Ecosystem-based Adaptation and the successful implementation and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals
Climate change is here, and the impacts we are already being seen around the world, from higher temperatures, rising sea levels, more frequent and intense droughts, floods, and wildfires, and increasing climate variability. The most vulnerable people and ecosystems – for example in least developed countries and small islands developing states – are the hardest hit, with recent studies demonstrating that over 3.3 billion people live in places that are highly vulnerable to climate change. Climate hazards can undermine historical development progress by increasing food and water insecurity, exacerbating inequalities, and impacting livelihoods and economies around the world. Even under the most optimistic emissions scenarios, society will still need to adapt to changing climate conditions. We cannot achieve progress towards sustainable development goals, or preserve our global development gains to date, without urgent adaptation action.
For people and society, adaptation to climate change means not only adapting our infrastructure, but adjusting our behaviour, such as how we choose to live, how we manage our food and health systems, the way we plan our cities, and how we protect, conserve and utilize our natural resources. Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) is a strategy that harnesses biodiversity and ecosystem services to build the resilience of human communities and societies to the impacts of climate change. It includes the conservation, sustainable management and restoration of ecosystems – such as forests, grasslands, or wetlands – to reduce the harmful impacts of climate hazards, whether it’s shifting rainfall patterns, temperature changes, or intense storms. EbA measures can be implemented on their own or in combination with engineered approaches (such as the construction of water reservoirs or seawalls), hybrid measures (such as artificial reefs) and approaches that strengthen the capacities of individuals and institutions to address climate risks (such as the introduction of early warning systems). Through integrating ecosystem-based adaptation into adaptation planning, we can work to secure productivity of agricultural systems, water resources and fisheries; promote human health and well-being; strengthen people’s livelihoods and build more equitable societies; and rebuild and strengthen nature, while reducing climate risks.
Nature-based solutions (NbS) for climate adaptation, such as EbA, have the potential to provide vulnerable countries with valuable protection against the economic cost of climate change – reducing the intensity of climate hazards by 26 percent, representing protection against the economic cost of climate change by USD 104 billion by 2030 and USD 393 billion by 2050. The sustainability, cost-effectiveness, and scalability of these approaches make them one of the best tools available to ensure the necessary transformative change for climate action, while addressing other societal challenges such as biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation and human well-being. At the nexus of sustainable development, human rights, climate action, and nature conservation, EbA recognises the symbiotic connections between people and ecosystems. By creating more resilient populations, such approaches can have far-reaching benefits in improving the capacity of humans to withstand not only climate hazards, but also economic shocks and stressors. These nature-based climate solutions have an interconnected role across sustainable development goals – from health, water and nutrition to clean energy, sustainable infrastructure, and equality - with incredible potential to drive progress across the SDGs while building more equitable and resilient societies.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 SDGs, which represent an urgent call for action by all countries – both developed and developing – in global partnership. The SDGs are indivisible and interdependent, with each supporting the overall vision of the 2030 Agenda to ensure that the planet continues to support the needs of the present and future generations such that their potential in dignity, equality and in a healthy environment is fulfilled. Collectively, the SDGs aim to address global challenges such as poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. The goals for the biosphere – including life on land, life below water, clean water and sanitation, and climate action – underpin the societal and economic markers of progress of the SDGs. The biosphere is critical in upholding society and the economy at large, although societal and funding priorities may not be aligned with its fundamental importance.