Building Resilience With Nature: Ecosystem-based Adaptation in National Adaptation Plan Processes

Submitted by Cesar Henrique Arrais | published 13th Jan 2021 | last updated 10th Feb 2021
Group planting mangrove in Indonesia. Credit: Ikhlasul Amal (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Group planting mangrove in Indonesia. Credit: Ikhlasul Amal (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Introduction

The role of nature and ecosystems in addressing the climate and biodiversity crises and achieve societal resilience is gaining important momentum. Healthy and resilient ecosystems are recognized in various international bodies and agendas, including the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. Specifically, ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) as a nature-based solution 
is gaining importance since it recognizes that ecosystem services help reduce communities’ vulnerability to climate change. Its main rationale is that restoring and maintaining ecosystems will be fundamental to ensuring their good functioning and providing ecosystem services that support adaptation to climate change.

Experiences from EbA projects demonstrate that, in order to scale up and sustain these approaches over time, it is critical that an enabling environment be created that integrates EbA into overall adaptation policies and planning processes. National Adaptation Plan (NAP) processes present a strategic opportunity to raise the profile of EbA approaches, providing a framework—and, potentially, financial resources—for implementation at scale. 

Based on the above, the NAP Global Network identified the need to better understand the extent to which EbA, as a tool for adaptation, has been taken up in NAP processes and potentially identify next steps and opportunities to strengthen its profile and quality. 

This analysis* highlights the extent of integration and identification of ecosystems and EbA into NAPs, trends in how EbA was incorporated, and aspects that were limited in scope. 

*Download the full publication from the right-hand column for more details. A short overview of the publication is provided below. ​Check out the NAP Global Network website for more resources on Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA).

Methodology

The review aimed to identify the role of ecosystems in countries’ adaptation priorities and the uptake of EbA measures in response to climate risks and vulnerabilities to enhance adaptative capacity and strengthen the resilience of ecosystems and people, as presented in NAP documents. It is based on a review of the 19 NAPs submitted by national governments to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) before March 2020 (see Table 1 below). The review included six countries from Latin America, seven from Africa and the Middle East, two from the Pacific, one from Asia, and three from the Caribbean. The time of submission ranges from 2014 to 2019.

The CBD’s definition of EbA underscores that restoring and maintaining ecosystems are instrumental to ensure that ecosystems can provide services that contribute to people’s adaptation to climate change (CBD, 2009). Further, EbA should be integrated into existing policy frameworks rather than being implemented in short-term and stand-alone efforts (Friends of EbA, 2017). Based on this understanding, a content analysis was performed using a subset of questions and a systematic search of keywords associated with the concept of EbA. The review was aimed to provide insights related to the following five key issues:

  • The inclusion of ecosystems and biodiversity (either as a stand-alone sector or consideration within other NAP sectors) as part of an overall adaptation strategy/plan.
  • The use of biodiversity and ecosystem services to address identified, observed, and projected climatic hazards and vulnerabilities and help people adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.
  • The extent to which NAPs emphasize managing anticipated climate risk to ecosystems to support ecosystem functionality and resilience to climate change.
  • The recognition of multiple social, economic, and cultural co-benefits for communities that support climate change adaptation and sustainable livelihoods.
  • The identification of vulnerable people who will benefit from EbA measures.

 

Table 1. Overview of Ecosystem-Based Adaptation in National Adaptation Plan (NAP) Processes, from p.10 of the publication. Click on the image to open in new tab for a better display.

Key Findings

Key findings related to the uptake and progress of EbA in NAPs are:

  • All NAP documents submitted made efforts to integrate considerations of ecosystems and identified ecosystem services. However, the explicit, direct, or indirect contributions and societal benefits for people were mainly implied or discussed in generic terms. 
  • The vulnerabilities of the natural environment and ecosystems to climate change (and sometimes other causes of degradation) and the impact on services they provide were well covered in all NAPs.
  • All countries emphasized the importance of incorporating climate information into planning processes, which is reflected in the detailed information regarding vulnerabilities of ecosystems.
  • Most countries included EbA measures to reduce the threats to—and vulnerabilities of—ecosystems they identified in their NAP.
  • Efforts to monitor EbA outcomes are limited to a few countries. Some countries have identified partial or full time-bound measurable targets for their EbA measures.
  • The identification of financial resources for EbA and/or ecosystems and engagement of the private sector on these actions were not widespread in NAPs.
  • Urban EbA and grey/green hybrid options were under-represented in the NAPs despite increased attention to these aspects internationally and in recent publications and guidelines.
  • NAPs tended to identify people and groups that are particularly vulnerable to climate change and may benefit from adaptation actions, but only a handful made a direct connection to ecosystem-based actions.
  • Latin American countries have much stronger treatment of ecosystem services and EbA and connected their NAPs to a national biodiversity strategy.
  • Within NAP documents, forests, freshwater and coastal/marine were the ecosystems most identified as vulnerable to climate change, and they also had the most corresponding EbA measures related to those ecosystems.
  • There is evidence that countries are starting to link the NAP process and ecosystems to other relevant national strategies and global agendas.
  • Countries recognized the co-benefits EbA measures have for sustainable development, in particular for climate change mitigation in the form of carbon sequestration.

Conclusions

This review of the existing NAP documents reveals that ecosystems—in their own vulnerability to climate change and through the services that they provide to people to adapt to climate change—are critical to adaptation priorities in many countries. Beyond the 19 completed NAPs, 125 countries have initiated and/or are undertaking activities related to the NAP process, providing an important opportunity to support countries in their efforts to enhance and upscale adaptation broadly and related to ecosystems specifically.

While the review was conducted on the completed NAP documents and did not analyze the related NAP process, the findings from this review provide insights into ongoing NAP processes for integrating ecosystems and EbA into the process as well as resultant documents. Recognizing the importance of country-specific context and priorities in the NAP process, there are several key areas where countries may benefit from strengthening their approach to ecosystems and EbA solutions to further enable the adaptive capacity of ecosystems and people, especially the most vulnerable of both. These include: 

  • Adopt the notion that our economies and well-being are embedded in and rely on healthy ecosystems.
  • Use the NAP process to advance protection of biodiversity with climate adaptation goals.
  • Consider and integrate EbA solutions across all sectors, in particular non-conservation sectors.
  • Apply effectiveness criteria to ensure EbA solutions deliver intended outcomes.
  • Strengthening measurable and time-bound targets for EbA solutions.
  • Identify potential financial resources and collaboration with the private sector.
  • Highlight and identify vulnerable people and groups.