Ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation

July 2015 to September 2019

Ecosystem management and restoration can be a very important part of climate change adaptation, and communities can play a central role in the process, but the evidence base needs strengthening.

Mangroves (Blue Carbon) in the Lamu area, on the Indian Ocean coast of Kenya (Photo: Peter Prokosch)

Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) involves people using biodiversity and ecosystem services to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and promote sustainable development.

Like community-based adaptation (CBA) it has people at its centre, and it uses participatory, culturally appropriate ways to address challenges, but there is a stronger emphasis on ecological and natural solutions.

We believe EbA has great potential to increase people's resilience and ability to adapt, but it's being overlooked in national and international policy processes.

This project aims to show climate change policymakers when and why EbA is effective – the conditions under which it works, and the benefits, costs and limitations of natural systems compared to options such as hard, infrastructural approaches – and promote the better integration of EbA principles into policy and planning.

Why now?

Field-based EbA projects are proliferating. IUCN, for example, is implementing 45 EbA projects in 58 countries. But to decide on how best to approach design and implementation, we need better-consolidated, empirical, comparative analysis of their effectiveness.

Increasingly, countries are developing their own policy responses, such as National Adaptation Plans and Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), while international policy guidance on adaptation is emerging through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and other multilateral processes.

The international and national architecture for financing adaptation is also being developed. We need learning on EbA effectiveness to inform these responses.

What is IIED doing?

Between July 2015 and September 2019, our focus is on EbA effectiveness in Asia, Africa and Central and South America and our project countries include: Bangladesh, China, Nepal, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Peru.

We will work with local partners to develop clear country-specific policy recommendations and explore opportunities for and obstacles to uptake.

We will produce practical guidance to help people integrate EbA into policy and planning, and communicate our findings and recommendations at key international events and through relevant platforms and networks such as the Nairobi Work Programme and the UNFCCC Adaptation Committee.

In January 2017, Hannah Reid reviewed the international policy environment and key project activities to that date, arguing that for the policy community to realise EbA's real potential as a viable response for climate vulnerable communities, knowledge gaps on how it works, when and why needed to be plugged. 


Finance for resilience building and ecosystem-based adaptation in Kenya: A comparative study of local and national managed funds, John Nyangena, Clare Stott, Adano Wario (2017) Report

Ecosystem-based adaptation: the key to reducing climate risk in Uganda, Hannah Reid, Evelyne Busingye, Sophie Kutegeka (2017) IIED Briefing

Making ecosystem-based adaptation effective: a framework for defining qualification criteria and quality standards, M Bertram, Edmund Barrow, Katherine Blackwood, Ali Raza Rizvi, Hannah Reid, S von Scheliha-​Dawid (May 2017), Report

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 Report (en français | en español)

Ecosystem-based adaptation: a win-win formula for sustainability in a warming world?, Nathalie Seddon, Xiaoting Hou-Jones, Tom Pye, Hannah Reid, Dilys Roe, Danielle Mountain, Ali Raza Rizvi (2016), IIED Briefing. Also available in French and Spanish.

Ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation: strengthening the evidence and informing policy. Research overview and overarching questions, Nathalie Seddon, Hannah Reid, Edmund Barrow, Charlotte Hicks, Xiaoting Hou-Jones, Val Kapos, Ali Raza Rizvi, Dilys Roe (2016), IIED Report

Shared goals – joined-up approaches? Why action under the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 needs to come together at the landscape level, Epple C, Wicander S, Mant R, Kapos V, Rossing T, Rizvi A R (2016), FEBA discussion paper

Ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation: strengthening the evidence and informing policy (2015), IIED, IUCN and UNEP-WCMC Project flyer (en français | en Español)

Additional resources


This project is part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI). The German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) supports this initiative on the basis of a decision adopted by the German Bundestag.


IIED will manage the project and work with IUCN and UNEP-WCMC to develop a common research methodology. We will take the lead on in-country work with local partners in Bangladesh, Kenya, China and South Africa and work with IUCN and UNEP-WCMC to collate and share research results widely. 

IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) will work with IIED and UNEP-WCMC on research, policy engagement, and capacity building and outreach activities at all levels. They will take the lead on in-country work through regional and country-office staff in Nepal, Mali, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Peru, Chile, Costa Rica and El Salvador.

UNEP-WCMC will provide technical support to IIED and IUCN, especially with developing practical guidance on integrating effective EbA measures into policy planning, and presenting project results to the UNFCCC and at other international events.

Case study partners

In-country partners will lead action research/learning activities at existing EbA project sites, and help make the case for EbA in national and sub-national climate change and development policy and planning processes.

In addition to IUCN country and regional offices, in-country partners include the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy, Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Drought Management Authority, Conservation South Africa and Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (Peru).