Ecosystem-based Adaptation involves a wide range of ecosystem management activities to increase resilience and reduce the vulnerability of people and the environment to climate change.
Ecosystem-based adaptation – what is it?
Existing coping strategies to deal with climate variability, as well as new and enhanced adaptation approaches are required. Given the urgency of adaptation and often limited funding, available and cost-effective adaptation solutions are often prioritized. Ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation, or the conservation, sustainable management, and restoration of ecosystems to help people adapt to the impacts of climate change are gaining increasing attention, as they are accessible to the rural poor in developing countries and can be cost-effective. Such approaches include, for example, sustainable agriculture, integrated water resource management, and sustainable forest management interventions that use nature to reduce vulnerability to climate change. The role of ecosystems in adaptation is recognized at the international level under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
Why an integrated approach to adaptation?
The ability of people to adapt to climate change is inextricably linked to their access to basic human rights and to the health of the ecosystems they depend on for their livelihoods and wellbeing. If adaptation policies and programs are to be effective, they must integrate efforts to sustain and restore ecosystem functions and promote human rights under changing climate conditions.
Objectives of integrated climate change adaptation
- To promote the resilience of livelihoods;
- To reduce the impacts of natural disasters such as storms and floods, on vulnerable people and ecosystems;
- To build the capacity of civil society and government institutions to support integrated approaches to adaptation;
- To increase awareness of the underlying causes of vulnerability (degraded ecosystems, poor governance, unequal access to resources and services, discrimination and other social injustices);
- To promote the sustainable management and conservation of biodiversity to maintain the benefits provided by ecosystems (e.g. provision of food and shelter).
Lesson learned to date
- Protecting ecosystem services and securing universal access to resources are rarely achieved together: none of the projects reviewed succeeded in addressing all root causes of vulnerability; most only addressed some forms of social marginalization or environmental degradation;
- Community-led, environmentally sound approaches to adaptation are often more sustainable than short-term, high-cost ‘hard’ infrastructure;
- Cross-sectoral partnerships, building on community innovation, and sharing experiences of what has and hasn’t worked are all key ingredients to devising effective adaptation strategies;
- Adaptation practices only succeed if they take into account existing common resources, ownership, access, and control structures;
- Monitoring and evaluation based on regulation and compliance mechanisms as well as community support and participation in ecosystem management are commensurate to realizing sustainable adaptation;
- It is possible to pursue rights-based, community-based adaptation that is environmentally sound; at the same time, adaptation practices are often context-specific and hence difficult to scale up.
Science, tools and methods – what can be done?
Our understanding about the role of ecosystems in people-centered adaptation is still incomplete, scattered, and often difficult to access by practitioners and policy makers.
Given sufficient information and shared experiences, people can often develop strategies that help them adapt to climate change. In many parts of the world, people are already adapting to the changes in climate they are experiencing. However, this can still lead to an adaptation deficit in the future if such adaptation strategies are just keeping up with the observed changes. Another risk is that adaptation strategies may result in short-term benefits but longer term adverse effects. Such mal-adaptation is likely if the resilience of ecosystems or the consequences of human interventions on all people sharing the same ecosystem are not taken into account.
Providing complete and solid evidence on the benefits and effectiveness of EbA will facilitate adoption and promotion of EbA by decision-makers across all scales of governance.