklands Conservation, British Antarctic Survey (BAS), and others, benefits not just the Falklands, but also contributes to the United Kingdom's understanding of some of the major challenges facing the planet, most notably those related to climate change.
As well as acting as a scientific hub and research coordinator/leader in the South Atlantic, the Falkland Islands are a gateway to the Antarctic for science, research, and tourism. We provide support for scientific endeavors in the South Polar Region and we provide support to the British Atlantic Survey and other scientific activity in the Antarctic and play a role in maintaining the UK's Antarctic claims, something that will be of increasing importance as we approach the renewal of the current Antarctic Treaty.
We may be a small nation, but we will not shy away from the collective responsibility we have not only for our own local environment, but for the global environment we share. (The House Magazine)
(*) Peter Biggs is a Member of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly