Ecosystem-based Adaptation "at a glance"
People worldwide depend on intact ecosystems and the services they provide, such as soil fertility, clean water and food as well as buffering of extreme weather events. This is especially true for poor people in developing countries, whose livelihoods are closely linked to natural resources.
Climate change is one of the major causes of changes and deterioration in ecosystem services and its impact will most likely increase in the future (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005). At the same time, functioning ecosystems help people to mitigate and more importantly to adapt to climate change at local, national, regional, and global levels – this concept which includes a long-term and climate risk oriented approach is referred to as “ecosystem-based adaptation” (EbA).
The idea of ecosystem-based adaptation originally arose in NGO and intergovernmental organization circles as “natural solutions to climate change”. EbA has evolved into an important link between the three Rio Conventions: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Of the three Rio conventions, the CBD concerns itself the most with EbA.
The CBD (2009) definition of EbA is used by a wide range of actors:
“Ecosystem-based adaptation 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.”
Hence, ecosystem-based adaptation was defined as increasing the adaptive capacity of people through the sustainable use and conservation of ecosystems. In contrast to common natural resources and biodiversity management approaches, EbA is explicitly part of an overall adaptation strategy. Although EbA measures use ecosystems to adapt to climate change, EbA still is an anthropogenic approach which particularly utilizes the ability of ecosystems to provide so called ecosystem services. They are also referred to as “green infrastructure” and can be seen as complementary to or substitutes of hard (“grey” or concrete-based) infrastructural measures.
Ecosystems are able to generate, for example, direct services such as food and building material as well as indirect services like water treatment or pollination. An overview of ecosystem services as described by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) can be found here.
However, technical measures alone are not sufficient for adaptation but have to be complemented with capacity development, awareness raising as well as research, for example, on the importance of ecosystems and the services they provide for human well-being.
EbA is a nature-based solution which overlaps partly with other adaptation strategies such as community-based adaptation and cross-sectoral approaches, for instance, integrated watershed or coastal zone management. Compared to infrastructure- or technology-based adaptation, people adapt by improving the state of ecosystem services as well as the management of biodiversity and ecosystems. Therefore, vulnerability is reduced and people’s adaptive capacity towards the negative impact of climate change increases. In this context, EbA is very similar to ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction (Eco-DRR) by using natural solutions and participatory, locally accepted approaches for reducing current and future risks to people.
In practice, EbA measures are often combined with “grey” infrastructure (e.g. coastal protection via sustainable mangrove coral reef management and dyke construction to reduce storm risks or watershed protection in combination with water reservoirs and irrigation canals to buffer drought or flood events).
Apart from the intended outcomes, EbA measures tend to generate additional co-benefits such as carbon sequestration or biodiversity conservation, improved livelihood conditions and, thus, are often considered as no-regret options. To determine the specific requirements of maintaining or restoring an ecosystem and its services, EbA ideally draws on a combination of local knowledge and studies of climate change impacts or integrated climate analyses, which make use of climate scenarios and models.
Worldwide surveys have shown that restoration and conservation of ecosystems are generally cost effective. In comparison to the economic loss caused by loss of ecosystem services, the cost-benefit ratio of return of investment of appropriate restoration of ecosystems may be as high as 3 to 75, depending on the ecosystem context and the measures taken (UNEP 2010, 6).
For example, a study in Vietnam indicates that mangrove rehabilitation at village level is generating significantly higher wealth benefits from risk reduction and natural resource utilization (2.3 million USD over 20 years) compared to dyke construction (only 0.5 million USD) (Köhler, M.; Michaelowa, A. 2013). Cost-benefit analysis applied under the UNEP-IUCN-UNDP Mountain EbA Programme in Peru indicates a significant higher revenue (a net present value of 841,902 USD over 20 years) under an EbA scenario, including the low impact grassland management in a community with wild lamas, compared to a business as usual scenario (NPV of 486,571 USD over 20 years) with intensive domestic cattle management (Rossing, T. et al. 2015).
EbA can be integrated into adaptation projects by regarding certain elements at each stage of the adaptation project cycle. The following figure shows which elements of EbA should be taken into account and the respective type of tools, methods and approaches that can be utilized at each step.
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 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.
Ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction (Eco-DRR) is “the sustainable management, conservation and restoration of ecosystems to reduce disaster risk, with the aim to achieve sustainable and resilient development” (Estrella & Saalismaa 2013). Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) focuses its strategies on reducing risk from multiple hazards, both natural and man-made, such as earthquakes, tornadoes, oil spills, etc. using a hazard and sustainable development approach, where activities range from disaster preparedness (early warning, contingency planning, etc), prevention, disaster response and recovery, to rehabilitation and reconstruction. Eco-DRR is a new field that emerged through the Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction (PEDRR), established in 2008. Eco-DRR currently 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“, adopted at the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, and is the successor instrument to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters. Actors involved in Eco-DRR projects are typically environmental agencies and ministries, disaster management actors and humanitarian agencies, as well as increasingly Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) focal points.
In practice, Eco-DRR focuses on optimising ecosystem service for increasing resilience of people or reducing exposure and vulnerability to hazards by implementing sustainable management, restoration and conservation of ecosystem measures.
Differences between EbA and Eco-DRR reflect those of general Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) and DRR activities, including the policy forum, the actors involved as well as the funding streams. Moreover, the hazards addressed and some of the project components involved can be different although there are more similarities than differences as both are based on an ecosystem-based approach.
Project component differences stem from different project cycles. Whilst EbA projects generally follow the adaptive management cycle applied with a climate lens, DRR projects tend to follow the disaster management cycle. This cycle includes a pre-disaster (risk assessment, reduction and preparedness) and post-disaster phase (relief, recovery and reconstruction).
Regarding the synergies, both EbA and Eco-DRR aim to be part of a multi-disciplinary approach. Cooperation between the two fields enables stronger results in terms of increased resilience through shared knowledge and learning, capacity building and a greater ability to design interventions that deliver multiple benefits. These include, alongside potentially stronger adaptation and disaster risk reduction, being more consistent with multiple national goals, more secure livelihoods, community building, and climate mitigation benefits.