07.10.2020

Advancing the Ecosystem-based approaches

Mangroves

Mangroves offer protection against flooding. Photo: Julie Steinen

In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that the conservation and restoration of natural habitats and zones is an eminently suitable method of adapting to the impacts of climate change. Ecosystems provide essential services to achieve this, for example, by maintaining soil fertility, producing clean water and protecting against flooding. Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) is the strategic use and advancement of these essential ecosystem properties to help nature and humans adapt to the current and future impacts of climate change.

One unique feature of EbA is that it links sustainable socio-economic development with approaches for the restoration and conservation of vital ecosystems within an overall adaptation strategy. In this way, nature conservation can support adaptation to the impacts of climate change and mitigate the effects, for example, of heavy rainfall or prolonged heatwaves. The concept is based on the fact that ecosystem integrity is absolutely crucial for the resilience of human beings.

Successful EbA projects are currently protecting and restoring coral reefs, mangrove forests, river deltas, peatlands and mountain forests. EbA is consistently focused on making our societies fit to cope with climate risks. What makes EbA an incredibly, efficient and sustainable solution for climate adaptation is because intact ecosystems not only have positive effects on our adaptation to climate change and the conservation of biodiversity, but also create a multitude of other benefits, including clean air and a better supply of food. Even the recreational use of landscapes has a positive effect on health and the quality of life. Moreover, new jobs in landscape management, tourism and sustainable agriculture can also increase the economic performance of entire regions. Similarly, ecosystems can improve the sustainability and lifespan of infrastructure that has already been built: one example is the rehabilitation of salt marshes along flood protection walls. The conservation and restoration of ecosystems also help to store carbon in biomass, which in turn contributes to reducing CO2 in the atmosphere, an essential strategy to mitigate the impacts of climate change as much as possible.

EbA in international treaties

Ecosystem-based approaches for adaptation to the impacts of climate change can be found in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the International Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). Ecosystem-based approaches play a major role in the Global Status Report on Biodiversity, which was adopted by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in May 2019. EbA is also used as a sustainable and cost-efficient instrument in the European Adaptation Strategy, the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2020 and the Green Infrastructure Strategy.

The International Climate Initiative (IKI) supports projects which process and disseminate knowledge about usage scenarios and which test EbA approaches in practice. The lessons learned in the projects are shared at international negotiation processes by the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear safety (BMU), in the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Practical experiences gained from the impacts of EbA measures and their cost-benefit ratio compared to other adaptation measures further develops the EbA concept and its application in other countries.