Nature-based solutions to climate change: stories from Chile

The last-minute decision to shift the location of the UN climate negotiations from Santiago to Madrid saw committed multilateralism at work; despite the logistical challenges, world leaders have pressed ahead with these crucial talks in Spain. While the climate spotlight has moved continents, Xiaoting Hou-Jones shares stories from Chile on how nature can support adaptation efforts. 

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12 December 2019

Xiaoting Hou Jones is a researcher in IIED's Natural Resources research group

People gathering branches

Chile is highly vulnerable to climate change impacts: multiple natural disasters are becoming more frequent and intense with coastal storms threatening the country’s 4,270 kilometres of coastline and changing rainfall patterns causing more and more droughts and floods. Avalanches are occurring more frequently in the vast mountain areas.  

Working with nature to adapt 

Chile is endowed with diverse ecosystems, home to around 30,000 species of fauna and flora. If those ecosystems are conserved, sustainably managed, or restored, they can help reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts, reduce disaster risks, capture carbon and provide social and economic benefits to local communities. For example, sustainably managed natural forests can store carbon and help reduce the impacts of avalanches and the risks of landslides in the mountain regions.

Working with nature in this way to adapt to climate change is called nature-based solutions (NbS) for adaptation or ecosystem-based adaptation, and is an approach that is attracting growing support – not only in Chile but globally

Supporting nature-based solutions

The Chilean government is one of the champions for a new alliance launched at the UN Climate Action Summit this September to protect tropical forests. It has also committed to restoring 100,000 hectares of forests and is implementing a National Climate Change and Vegetation Resource Strategy (PDF) aiming to restore and protect nature as a climate change mitigation and adaptation measure.

It is also revising its National Climate Change Adaptation Plan and Nationally Determined Contributions (PDF). Both policies explicitly recognise nature’s importance for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Learning from doing  

Many initiatives in Chile are already working with nature to adapt to climate change, and offer valuable insights and lessons on how to work with nature: 

  • The Protecting Mountain Biological Corridors (in Spanish) project is supporting local communities to work with native animal species to control pests and restore more drought-tolerant native trees. The Sustainable Mediterranean Communities (in Spanish) project supports smallholder farmers to collectively develop and implement sustainable land use plans at water basin level to conserve biodiversity and enhance climate resilience. Both are run by Chile’s Ministry of Environment and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
  • Funded by the Chilean Government, the Ecosystem Restoration Programme Cayumanque (in Spanish) raises awareness among the general public in rural communities and cities about how nature can help people adapt to climate change and provide multiple ecosystem services. The project also nurtures local champions for nature-based solutions. 
  • The IUCN-led project Ecosystems Protecting Infrastructure and Communities (EPIC) provided important evidence on how working with nature can reduce risks of avalanches and landslides and deliver multiple mitigation, economic and biodiversity benefits. 

Chilean civil society organisations are also championing many nature-based solutions for climate change. They are sharing some activities in various events in Santiago (in Spanish). 

Inspiration from Chile

These initiatives highlight two key lessons that can inspire learning and increase uptake of nature-based climate actions across the world: 

  • Empowering local communities to be NbS champions: local communities are bearing the brunt of climate impacts. Governments, the private sector and NGOs should support and empower local communities to work with nature to adapt and ensure they receive economic benefits.

    Programmes should support community associations and organisation of community members to collectively identify their own priorities and make their own plans, to engage in policy advocacy, and to implement diversified land use and business strategies at scale for climate resilience.
     
  • Collaboration among sectors: strengthening nature’s ability to help societies adapt requires actions that go beyond sectoral silos: for example, ministries of environment, agriculture, infrastructure and education need to work together to raise public awareness, provide coherent policy frameworks and incentives for connected, diverse, resilient ecosystems. 

IIED, in partnership with IUCN and UNEP-WCMC, has synthesised the experiences from Chile as part of its research on EbA effectiveness across 12 countries. The key lessons learnt were echoed during discussions among the almost 250 participants at the 17th Development & Climate Days event held during the UN climate negotiations. 

As the world looks to the leaders in Madrid to address the climate crisis, action is under way on the other side of the globe to work with nature to adapt. This gives us hope and offers inspiration to fight the dual crisis of biodiversity loss and climate change. 

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