Author Q&A: A framework for assessing the effectiveness of ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation

A chapter in the book 'Resilience: The Science of Adaptation to Climate Change' outlines a question-based framework developed to qualitatively assess the effectiveness of ecosystem-based adaptation. Co-author Hannah Reid tells us more about the framework, how it was developed – and why it’s timely.

Article, 23 November 2020

Hannah Reid is a consultant with IIED's Climate Change research group and biodiversity team. Alongside Amanda Bourne, Halcyone Muller, Karen Podvin, Sarshen Scorgie and Victor Orindi, she co-authored the chapter 'A framework for assessing the effectiveness of ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation' in the book 'Resilience: The Science of Adaptation to Climate Change'.

Q: What’s the chapter about?

HR: The global climate is changing rapidly, and nations must plan accordingly. But the question of how best to prioritise responses and associated funding for addressing climate change remains unclear.

The main approach to climate change adaptation has tended to involve investment in engineered interventions, such as sea walls or irrigation infrastructure. There is growing realisation, however, that ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) may sometimes provide the optimal adaptation solution, particularly for poorer countries where people are more dependent on natural resources for their lives and livelihoods.

EbA involves the restoration and protection of biodiversity and ecosystem services to help people adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. It often also has many co-benefits such as carbon sequestration, poverty reduction, biodiversity conservation and disaster risk reduction.

Despite its appeal, EbA is not being widely or consistently implemented, funded or mainstreamed into national and international policy processes. One reason for this is a weak evidence-base for EbA.

This chapter describes a methodology developed to address this. By applying this methodology to a number of established EbA projects, our understanding of whether EbA is effective or not, and about which benefits and costs emerging from its application can grow. This provides valuable information to decision-makers tasked with planning climate change responses.

Q: Why is the chapter timely?

HR: Awareness is growing that both climate change and biodiversity loss are two of the greatest challenges of our time. As such, responses to one shouldn’t have negative impacts on the other, and indeed responses that offer wins for both challenges should be prioritised.

With COVID-19 reminding us of our dependence on the sustainable management of the natural world, IPBES highlighting the dire state of global biodiversity loss, and the window for stopping dangerous climate change closing, climate change and biodiversity loss are in the spotlight more than ever before.

Q: Can you give a summary of the framework?

HR: The framework can be applied to assess EbA effectiveness according to three measures:

  1. Whether an initiative allows human communities to maintain or improve their adaptive capacity or resilience, and reduce their vulnerability to climate change, while enhancing co-benefits that promote well-being
  2. Whether an initiative restores, maintains or enhances the capacity of ecosystems to continue to produce services for local communities, and allow ecosystems to withstand climate change impacts and other stressors, and
  3. Whether an initiative is cost-effective and economically viable.

These three measures are broken down further into a number of detailed questions, answers to which help us draw conclusions about whether EbA works or not.

Nature landscape of a forest and a lake
Responses to climate change and biodiversity loss should offer wins for both challenges (Photo: Nina R via FlickrCC BY 2.0)

The framework also asks what social, institutional, and political issues influence the implementation of effective EbA initiatives, and how challenges associated with implementation can best be overcome.

Q: How does this relate to IIED’s work?

HR: Since its inception, IIED has been at the forefront of those arguing that pressing societal challenges including poverty, environment and climate change are interlinked and nature underpins society’s ability to develop, adapt to and mitigate climate change.

While the jargon evolves, and the platforms through which we promote this message change, these links have been integral to IIED’s research and policy interventions for more than 40 years.

With global attention on climate change growing over the last decade, IIED is well-placed to be a leader in research and advocacy relating to ‘nature-based solutions’, which include ecosystem-based approaches to climate change. Using the framework, IIED collated evidence of EbA effectiveness from 12 countries using a participatory approach that involved hundreds of local and national stakeholders.

This interview was compiled by Teresa Corcoran ([email protected]), communications content manager, IIED's Communications Group.

In Resilience: The Science of Adaptation to Climate Change, edited by Zinta Zommers and Keith Alverson, available to purchase from Elsevier, 376 pages, paperback (ISBN: 9780128118917); eBook (9780128118924)