Six country teams gathered in October 2022 to reflect on the implementation and achievements of Ecosystem-based adaptation on their respective mountain systems and communities. The learnings and lessons from these projects are detailed within this story so that the positive impacts and potential of mountain EbA is shared with the world.


The climate crisis is brought into stark reality by the floods, droughts, and extreme weather that the world is encountering on a regular basis. We can utilize technology to adapt to these changes, but we can also use nature. This is where the Ecosystem Approach1 comes in. Humans have and continue to rely on ecosystems and the services they offer. Ecosystem based Adaptation (EbA)2 can help us adapt to climate change by changing our behaviour, how we live, how we manage our food and how we maintain our health systems. 

Mountains are compelling and evocative. To those who live amongst them, they often form the basis of their very ethos. Rivers originating in mountain ranges bring clean, fresh water, providing essential ecosystems services as they travel through valleys and plains to meet their respective bodies of water. Food is cultivated, cultures are developed, and religions are formed along those rivers. Mountains play a critical role in regulating temperature and pressure, which most often results in rain and snow that fill these rivers, making mountains essential water towers3 for humans as well as nature. They are a gift that keeps on giving – for now.  

Because mountain ecosystems are also not immune to the vagaries of climate, they are already experiencing unfavourable consequences. The fecund river basins and watersheds fed by increasingly receding mountain glaciers are either flooding extensively or drying out, so much so that water scarcity is rampant in the surrounding areas. The death knell for glaciers has already sounded and we are in danger of losing iconic glaciers by 2050.4  

Just like in many other vulnerable natural systems, the humanity residing in mountain regions, relying on them for food, water livelihoods, health, and cultural benefits is increasingly finding it hard to survive. Perhaps the sheer beauty of these ranges makes us forget that food insecurity, environmental degradation, risk of disasters, and the impacts of climate change are all prevalent in mountain regions in developing countries– experienced by many of the nearly 1.1 billion people5 who live there.


Bhutan Mountain Landscape

Clearly mountain regions and their resident populations need to adapt to a world well on course to experiencing an unfamiliar climate, and the mountain EbA flagship programme called "Global Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) in mountain ecosystems" was initially implemented as a pilot in Nepal, Perú and Uganda. This flagship programme was later scaled up to include Bhutan, Colombia and Kenya. Titled "Scaling up mountain Ecosystem-based Adaptation: building evidence, replicating success, and informing policy", the project aimed to conserve mountain ecosystems and to ensure that they become resilient to the unfortunate yet unavoidable impacts of climate change. For more detailed information on this project and its outcomes, click here

For effective implementation, it was crucial that mountain communities come together in this programme, not only to adapt themselves but to also make their home ecosystems more resilient. One of the most interesting aspects that always arises out of working with communities is the syncretism that must be achieved between modern technology and traditional knowledge. For the Scaling up mountain EbA programme, the uptake and use of “ancestral technologies” and “traditional knowledge” were considered key takeaways by those involved in implementation, who met for a final time for a workshop in Washington D.C. in October 2022. The implementation teams also knew that it is critical to involve mountain communities within the programme in order to achieve long lasting results.   

Mountain communities also played a vital role in infrastructure initiatives. There are certainly benefits in integrating green infrastructure or natural systems with grey infrastructure using conventional engineering to create hybrids. This project initiated certain activities in this regard too, and these were considered to have immense potential by the workshop participants. For example, in the Nor Yauyos Cochas Landscape Reserve (NYCLR), traditional knowledge helped establish green-grey infrastructure by restoring ancestral Yanacancha dams combined with modern infrastructure and technologies.   

While the programme continued to employ better communication across various parties, established and strengthened networks, collaborated, formed alliances, and built capacity – all of which yielded positive results – the biggest takeaways for future upscaling were collaborating for green-grey infrastructure. For example, by restoring the ancestral dams as well as using Indigenous knowledge with modern technology, such as in improving soil quality, restoring riverbanks, spring protection, and improving water supply, people had better incomes and more food security. 

An interesting and crucial suggestion for the future of mountain EbA that came out of the workshop was the need for more champions, who can promote the importance of mountains and that of EbA. One way to achieve this is through the educational system by making climate change and EbA both a part of individual consciousness from a young age while simultaneously consolidating social organization, understanding conflict levels and promoting effective governance within regions. Working beyond the life of this project, as well as leveraging individual government interest, will certainly be key to any future progress towards making mountains more resilient. Some areas for future work in all the three continents include water availability, food security and poverty with an emphasis on transboundary collaboration. 

Challenges for conservation and activities to decrease the impacts of climate change are ever-present. If scaling up is key for the future of mountain EbA, perhaps going bigger and bolder is necessary. 

Mountains in Asia – A road map for the future

Asia’s soaring, snow-covered Himalayas and Hindu Kush ranges can be unforgettable sights. The continent’s resilience and its very survival is intrinsically linked to these mountains. They have been inhabited by a rich biodiversity ever since they first appeared millions of years ago.   

The lives, incomes, food, health, and futures of mountain communities all come from them. The prodigious amount of water stored within Asian glaciers flows down the slopes, used by almost 90% of people in the continent – nearly one-third of global population.Their lives are dependent on mountains, and those mountains are changing because of climate change.   

Nepal and Bhutan, two countries nestled within the foothills of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush ranges, are inhabited by a large number of people who live in rural mountain areas and depend on mountain ecosystems services for survival. Asian glaciers are melting, and the continent’s lakes are overflowing because of climate change; the region experience more frequent rain, landslides, and floods. Their food security and health are impacted, threatening people's lives. 

In Nepal’s Harpan khola (Panchase region of Kaski district) and Chilime (Rasuwa district) watersheds, local populations and programme teams worked together to change their future for the better. As a part of the Scaling Up Mountain EbA Programme, a medicinal plant called love apple was conserved and cultivated, pasture lands were improved through the construction of water recharge ponds, bee-keeping and organic farming were introduced, broom grass was planted to curtail erosion, and community ponds were constructed. They certainly made the lives of local people better, increasing incomes and improving food and water. In Bhutan, the Programme analysed the water policy framework, and a Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) scheme was commenced in Namey Nichu watershed, located in Paro district, near a major tourist site – the Tiger Nest – among other activities. The first ever national workshop on springshed EbA was also held in Bhutan. 

Making the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas more resilient and the future of Mountain EbA  

The Hindu Kush-Himalaya region is perhaps one of the most important global mountain ecosystems, and for the people who worked to implement this project, a lot more can be done. 

One unmistakable view was that crossing regional boundaries is the need of the hour. But that does not mean that country level efforts are not needed. They certainly are – starting from the spring-shed scale, encompassing the watershed, and then moving across borders. This is not an easy task, but ecosystem conservation never is.   

What benefits will such work continue to give? Livelihoods and food security – the two most important aspects of life in the mountains – will benefit through ecosystem-based adaptation activities. Previous projects, as well as this recent one just culminated, all worked toward this. But this work is not yet completed. A changing climate will only continue to transform mountain ecosystems; this will mean the need for quick and strong adaptation – for the systems, the people, and the biodiversity.   

Indeed, the critical work of cross sectoral collaboration and coordination, influencing institutional priorities to include EbA in development activities (e.g., road development and construction, access to water for mountain communities), and working with other local, national, regional, and cross regional actors is imperative. After all, working at such scales cannot be successful without the involvement of anyone and everyone. In Bhutan for example, there is huge interest at national level to engage with IUCN on EbA.  

Asia’s future, and especially that of Nepal and Bhutan, becomes ever more complicated as populations see a shift from low to middle-income, together with the development of infrastructure and technology. As the population continues to grow, water use will increase exponentially, and people will face floods, landslides, and droughts at scales they have never experienced before. We have already seen this in the region as unprecedented floods in Pakistan have set the stage of what’s to come.    

A decade or two ago business as usual was doing nothing in the face of climate change. Today, it means implementing the same small-scale projects again and again.   

Making Asian mountains more resilient will require a vast effort – one that involves adaptation – preferably ecosystem-based adaptation and collaboration across scales and boundaries. We can no longer afford to look away from thinking bigger and working smarter.

African Mountains – A road map for the future

Africa has undeniable ecosystems diversity. From deserts, to savannahs, and from forests to snow-capped mountains, the continent is probably the reason that Homo sapiens have been so successful.   

Africa’s mountains are regions of prolific biodiversity and are home to so many diverse human populations. Mount Elgon is one of them. Standing next to the Great Rift Valley, where so many ancient ancestors left their mark and developed technologies, it is indeed an imposing site.  

At 3,070 metres, it is the second highest mountain in Kenya and is an enormous, single, extinct volcano that also sprawls into Uganda. This eminent pinnacle spreads over 80 kilometres (772,300 hectares) and serves as a major water tower in the region, providing a transboundary water resource for both the countries.

Replete with watershed forests that are a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and protected as national parks in both Uganda and Kenya, Mount Elgon’s upper slopes are home to Indigenous populations and serve as catchments for the drainage systems of Lakes Victoria, Turkana, and Kyoga. Unfortunately, rising average temperatures and increase in unpredictable rainfall are exacerbating the fragility of this environment, already plagued by deforestation, wetland reclamation, and unsustainable cultivation. Flooding, droughts, and landslides are just some of the issues from which resident populations are suffering.  

In Uganda, in the Kaptokwoi micro-catchment, 15 km of riverbank vegetation was restored using indigenous species, during the scaling up phase of the Mountain EbA Programme. On farm agroforestry and woodlands were also established. “Champion farmers” – those who had adopted all the riverbank and on farm actions – were designated in an innovative new approach. 

Meanwhile in Kenya, the Chepkitale Nature Reserve, and its resident Ogiek Indigenous Peoples, in the Bungoma District, were chosen. Here the project focused on improving water security to the community by identifying and protecting springs (specifically the Choro spring) in the watershed. The Ogiek worked with the Mountain EbA Programme project teams, collaborating for a better future.

Making Mount Elgon more resilient and the future of Mountain EbA  

To those who worked on the project, an improvement on the integration of grey / green infrastructure is a key future need to make mountains more resilient in specific regions – not only in those around Mt Elgon in both countries but also in Rwenzori region between Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Kilimanjaro between Kenya and Tanzania.   

Multistakeholder platforms for catchment / watershed management and restoration, including soil and water conservation, riverbank conservation and agroforestry, should, of course, be of utmost importance to increase mountain and human resilience. In Kenya, fully implementing the Wildlife Climate Change Adaptation Strategy will certainly be important for future upscaling. As one participant said, “Implement more EbA interventions and share proof of the concept more widely in Kenya.”  

But to go bigger and better in African mountains, transboundary work is key; strengthening transboundary institutional and policy frameworks is a good start. What this means is that instead of being country specific, success will come through future cross-border projects, based around the entire mountain ecosystem. The lives of Indigenous populations are linked to these mountains and as such, they must be involved in future projects surrounding mountain resilience.

The peaks of South America – A road map for the future

The Andes are the longest continental chain of snow-capped mountains in the world and the highest outside of Asia. Imagining them conjures up images of glaciers, volcanoes, grasslands, deserts, lakes, and forests. They certainly seem to have it all.   

 The Andes underline Perú’s geography and are the driving force behind its culture, history, and people. Climate change threatens this culture, history, and people; glaciers are melting faster, potentially resulting in glacier lake outburst floods (GLOFs). They are also crucial to fighting climate change, as they "absorb mist from the clouds, transforming dry, eroded landscapes into wetlands and habitat for threatened species."7  

In Colombia, 60% of its 49 million strong population is concentrated in the highlands of Andean peaks, amongst cloud forests, wetlands, permafrost (in periglacial snowfields), all within one of the world’s most megadiverse hotspots. The páramos mountains are water towers, that store water from fog, rain, and glacial melt, releasing it downstream towards the lowlands and 40 million people. These mountain ecosystems are so critically important to the rich – and so famous – Amazonian biodiversity. They are also vital to the people who live there. Perhaps more than anywhere else, this rich biodiversity and these people are vulnerable to climate change, one that is altering precipitation levels and temperature. One that is transforming land systems where chocolate and coffee have been grown for thousands of years. From where the rest of the world was first introduced to the potato.  

How does EbA benefit the Andes and local people? In many ways the usual methods of sustainable management of water and native grasslands helped of course. But also did grey-green infrastructure interventions, such as restoring ancient water management systems in Miraflores, Perú, using a combination of traditional knowledge and modern techniques. The Programme utilised these ancient systems, existing since before the days of Machu Picchu and the Incas, within the project. Also in Perú, EbA approaches were included in Climate Change Law and NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions), as well as in the local adaptation plans.   

Meanwhile in Colombia, the Programme worked with an ongoing one8 to strengthen hydrological buffering and regulation capacity of the upper watershed of Chingaza-Sumapaz Guerrero, which supplies drinking water to the Bogotá metropolitan area and the adjoining rural municipalities. This was in addition to capacity building and developing a state-of-the-art e-learning course on Nature-based Solutions (NbS) and EbA. While Colombia has adopted NbS and EbA in its climate policies, this project added to this by promoting mountain EbA within those overall processes.   

Deforestation and climate change together are the reasons for widespread shifts across the Andes. And like everywhere else, they will alter how people live, the food they eat, and their health, to say nothing of the spiritual benefits that people derive from them and the biodiversity that relies on Andean ecosystems.   

Making the Andes more resilient and the future of Mountain EbA  

Perhaps more than anywhere else, local knowledge and traditional technologies can play an important role in any future of EbA in the Andes, especially in water regulation and storage. This was certainly the view of participants of a final workshop (held in October 2022), who had helped implement the project.  

Indigenous communities who live in the Andean ecosystems have lived, farmed, developed their culture, and worshipped within them for hundreds of years. It makes sense to rely on this ancient knowledge for their combined future. Surely, organizing these communities to work for sustainable grassland, water, livestock, and agriculture management are beyond argument  

Here too scaling-up is key across the entire Andes, using the experience garnered in Perú and Colombia – not only through this project but through experiences gathered from other interventions. To start, by integrating and strengthening EbA within the NDCs and Colombia’s EN50.   

For those who worked to implement these initiatives, the need for knowledge management was crucial, for example by cataloguing all previous interventions, as well as by developing a handbook of mountain EbA interventions to kick-start this upscaling. Of course, collaboration, forming alliances, and working in concert with development planning must be a clear part of any future work in these mountains.

Mountains and Climate Change – What can the future hold? 

Humans have long understood that mountains are of global importance to millions, as they not only benefit local people but entire continents. It is also known that climate change has brought about unprecedented transformations to ecosystems around the world. Mountain ecosystems, their biodiversity and their human residents will have to endure many hardships, as temperatures and precipitation levels change, transforming the land entirely. 

Why is it that conservation efforts in mountain ecosystems are not what we would expect? Considering their importance in providing water, glacial melt potentially making seas rise, entire communities disappearing, and biodiversity becoming extinct, why haven’t we done more? Shouldn’t our efforts be bigger, better, and bolder? As we work to stem at least some of the adversities brought about by climate change upon the mountains of Asia, Africa, and South America, we must stop to reflect. How can we make future efforts more substantial, more innovative, more effective? 

Making mountains more resilient will depend on a gigantic global effort. One that crosses boundaries and brings together disparate communities.  

We have just come out of the other side of a global pandemic, one that hindered the implementation of the scaling up phase of the mountain EbA programme. But we did come out of it. Just like other systems we rely on are seeing adjustments, now is the time to take this opportunity to change our proclivity for business as usual – even in conservation.  

For a start, the next step would be to consider an integrated landscape approach in the mountains – one that is transboundary and supports sustainable food systems, traditional crops, and family farming with better livelihoods opportunities. 

What do we need for an integrated approach? What the conservation community has been promoting for decades: an enabling environment. This, however, is only within the purview of nations. Asian, African, and South American mountains lie within developing countries that certainly need to upscale their efforts for creating such enabling environments. Linking science, digital and other technologies with food security and livelihood schemes is something for which all the regions should aim. However, we must not romanticise the rural lives of local people. Given a chance, all of them will want the same comforts that we, who live in cities, enjoy. Making mountains more resilient must further economic development without repeating past mistakes.   

For the future of mountain ecosystems, governments must be engaged more to work with relevant organisations at both international and local scale in order to lift their communities from poverty. The future of most humans on this planet is urban. How can we support this transition without destroying ecosystems, especially the mountain ecosystems?  

The work done has helped, but it has not yet yielded permanent results. A large, diverse, international and widescale effort, working across socio-ecological systems, national boundaries, and developmental economics, may perhaps be able to do just that.



Written by: Saima Baig, chartered environmentalist, UK (

Cover photo: Bhutan Himalayas, NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team


1. The Ecosystem Approach ‘is a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way’ (CBD, 2021). In this way it balances human wellbeing, ecosystem well-being and good governance.

2. Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) is the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy to help people to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change (CBD, 2009 & 2010).

3. Immerzeel, W.W., Lutz, A.F., Andrade, M. et al. Importance and vulnerability of the world’s water towers. Nature 577, 364–369 (2020).

4. UNESCO, IUCN, 2022: World Heritage Glaciers: Sentinels of climate change, Paris, UNESCO; Gland, IUCN.

5. Romeo, R., Grita, F., Parisi, F. and Russo, L. 2020.Vulnerability of mountain peoples to food insecurity: updated data and analysis of drivers. Rome, FAO and UNCCD.


7. UNEP. December 2019. Ambitious project to restore Andean forests. 

8. Adaptation to Climate Impacts in Water Regulation and Supply for the Chingaza-Sumapaz-Guerrero Area, funded by GEF.