EbA Evidence and Policy: South Africa

In South Africa, IIED and CSA are reviewing lessons from CSA’s activities to mainstream ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) within climate policy. Through a case study in the Namaqualand region, we are also understanding more on EbA effectiveness and learning how to scale it up into broader government programmes.

July 2015 - December 2022
Xiaoting Hou Jones

 Xiaoting Hou Jones was a senior researcher in the biodiversity team of IIED's Natural Resources research group until March 2024

Ecosystem-based adaptation
A programme of work focused on people using biodiversity and ecosystem services to adapt to climate change and promote sustainable development
A stone gabion constructed to control erosion across a gully in the Namaqualand region. (Photo: Halcyone Muller / Conservation South Africa)

A stone gabion constructed to control erosion across a gully in the Namaqualand region. (Photo: copyright Halcyone Muller/Conservation South Africa)

Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) involves people using biodiversity and ecosystem services to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and promote sustainable development. IIED, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) are implementing a project called 'Ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation: strengthening the evidence and informing policy' (EbA Evidence and Policy). Working with local partners in 12 countries, the project aims to gather practical evidence and develop country-specific policy guidance on how EbA can best be implemented.

What are we doing in South Africa?

Conservation South Africa (CSA) has been working in the Namaqualand District Municipality in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa to conserve, manage and restore dryland rangelands through climate resilient livestock production and water supply restoration on communal lands. The project is in the Succulent Karoo – a global biodiversity hotspot with exceptionally high levels of endemism – and project activities were specifically designed to adopt EbA as a means of improving pastoral livelihoods and conserving biodiversity in this semi-arid area in the face of climate change.

Project activities have focused on the rehabilitation of critical rangeland and wetland ecosystems. The conditions for implementing EbA were also improved through mainstreaming activities at various levels, including local and district municipalities, and provincial and national levels. At the local level, for instance, the “Let’s Respond” toolkit (PDF), developed by national government to assist municipal teams to respond to climate change, has been promoted. Through this facilitation, existing local development plans have been aligned to reflect climate change risks and opportunities and integrate EbA implementation.

Chris Fortuin, Municipal Manager of the Namakwa District Municipality, talks about how climate change affects the district and details the EbA activities that form part of their adaptation strategy.

IIED and CSA used the EbA Evidence and Policy project’s Framework for Assessing EbA Effectiveness to consult with communities, NGOs, and national and local government staff on their perception of EbA effectiveness. These findings were combined with those from 11 other countries to help show climate change policymakers when and why EbA is effective in the publication 'Is ecosystem-based adaptation effective? Perceptions and lessons learned from 13 project sites'.

Informing policy

Results so far have indicated that there are still several gaps and challenges around EbA effectiveness: 

  • Important elements to help implement EbA at the local level are a 'champion', as well as a dedicated portfolio and budget
  • A lot of effort is particularly required to mainstream across the sectors and support a more integrated approach to development adaptation solutions;
  • Mainstreaming has been most effective where we have been able to develop vulnerability assessments and EbA priority maps that support decision-makers on where to prioritise EbA at the district level. 
  • In South Africa, a national strategy has been developed for EbA, which is a great platform for supporting local implementation.

Based on lessons learnt, CSA are actively engaging with key stakeholders on how to scale up EbA by mainstreaming it into other broader government programmes.

Updates from Conservation South Africa (CSA)

We published a policy brief to help mainstream EbA in national climate policy and the NDC process. You can also find out more about the importance of EbA in national determined contributions (NDC) in this podcast.
We also published a case study about accessing climate finance through a small grants facility to support EbA in local areas. 

We contributed to ‘EbA stories of change’ sharing lessons learned about the implementation of EbA approaches at the watershed scale.

We continued to support national and sub-national governments to mainstream EbA into their policies and plans. We continued to engage actively with important national networks like Adaptation Network and to support local communities to implement EbA.

We supported members of the Adaptation Network to build their understanding of EbA and their capacity to implement effective EbA approaches. We are active participants in network meetings.

We also conducted training sessions for different stakeholders, including women farmers and youth leaders, to improve their capacity to implement EbA. For example, we trained and employed youth leaders to do conservation and climate-smart restoration in rangeland in collaboration with Yes4Youth.   

We contributed to ‘EbA stories of change’ sharing experiences of how the implementation of EbA contributed to community resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. We also contributed to a Flickr album showcasing examples from several countries.

We engaged in policy debates at national and local level, including stakeholder consultation to contribute to the formulation of the National Climate Change Bill and the National Adaptation Strategy. The primary objectives of the climate change bill is to enhance a coordinated response to the impact of climate change across the spheres of government and society.

June 2018
We will share preliminary project case study results at the Adaptation Futures conference in Cape Town, 18-22 June 2018, through presentations, participation in panel discussions and networking events. The presentation includes recommendations based on preliminary policy brief results. The final policy brief and case study are anticipated by the end of September. 

April 2018
We attended the first IKI Networking Workshop in Pretoria, which brought together role players from various sectors in South Africa and Germany to encourage links between project recipients and potential development of projects. South Africa is still in the process of developing its National Adaptation Strategy and Plan which was due to be gazetted by March 2018. Stakeholder engagement is ongoing and the gazetting has not yet happened.

March 2018
We were successful in reapplying for funding with the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, Pretoria for continued EbA work in two additional landscapes (Umzimvubu Catchment in the Eastern Cape and Kruger to Canyons (K2C) Biosphere Reserve, in Mpumalanga and Limpopo).

This work was reported on in March 2018. A vulnerability assessment of the K2C Biosphere Reserve was commissioned as part of a larger spatial prioritisation process by the GEF Protected Area. This assessment and its application are being shared with municipal, community and private stakeholders and role players involved in prioritising sites for EbA work in this area. They are also aware of the IIED work underway and we will update them with any final reports on this work in terms of the case study research. 

February 2018
We completed the collection of the “after” data for the socio-economic survey of participants. This data is being captured and analysed together with the “before” data collected early in 2017.  The results are expected later in 2018.

January 2018
We decided to implement Scenario 2 intervention of the project following insufficient natural rainfall in the project area. This involved a plan to simulate rainfall using a water trailer and pump to 'irrigate' a known volume of water on the study site. 

We have continued to actively engage with key policymakers to mainstream EbA into the National Adaptation Strategy, National Adaptation Plan and other relevant policy, strategy and guidelines. The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) have developed guidelines for EbA which we contributed to, as well as an easy-reading booklet which we have commented on.

October 2017
The Namaqua District Municipality has been declared a disaster area due to the ongoing drought in the Northern Cape. 

We have prepared all 10 case study sites to capture erosion and surface runoff data, as well as rainfall data following rainfall events and pre-and post-construction of gabions and restoration. Each study site consists of a paired treatment: six sites are gully erosion sites and four are sheet erosion sites. A vegetation belt transect for each treatment site was conducted during September and will be repeated in August 2018.   

We prepared Scenario 1 and 2 in the face of the drought situation and absence of rainfall. This situation resulted in a delay in holding the planned workshop and sharing of the case study due to insufficient natural rainfall events to date. 

June 2017
In collaboration with Conservation International, we hosted a workshop around EbA with support from the DEA and SANBI. The workshop reflected on the policy and enabling environment for EbA, discussed available tools for adaptation and how we can develop approaches towards their use in capacity development. IIED was invited to present on this research and talk to tools and capacity development globally on EbA. A blog was produced from the event.

South Africa’s government developed a Strategic Framework and Overarching Implementation Plan for EbA (PDF) which provides an excellent enabling environment for the project activities and will be an important platform to support implementation of EbA.

Additional resources

Storymap: Ecosystem-based adaptation in watersheds (2021) 

Ecosystem-based adaptation: question-based guidance for assessing effectiveness, Hannah Reid, Nathalie Seddon, Edmund Barrow, Charlotte Hicks, Xiaoting Hou-Jones, Ali Raza Rizvi, Dilys Roe, Sylvia Wicander (2017), IIED 

CSA project webpage: Ecosystem based Adaptation Action for priority sites in South Africa's semi arid ecosystem in the Namakwa District

Website: Let’s Respond Toolkit

Academic paper: A Socio-Ecological Approach for Identifying and Contextualising Spatial Ecosystem-Based Adaptation Priorities at the Sub-National Level, Amanda Bourne et al. (2016), PLOS ONE 11(5), PLOS

Book chapter: “Strengthening the role of local authorities to support CBA through climate change mainstreaming: the case of local governments in South Africa”, in Enhancing adaptation to climate change in developing countries through community-based adaptation: think globally, act locally, Joannes Atela et al. (eds) (2017), Available to purchase from ACTS Press

Report: A Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for the Namakwa District, South Africa: The 2015 Revision (PDF), Amanda Bourne et al. (2015), Conservation South Africa

Briefing: Multi-level partnerships for mainstreaming climate change in local government (PDF), Amanda Bourne (2014), Adaptation and Beyond 12, Indigo Development & Change 

Report: Alfred Nzo District Municipality Climate Change Response Strategy. Technical Report (PDF), Conservation South Africa (2015)


International Climate Initiative (IKI)
The German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) supports the IKI on the basis of a decision adopted by the German Bundestag.

The Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, Pretoria, South Africa has funded work on Ecosystem Based Adaptation since 2016 in three landscapes across South Africa.