Climate justice for people and nature through urban Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA): a focus on the Global South

Submitted by Heidi Tuhkanen | published 8th Sep 2021 | last updated 7th Oct 2021
People gathered around samples from the river in the Palmiet River Rehabilitation project in Durban, South Africa. Image credit: Durban Research Action Partnership​.

People gathered around samples from the river in the Palmiet River Rehabilitation project in Durban, South Africa. Image credit: Durban Research Action Partnership​.

Introduction

Ecosystems can greatly improve the liveability of our increasingly urbanized world. The Global South in particular stands to benefit from Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) approaches, or the restoration, conservation, and sustainable management of ecosystems and ecosystem services for adaptation to climate change.  EbA approaches also provide co-benefits such as food and water security, job creation, and greater community cohesion and empowerment.

This joint technical paper discusses urban EbA interventions in the Global South and explores their links with seven proposed EbA Social Principles. It showcases practical examples of urban ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) interventions gathered through an online survey and explores their links with seven proposed EbA Social Principles: Participation and inclusiveness, Capacity building, Fairness and equitability, Integration of traditional/local knowledge, Livelihood improvement, Gender consideration and Appropriateness of scale. The paper explores EbA interventions’ potential to deliver climate just outcomes for urban areas in the Global South. 

The six in-depth case studies of interventions discussed in the paper will help better inform the planning of future urban EbA initiatives.

You can access the full publication here. A summary of the key findings is provided below. See the full publication for more details.

Methods and Tools

A set of EbA Social Principles which is linked with climate justice is proposed, based on previous literature. This set of principles is used as a framework to explore the results of a global online survey conducted by the global collaborative network Friends of Ecosystem-based Adaptation (FEBA) in 2020. The FEBA Urban EbA online survey on practical examples of urban ecosystem-based adaptation, was conducted in 2020. Of the 31 case studies collected, six specific ones (in Vietnam, South Africa, US, Kenya and Colombia) were analysed in further detail to explore how urban EbA contributes to climate justice in the context of urbanisation and demographic trends in the Global South. In order to select the six, cases that met more than three out of six criteria were selected. The criteria were 1) observable results related to climate change adaptation, 2) implementation in the urban context, 3) grassroots-led projects, 4) innovativeness, 5) underexposed projects, and 6) implementation in the Global South.

Outcomes and Impacts

Most of the urban EbA interventions reported a range of adaptation strategies encompassing social, physical and institutional components. Regarding the EbA Social Principles, the majority of the projects reported a high level of Gender consideration and Fairness and equitability, while Livelihood improvement and Capacity building were less common.

The survey examples and the in-depth narratives of the case studies explore EbA interventions’ tremendous potential to deliver climate-just outcomes for urban areas in the Global South. To help make this a reality, the EbA Social Principles should be deliberately considered during and integrated into the design, implementation and evaluation phases of urban EbA interventions as a standard project component. Identifying the enabling environment for climate justice within urban EbA case studies will help better inform the planning of future urban EbA initiatives with regard to their design process, institutional actors and stakeholders, and biophysical elements.

Lessons Learnt

The survey provided evidence on the social elements linked to the reported interventions of urban EbA, as reflected by the EbA Social Principles. The EbA Social Principles incorporated into the survey are: Participation & inclusiveness, Capacity building, Fairness and equitability, Gender consideration and Livelihood improvement. Based on the survey results, the lessons learnt are as follows: 

1. The majority of urban EbA interventions reported a high level of Participation and inclusiveness across all phases of implementation. Most of the projects declared a high or medium level of participation of women and different citizen groups during the decision-making processes. The level of citizen and stakeholder engagement was higher during the implementation phase, as compared to the planning phase.

2. With regards to Capacity building, potential for empowering local stakeholders and citizens was identified as high. Half of the case studies pointed to capacity-building processes that have taken place and measures that have been integrated into governance structures.

3. In the category of Fairness and equitability, most case studies stated a high potential for granting equal access to the benefits for citizens of different ages, ethnical groups, and social strata and for men and women. Improving rights, distribution and access of resources to vulnerable groups was identified with a lower potential, even though half of the case studies declared having some degree of potential. 

4. Related to Gender Consideration, more than three quarters of case studies reported granting equal access to the benefits for women and men. The percentage of interventions that grant representation of women in the decisionmaking process dropped to only half.

5. With regards to Livelihood improvement, a high potential for the creation of income-generating resources was reported for more than half of case studies. Improving working conditions was identified as having a lower potential in the category. 

From the set of EbA Social Principles analysed indepth for selected case studies, the more frequently cited principles are Participation and inclusiveness, Capacity building and Livelihood improvement. In contrast, Appropriateness of scale, Fairness and equitability, Gender consideration and Integration of indigenous and local knowledge are less represented in the selected in-depth cases.

The surveyed case studies together with the indepth narratives show a clear potential for urban EbA interventions to deliver climate-just measures in the Global South. However, the effective inclusion of climate justice elements should be intentional and integrated in the planning phase to be fully reflected in the EbA related procedures as well as outcomes. It should be noted that to also reflect recognitional justice framings of climate justice, historic contexts and root causes of inequalities should also be accounted for in both procedures and outcomes. The examples of urban EbA interventions gathered and presented here contribute to the knowledge base, but the FEBA Urban EbA Working Group recognises the need to continue developing and sharing knowledge related to urban EbA in the Global South.

Recommendations for practitioners and policymakers

Based on the evidence provided by the survey results and the in-depth analysis, the following recommendations can be highlighted by the FEBA Urban EbA working group: 

  • Recognising and incorporating the guiding principles for just urban EbA interventions is crucial.
  • Translating climate justice elements into concrete project guidelines can be challenging due to lack of information, particularly in the Global South.
  • When designing and implementing urban EbA interventions, special attention should be dedicated to making sure that livelihoods are improved, capacity building processes are delivered, and gender equitability is considered.
  • We advise practitioners and policy makers to foster stakeholder participation, in particular the participation of more vulnerable groups.
  • Consideration of different scales of action and promoting equitable access to benefits from urban EbA interventions were principles reported of frequent consideration among case studies.
  • Financing urban EbA interventions is a common challenge and thus funding opportunities must be expanded.

Citation

FEBA (Friends of Ecosystem-based Adaptation). (2021). Climate Justice for People and Nature
through Urban Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA): A Focus on the Global South. Vidal Merino, M., Kang, Y. H., Arce Romero, A., Pahwa Gajjar, S., Tuhkanen, H., Nisbet, R., DeMaria-Kinney, J., Min, A.K., Atieno, W. C., Bray, B. (authors). PlanAdapt, Berlin, Germany and IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. 43 pp. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.5187945

Lead authors from PlanAdapt; FEBA Fellow on Urban Ecosystem-based Adaptation; Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI); International Rainwater Harvesting Alliance (IRHA); International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN); United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).