Building resilience through nature-based solutions

Photo: ©2016 CIAT/NeilPalmer

by Valerie Kapos, Head of Programme, Climate Change and Biodiversity

Climate change remains a growing and ongoing threat to people and communities worldwide. Therefore, the importance of climate actions that build community resilience is clear.

Climate change impacts not only people but also many of the world’s species and ecosystems, potentially compounding our societies’ vulnerability, especially in those communities that depend most directly on ecosystems and the services they provide.

People and nature will both need help to withstand impacts from climate change. For many, these impacts are already a reality from storm and flood damage to drought, increasing shortages of food and freshwater and outbreaks of pests and diseases.

Measures to conserve, manage or restore ecosystems are crucial tools for combating the linked climate and biodiversity crises. Often referred to as “nature-based solutions”, such actions play a well-publicised role in mitigating climate change thanks to ecosystems’ abilities to sequester and store carbon. The role of ecosystem-based approaches in helping people adapt to climate change is equally important.

Ecosystem-based Adaptation measures can help improve the livelihoods of local communities.

Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) - the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services to help people adapt to climate change as part of an overall adaptation strategy - is a powerful nature-based solution that can both help to reduce the adverse impacts of climate change and deliver economic, social and cultural benefits that contribute to long term resilience for people and economies. Many of these measures will also enhance existing or create new jobs and livelihood options to replace those that are threatened by climate change and other factors:

  • Protecting and restoring mangroves and other coastal wetlands to reduce risks of flooding and erosion also provides breeding and nursery grounds for fish, enhancing food security and fisheries-based livelihoods for local communities. For example, integrated mangrove-shrimp farming in the Mekong Delta through the Mangroves & Markets initiative produces larger shrimp that can be sold at a higher price, with a potential highest profit of $2000 per hectare, compared to $1000 per hectare for conventional shrimp farming.
  • Conserving and restoring upland forests to stabilise mountain slopes and regulate water flows also helps protect people and assets from flash flooding and landslides as rainfall increases, and reduces sediment loads that affect water quality, impede navigation and damage hydroelectric turbines. For instance, when Itaipu Binational Company and local communities restored watershed forest and improved management around the Itaipu Dam in Paraguay & Brazil, this reduced damage to turbines, extended the lifespan of the reservoir, and captured an estimated 5.9 million CO2e per year.
  • Rehabilitating and restoring rangeland vegetation through improved grazing management can increase forage quality and quantity, improve water availability and soil quality and enhance fire resistance, supporting traditional pastoral livelihoods in the face of increasing drought. One such example is the Mountain EbA Program in Nor Yauyos, Peru. The restoration of water channels and reservoirs and improved grassland and vicuna livestock management are highly profitable compared to a business as usual scenario, allow an increased number of livestock per hectare, and have helped to conserve diverse habitats for local wildlife.  

EbA measures can provide a cost-effective way to build community resilience to a changing climate, while also delivering a range of other societal benefits and preserving traditional knowledge and culture. They can also help to increase the effectiveness of engineered adaptation solutions; for example, coastal marsh and dune management can supplement engineered forms of coastal protection such as sea walls.

Scaling up the use of nature-based solutions such as EbA can make a crucial contribution to reducing the magnitude of the climate and biodiversity crises by delivering increased resilience to natural disasters and climatic shifts, as well as other benefits for people and nature. Such scaling up will depend on increasing awareness and building capacity among decision-makers in government, business and financial institutions, as well as practitioners and communities. 

It is also critical to reduce uncertainties by continuing to build the growing evidence base on EbA approaches and their effectiveness. This depends on well-designed monitoring and evaluation and communication of results. A growing range of tools and best practices is available to help us plan, implement, monitor, evaluate and report on outcomes from EbA (and indeed for adaptation more broadly).

From forests to drylands, from mountains to mangroves and coral reefs, nature-based solutions can play a critical role in strategies for addressing climate change, through adaptation as well as mitigation.  The multiple benefits they provide for livelihoods, food security, economies and biodiversity conservation are key inputs to the resilient recovery so crucial in these testing times.

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