Understanding and assessing the vulnerabilities of protected areas to climate change, and how climate change may impact species, their habitats and resource use. What is the capacity of protected areas to adapt to climate threats and how can we assess this capacity?
Climate change is challenging the ability of protected areas (PAs) to meet their objectives. To improve PA planning, we developed a framework for assessing PA vulnerability to climate change based on consideration of potential climate change impacts on species and their habitats and resource use. Furthermore, the capacity of PAs to adapt to these climate threats was determined through assessment of PA management effectiveness, adjacent land use, and financial resilience. Users reach a PA-specific vulnerability score and rank based on scoring of these categories. We applied the framework to South Africa's 19 national parks. Because the 19 parks are managed as a national network, we explored how resources might be best allocated to address climate change. Each park's importance to the network's biodiversity conservation and revenue generation was estimated and used to weight overall vulnerability scores and ranks. Park vulnerability profiles showed distinct combinations of potential impacts of climate change and adaptive capacities; the former had a greater influence on vulnerability. Mapungubwe National Park emerged as the most vulnerable to climate change, despite its relatively high adaptive capacity, largely owing to large projected changes in species and resource use. Table Mountain National Park scored the lowest in overall vulnerability. Climate change vulnerability rankings differed markedly once importance weightings were applied; Kruger National Park was the most vulnerable under both importance scenarios. Climate change vulnerability assessment is fundamental to effective adaptation planning. Our PA assessment tool is the only tool that quantifies PA vulnerability to climate change in a comparative index. It may be used in data-rich and data-poor contexts to prioritize resource allocation across PA networks and can be applied from local to global scales.