Ecosystem-based Adaptation "at a glance"
Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) is a nature-based solution that is gaining significant importance in the context of climate change (e.g. UNFCCC Paris Agreement, Nationally Determined Contributions, National Adaptation Plans) and biodiversity conservation policies (e.g. Convention on Biological Diversity Strategic Plan 2011-2020, Aichi targets). EbA’s distinctive feature is that it links traditional biodiversity and ecosystem conservation approaches with sustainable socio-economic development as part of an overall strategy for helping people adapt to climate change. EbA is a people-centric concept, but one that acknowledges that human resilience depends critically on the integrity of ecosystems.
In the context of increasing political commitment and funding, it is essential to sharpen the understanding of what qualifies as EbA. The Framework for Defining Qualification Criteria and Quality Standards identifies 3 elements and 5 qualification criteria.
Ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation (and disaster risk reduction, Eco-DRR) use ecosystem services to help people adapt to climate change and reduce disaster risk. This is done through the sustainable management, conservation and restoration of ecosystems and biodiversity. Ecosystems provide crucial services to society, particularly regulating and supporting services that help people adapt and reduce risk: intact coral reefs and coastal vegetation can dissipate wave action and protect shorelines from erosion; peatlands, marshes and floodplains provide a buffer from floods and water scarcity; forested mountains and slopes can stabilize sediments, providing protection from landslides.
Ecosystems can also prolong the sustainability and lifetime of built infrastructure, thus protecting investments in engineered defenses (hybrid solutions) – such as restoring salt marshes adjacent to sea walls (source: Voluntary guidelines for EbA/Eco-DRR). A study in Vietnam indicates that mangrove rehabilitation at village level is generating significantly higher wealth benefits from risk reduction and natural resource utilisation (2.3 million USD over 20 years) compared to dyke construction (only 0.5 million USD; Köhler, M.; Michaelowa, A. 2013). Worldwide surveys have shown that restoration and conservation of ecosystems are generally cost effective. The cost-benefit ratio of return of investment of ecosystem restoration may be as high as 3 to 75, compared to the economic damage of ecosystem losses (UNEP 2010).
Apart from adaptation and risk reduction, EbA measures generate additional environmental, economic, and social (co-)benefits. They are often referred to as low-regrets or no-regrets options, as they can create benefits regardless of uncertainties in climate projections. Mangrove restoration, for instance, can stabilise sediments and protect coastlines. Simultaneously, the restored mangroves provide new or enlargened habitats for fish and other species, which in turn supports livelihoods. EbA as well as Eco-DRR can also enhance biodiversity and nature conservation. It can contribute to climate change mitigation targets via: i) the conservation or restoration of forests and coastal vegetation, and the rewetting of drained peatlands to reduce CO2 emissions; ii) the reduction of deforestation and land degradation including peatland drainage, which aids in limiting further greenhouse gas emissions (Duarte et al. 2013, Busch et al. 2015).
Climate change threatens ecosystems as well as their services and endangers human development worldwide. The ultimate goal of mainstreaming ecosystem-based approaches is establishing EbA (and Ecosystem-based Disaster Risk reduction, Eco-DRR) as standard development practices in order to avoid and manage current and future climate risk. This means “doing things differently in the face of climate change” and requires integrating climate change adaptation and risk reduction into development decisions at all levels and in all areas at risk.
Based on its operational experience worldwide in promoting (ecosystem-based) adaptation, GIZ’s framework for mainstreaming EbA employs an iterative six-step approach (known as the adaptation mainstreaming cycle). It includes the elements of mainstreaming and provides tools and methods that can be utilized at each step. This guidance is in line with the Voluntary guidelines for the design and effective implementation of ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction upon request by the CBD Conference of the Parties (COP), in its decision XIII/4, to which GIZ contributed.
The use of a climate and ecosystem lens can help to define the context of EbA mainstreaming such as the problem definition (e.g. lack of water), identifying the system of interest (e.g. a watershed, sector or policy).
When assessing vulnerabilities and risks, the inter-linkages of social, ecological and economic systems should be taken into account. A vulnerability or climate risk assessment provides the basis for adaptation planning. Assessments should actively involve a variety of stakeholders in a participatory manner.
The identification and selection of suitable EbA measures can be based on vulnerability, impact, feasibility and other criteria. Instruments that support this process are the Driving Forces-Pressures-State-Impacts-Responses (DPSIR) framework, climate impact chains and climate proofing for development as well as cost-benefit and multi-criteria analysis.
After adopting EbA specifics in the project’s strategy, the implementation follows the general course of action. Economic options, e.g. incentives, and methods for management and planning help to integrate and consolidate ecosystem-based measures.
The monitoring and evaluation should include indicators reflecting changes within the ecosystems concerned. The manual “Adaptation made to measure” assists with the design of an M&E system.
UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement: Ecosystem-based approaches are a promising option for sustainable and efficient adaptation to climate change. EbA encompasses policies and measures that take into account the role of ecosystem services in reducing societal vulnerability through multi-sectoral and multi-level approaches. The Paris Agreement requires all Parties to engage in adaptation planning and implementation through national adaptation plans (NAP), vulnerability assessments, monitoring and evaluation, and economic diversification. The NAP process is an important entry point for EbA, as it aims to integrate climate change adaptation into development decisions and investments. It is also understood as the backbone for implementing a country’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) adaptation component. 24 of the NDCs mention EbA explicitly, while 109 refer to using ecosystem services as a means for adaptation. There are at least three dimensions for considering biodiversity and ecosystem services, and thus EbA, in the NAP process (GIZ, modified from CI, 2015):
- Considering climate change in conservation planning: Are conservation objectives threatened by climate change?
- Considering EbA measures when assessing climate change impacts and adaptation options: When should EbA measures be applied (vis-à-vis “grey” infrastructural measures)?
- Considering environmental safeguards for adaptation measures: Are impacts of adaptation measures on ecosystems taken into account?
For further information, the Briefing Paper on Entry points for EbA mainstreaming: National Adaptation Plans & Nationally Determined Contributions will be made available soon.
CBD – Convention on Biological Diversity: The CBD plays a fundamental role for all nature-based approaches. Coherent national policies and aligned reporting on the conventions can enhance the uptake of EbA considerably on national and international levels. This should also translate into subnational planning and implementation. National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) are the principal instruments for implementing the Convention at the national level (CBD, Article 6). The focus for integration of biodiversity concerns into key sectors in the NBSAPs so far has been on improving environmental outcomes and reducing environmental impacts. However, biodiversity mainstreaming through the NBSAPs can also lead to important outcomes related to climate change adaptation and mitigation, poverty reduction, improved health and wellbeing, and greater social equity.
For further information, the Briefing Paper on Entry points for EbA mainstreaming: Synergies of the Rio Conventions with Ecosystem- based Adaptation will be made available soon.
United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction: The concepts and practice of EbA and Ecosystem-based Disaster Risk Reduction (Eco-DRR) have been developed and refined in recent years as integrative approaches to reduce the risk of climate-related and other types of hazards. These approaches emphasise the importance of biodiversity and ecosystems in reducing risk, and build on other practices such as conservation and ecosystem restoration which seek to increase the resilience of ecosystems for the benefit of people. Eco-DRR operates in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, which encourages “ecosystem-based approaches…to build resilience and reduce disaster risk“. Both EbA and Eco-DRR are part of a multi-disciplinary, cross-cutting approach. Cooperation between the two fields enables stronger results in terms of increased resilience. Shared knowledge and learning, capacity building and a greater ability to design interventions that deliver multiple benefits are just some of the options through which resilience can be improved.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): The SDGs are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Many of the SDGs are directly linked to the health and biological diversity of ecosystems and the services they provide. Often, the most disadvantaged and marginalised sectors of society are highly dependent on ecosystems to support their livelihoods. EbA can provide sustainable, climate resilient, nature-based solutions that span many of the global challenges the SDGs seek to address, optimising synergies and reducing trade-offs
For further information, the Briefing Paper on Entry points for EbA mainstreaming: Ecosystem-based approaches and the Sustainable Development Goals will be made available soon.