Eco-Disaster Risk Reduction (Eco-DRR)

Thematic Group Lead

Karen Sudmeier,


Announcing “Disasters and Ecosystems: Resilience in a Changing Climate”, a new Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to be launched on 12 January, 2015

What we all know is that disasters are increasing worldwide.  Population growth, environmental degradation and climate change will likely exacerbate disaster impacts in many regions of the world. What role do ecosystems play in reducing disaster risks and adapting to climate change?  This is the topic of an exciting new Massive Open Online Course that will go live in January 2015.  It was developed jointly by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Center for Natural Resources and Development (CNRD) and the Cologne University of Applied Sciences (CUAS), Germany.  This is UNEP’s first MOOC, developed through its engagement with universities worldwide including the Global Universities Partnership on Environment for Sustainability (GUPES).


The MOOC covers a broad range of topics from disaster management, climate change, ecosystem management and community resilience. How these issues are linked and how well-managed ecosystems enhance resilience to natural disasters and climate change impacts are the core theme of the course.


The MOOC is designed at two levels: the leadership track, with the first 6 units providing general introduction to the fundamental concepts, which is suitable for people from all backgrounds who wish to have a basic undertaking of the topic.  The second level, or expert track comprises 15 units with more in depth learning on the various tools of ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.  


The course is delivered by both scientists and practitioners. In addition there are guest lectures from global leaders and experts, such as Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Julia Marton-Lefèvre, former Director General of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Rajendra Pachauri of Teri University and Margareta Wahlström of the UN International Strategy on Disaster Reduction (UNISDR).

Students will have the opportunity to enhance their knowledge through quizzes, real life and fictitious problem-solving exercises, additional reading materials, videos and a discussion forum.  An Expert-of-the-Week will be available to respond to questions and interact with students. Students will receive weekly newsletters with up-to-date news on ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction and adaptation.  


The course is invaluable for universities around the world, where faculty members can use it to update their curriculum and use the lectures and teaching materials for blended learning for their own courses. At the same time, the MOOC format also allows those currently outside the university system to learn about the new developments in the area of disasters and climate change, without having to enroll in a university or pay for an online course. Those who successfully complete the course will be provided with a course certificate. 


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Ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction (DRR) is the sustainable management, conservation and restoration of ecosystems to reduce disaster risk, with the aim to achieve sustainable and resilient development . Well-managed ecosystems, such as wetlands, forests and coastal systems, act as natural infrastructure, reducing physical exposure to many hazards and increasing socio-economic resilience of people and communities by sustaining local livelihoods and providing essential natural resources such as food, water and building materials. Ecosystem management not only offers an opportunity to strengthen natural infrastructure and human resilience against hazard
impacts, but also generates a range of other social, economic and environmental benefits for multiple stakeholders, which in turn feed back into reduced risk.

In spite of the many benefits of ecosystem based solutions for more comprehensive DRR, there are many challenges for it to become mainstreamed into DRR and adaptation measures:

• There are not enough advocacy efforts from the conservation, disaster management and climate change communities to articulate the DRR/Adaptation functions of ecosystems.
• There is insufficient technical understanding among planners/engineers to develop quantitative models to facilitate proactive use of ecosystems as a DRR/adaptation measure.
• The benefits of sustainable ecosystem management are spread across so many sectors that the topic does not receive singular attention from any of the development sectors (e.g. agriculture, health, education, culture or DRR).
• Ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction does not lend itself to easy identification of measurable targets or goals (e.g. X percentage of disaster losses reduced due to well-functioning ecosystems, $ saved by wetlands preservation for flood reduction).
• In addition, there remain many critical gaps between best practices and the reality of current DRR and CCA

As a cross-cutting theme, IUCN DRR activities at the global level are coordinated by the IUCN Ecosystem Management Programme, and supported by the expertise of CEM members. These activities include coordination and communications about DRR across IUCN, collecting and disseminating lessons learned about projects and processes that integrate ecosystem management, sustainable livelihoods and disaster risk reduction at the regional level. IUCN regional offices are in the forefront of developing innovative approaches to watershed management, institutional capacity building and collaborative project that integrate disaster risk and climate change adaptation.

CEM is actively working in partnership with interested and qualified CEM members and especially with the Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction (PEDRR), a global alliance of 15 international organisations, academic institutions and NGOs. Collaborative efforts involving CEM members include a growing “community of practice” for educational and scientific exchanges in the field of ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction, participation in periodic PEDRR national workshops on ecosystem-based DRR and periodic technical inputs to IUCN on specific requests for feedback.