While at COP22 in Morocco, I was also lucky enough to liaise with IUCN’s Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EBA) team, whom I helped with coordinating a couple of side events during the first week of the conference. With support from research organizations, NGOs and governments across the world, IUCN has taken the lead in creating an informal alliance, known as the Friends of EBA, or FEBA. FEBA partners range from The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, to environmental ministries in Nepal and Germany, and UNFCCC Adaptation Fund representatives.
In their most reduced form, EBA approaches look for “nature-based solutions”, and attempt to leverage the central role of ecosystems and biodiversity in enhancing human adaptive capacity to respond to climate change. EBA can be defined as the conservation, management and restoration of ecosystems to combat climate change, and some examples of EBA include sustainable agriculture, IWRM, and mangroves restoration. Interestingly, while the term was introduced by conservationists, it is by design, a human-centered concept. The idea is simple – to help nature become a tool we can use.
FEBA partners were quick to recognize the positive feedback loop from pursuing EBA strategies – using and adapting resilient landscapes to tackle the ravages of climate change enhances both the health of ecosystems and species within them, and these landscapes then function as a buffer zone, like wetlands, which protect human settlements from further losses of life and property, when the next hurricane blows in.
On the one hand, EBA approaches are low cost, because they leverage existing natural infrastructure. However, they’re also site-specific, and are forced to depend on both the build-up of political will at the national level, and community buy-in at the local one. Paolo Domondon, from RARE’s Philippines office, reiterated the link between EBA effectiveness and community management, and how this buy-in would be more easily achieved through interventions that targeted behavioral changes in the community (in say, valuing their marine resources more highly) alongside capacity-building at the local level.
Small island states and low lying coastal states are the most vulnerable to natural disasters, and unavoidable climate change, such as sea level rise. Given their small economies and often limited populations, financing seems to inevitably come up in these kinds of conversations. Issus of equity, vulnerability, and historical responsibility prick sharpest here, especially considering – island states are bearing the brunt of climate change impacts, and adaptation financing is just barely getting off the ground.
In this context, Seychelles’ “debt-for-nature” swap is a genius stroke – it’s the first ever debt taken by a country to fund climate adaptation efforts, where the returns will be measured, at least in part, through a strong marine conservation component. With the Nature Conservancy’s stewardship, Paris Club creditors have extended a $30 million debt swap to the Seychelles government, which will be used to finance adaptation efforts, and in time also result in the establishment of an endowment for the continued protection of Seychelles’ oceans. Specifically, the financing would aid in the implementation of a Marine Spatial Plan, and requires more marine protected area coverage in the next 5 years.
Finally, one of the recurring themes across discussions on EBA was the desperate need for further research and data collection, and impact evaluation. Several speakers stressed the need to collect data and understand what we’re measuring when we’re trying to quantify the benefits arising from an EBA intervention. The point was made that when evaluating the benefits of EBA, we may also consider the potential “avoided losses” that would have otherwise accrued in the absence of entire ecosystems, or the ability to live in vulnerable coastal areas. Pradeep Kurukulasuriya, a UNDP panelist at one of the events, discussed the importance of using currently nascent EBA experiments as opportunities to evaluate the net impact associated with such programs, and donors backed this up by underscoring the need for actionable information that investors can rely on.
The bottom line is – while ecosystem based adaptation sounds great in principle, and has even in worked in practice, we must be ruthlessly honest about its efficacy and sustainability in varying geographies and at different points in time. Seeing as EBA is an evolving, nascent concept, it is very important to ask – What criteria do we use to measure potential losses and benefits for an EBA intervention? Is there a financing/equity issue involved, and if so, how do we overcome this? What does “EBA success” look like?