Guidance Note | Building Resilience With Nature: Maximizing Ecosystem-based Adaptation through National Adaptation Plan Processes

Submitted by NAP Global Network | published 4th Mar 2021 | last updated 31st May 2021
Cover photo: Nanang Sujana/CIFOR (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Cover photo: Nanang Sujana/CIFOR (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) has the potential to generate economic returns and provide multiple benefits, such as improved health, biodiversity protection, food security, and alternative livelihood opportunities, all of which can build resilience to climate change. With over 10 years of application in global and local contexts, EbA has emerged as an essential approach to adaptation that is effective in building ecological, social, and economic resilience. To fully maximize and deliver EbA at the scale and pace needed, it must be put at the heart of countries’ national development and climate strategies. The National Adaptation Plan (NAP) process provides an opening to do just this. By enabling countries to strategically integrate adaptation into their decision making, planning, and budgeting, the NAP process strives to make adaptation part of standard development practice.

The following guidance note presents “why” and “how” the NAP process can be utilized as a key mechanism and driver to mainstream and upscale EbA. The guidance will be useful for NAPs, Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and biodiversity focal points, and country-level teams engaged in the planning and implementation of NAP processes, as well as support programs that engage in NAP elaboration and financing. 

*Download the full guidance from the right hand column. The key messages from the guidance are provided below. See the full text for more detail

Key Messages

  • Climate change directly affects biodiversity, altering the composition and function of ecosystems at an unprecedented speed and thus threatening the services that ecosystems provide. At the same time, ecosystems and biodiversity play a critical role in supporting efforts to reduce the negative effects of climate change.
  • Ecosystems and ecosystem services are climate-sensitive themselves and must remain within safe biophysical limits to provide effective mitigation and adaptation as well as socioeconomic development benefits.
  • Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) is widely recognized as a pillar of nature-based solutions (NbS). EbA is a people-centric approach that is intentionally designed to deliver adaptation outcomes and socioeconomic benefits for people. When well designed and implemented, EbA solutions provide multiple adaptation benefits and can be more cost effective than traditional engineered adaptation solutions.
  • The NAP process provides a framework for the purpose of mainstreaming, mandating, and scaling up EbA across national, subnational, and budgetary planning processes. It provides an opportunity to link ecosystems and adaptation planning and prioritize EbA solutions across sectors as part of an overall strategy to help people adapt to climate change.
  • The NAP process enables countries to advance the protection of biodiversity with climate adaptation objectives and meet multiple international obligations, reduce vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, and facilitate the integration of climate change adaptation concerns in biodiversity policies, programs, and activities.
  • To ensure that EbA solutions are in fact designed to help people adapt and build the resilience of ecosystems, they must address climate hazards, generate adaptation benefits for vulnerable groups, build the resilience of ecosystems, and make sustainable use of biodiversity.

Methods and tools

The following guidance note presents “why” and “how” the NAP process can be utilized as a key mechanism and driver to mainstream and upscale EbA. It is based on a recent analysis of 19 completed NAP documents that reviewed the inclusion of ecosystems and uptake of EbA measures. 

The review of NAP documents highlighted that the NAP process provides a strategic mechanism to upscale and mainstream EbA solutions at the national level and across sectors. Many organizations and institutions have developed principles and recommendations that are helpful to guide the integration of EbA into the NAP process. The NAP Global Network reviewed current guidance and took into consideration important observations from the review of existing NAP documents to summarize the following guiding principles for integrating ecosystems and EbA solutions in the NAP process

Guiding principles

Following these guiding principles throughout the NAP process will help countries to effectively use ecosystems and ecosystem services to help people adapt to climate change and minimize negative impacts on ecosystems. Please refer to the full publication for more details.

Guiding Principle 1: Emphasize the role of ecosystems in vulnerability reduction for people, their livelihoods, and socioeconomic development.

Practical steps to put this principle into action
  • Acknowledge and prioritize the role and use of nature to address climate change as a strategic goal of the NAP process.
  •  Identify and clearly articulate how the loss of ecosystem services exacerbates people’s vulnerabilities to climate change.
  • Apply participatory and inclusive approaches for communities and people who utilize ecosystem services or have an individual connection to them to identify adaptation benefits.
  • Ensure solutions are designed intentionally to address climate risk and reduce human vulnerabilities.
Useful resources and guidance

Guiding Principle 2: Take an ecosystem-level approach to assessing vulnerability and risks using the best available science, as well as Indigenous and Traditional Knowledge.

  • Take stock of past relevant ecosystem vulnerability and risk assessments and past/ongoing EbA-related projects and information.
  • Assess current and future climate impacts and vulnerabilities on ecosystems and biodiversity based on the best available science (applying an ecosystem/landscape approach).
  • Acknowledge and advance the interdependencies between climate change and biodiversity protection, in particular, climate risks and non-climatic stressors threatening the long-term viability of ecosystems, requiring adaptation options to protect ecosystems and their services.
  • Involve conservation and biodiversity experts in the formulation of the NAP process.
  • Coordinate and align the NAP process with the country’s national biodiversity assessment and vice versa to support biodiversity conservation and the need to help nature adapt to climate change. 

Guiding Principle 3: Adopt an integrated approach that considers ecosystems across all sectors in the NAP process

  • Consider all natural ecosystems present in the country when identifying services and climate adaptation benefits, including mountains, forests, grasslands, agricultural lands, urban landscapes, marine and coastal, fresh water, drylands and desert, etc.
  • When assessing individual sectors’ vulnerabilities, consider the relationship between that sector’s performance and its dependency on healthy ecosystems. 
  • Closely collaborate and coordinate with sectors across government on the design and implementation of relevant EbA solutions.
  • Consider ecosystems as a stand-alone sector and mainstream EbA solutions across all sectors.
  • Promote EbA and hybrid solutions (e.g., green roofs) as the default adaptation solution before engineered solutions across all sectors, highlighting the cost effectiveness of EbA solutions where possible. 
  • Ensure that the ecosystem impacts of other adaptation options are considered, following environmental safeguards, and appraise EbA solutions against effectiveness criteria.
  • Consider factors like vulnerability, biodiversity value, and the priorities of stakeholders to assess trade-offs; promote honest dialogues among them; and enhance desirable synergies. 

Guiding Principle 4: Embrace global policy alignment by considering synergies with other relevant international commitments that EbA solutions contribute to. 

  • Take into consideration mitigation benefits and the contribution of EbA solutions.
  • Identify synergies to other national strategies, international conventions, and commitments (specifically the NDC, a biodiversity strategy, DRR plans, and SDGs). 
  • Integrate climate change considerations into biodiversity and conservation planning processes and projects.

Guiding Principle 5: Make use of the participatory and inclusive nature of the NAP process to design the most appropriate and effective EbA solutions.

  • Apply participatory and inclusive approaches to identify EbA solutions for implementation, ensuring equitable participation.
  • Recognize, value and integrate Indigenous and Traditional Knowledge (e.g., observations of changes at the local level) through participatory approaches. 
  • Incorporate gender perspectives into EbA solutions where possible to ensure gender inequalities are not perpetuated.

Guiding Principle 6: Use the NAP process to engage subnational and local level governments in the design and implementation of regional and local EbA solutions.

  • Undertake participatory vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning processes at the subnational and local levels, ensuring equitable participation and fostering engagement and connectivity between levels of government.
  • Identify and engage subnational actors in the implementation of EbA solutions, including across transboundary ecosystems (e.g., through cost-sharing agreements and budgetary planning).
  • Identify and build technical capacity needs at subnational levels to implement effective EbA solutions.

Guiding Principle 7: Adopt a long-term approach and ensure sufficient resources for the implementation of EbA solutions

  • Commit to sustained investment in EbA activities as well as technical and human resources to ensure effective design and management of EbA solutions and achievement of long-term adaptation outcomes. 
  • Comprehensively estimate and compare the costs for EbA solutions against engineered solutions and include them in the NAP process.
  • Develop financing options, sufficient support, and financial resources (public, private, and international) for the implementation of EbA solutions (e.g., payment for ecosystem services, stormwater fees, tourism levies) in close collaboration with the Ministry of Finance.
  • Engage the private sector in the implementation of EbA solutions (e.g., through cost-sharing agreements and incentives)

Guiding Principle 8: Ensure accountability and performance by building an evidence base for EbA solutions as part of an overall NAP M&E system. 

  • Develop time-bound and evidence-based targets for EbA solutions, including societal and economic benefits.
  • Identify key actors and their responsibilities in monitoring and evaluating EbA solutions.
  • Document and disseminate information to build the evidence and effectiveness of EbA.
  • Integrate new information into review cycles of the NAP process.
  • Based on identified synergies to other international conventions (specifically the NDC, a biodiversity strategy, DRR plans, and SDGs), consider other relevant reporting requirements that this information could be used for.
  • Build capacity to undertake a systematic collection of ecological data at regular intervals and over time.