Climate warming is driving changes in species distributions and community composition. Many species have a so-called climatic debt, that is, shifts in range lag behind shifts in temperature isoclines. Inside protected areas (PAs), community changes in response to climate warming can be facilitated by greater colonization rates by warm-dwelling species, but also mitigated by lowering extirpation rates of cold-dwelling species. An evaluation of the relative importance of colonization-extirpation processes is important to inform conservation strategies that aim for both climate debt reduction and species conservation. We assessed the colonization-extirpation dynamics involved in community changes in response to climate inside and outside PAs. To do so, we used 25 years of occurrence data of nonbreeding waterbirds in the western Palearctic (97 species, 7071 sites, 39 countries, 1993–2017). We used a community temperature index (CTI) framework based on species thermal affinities to investigate species turnover induced by temperature increase. We determined whether thermal community adjustment was associated with colonization by warm-dwelling species or extirpation of cold-dwelling species by modeling change in standard deviation of the CTI (CTISD). Using linear mixed-effects models, we investigated whether communities in PAs had lower climatic debt and different patterns of community change than communities outside PAs. For CTI and CTISD combined, communities inside PAs had more species, higher colonization, lower extirpation, and lower climatic debt (16%) than communities outside PAs. Thus, our results suggest that PAs facilitate 2 independent processes that shape community dynamics and maintain biodiversity. The community adjustment was, however, not sufficiently fast to keep pace with the large temperature increases in the central and northeastern western Palearctic. Our results underline the potential of combining CTI and CTISD metrics to improve understanding of the colonization-extirpation patterns driven by climate warming.