In the international climate policy arena, it has become increasingly recognised that
ecosystem-based approaches “can offer cost-effective, proven and sustainable solutions
contributing to, and complementing, other national and regional adaptation strategies” (World
Bank, 2009, p. 8). Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) is often advocated as a particularly
well-suited climate adaptation approach especially in developing and least developed
countries (Bourne et al., 2016; Pasquilini and Cowling, 2015; World Bank, 2009). Its
perceived strength lies in the premise that adaptation strategies need to address both
ecosystems and livelihoods, given these are crucially intertwined and both under a threat
from climate change (Munroe et al., 2012; Roberts et al., 2012).
Many recent reviews have tried to better understand what exactly EbA is, what its current
challenges are and what opportunities it offers (Chong, 2014; Doswald et al., 2014; Ojea,
2014; Reid, 2015). While these recent reviews provide useful information on how EbA is
being approached, there seems to be a tacit assumption that people generally agree and
know what ‘ecosystem-based adaptation’ means. This may not be the case, and this review
seeks to contribute to clarifying the concept.
The purpose of this report is to provide analysis of the key concepts included and embedded in EbA discourse, and examine what exactly forms the essence of ‘EbA-ness’ in adaptation policy and research activities. More specifically the review focused on identifying different EbA definitions, and on differentiating assumed benefits, and the enablers for effective EbA. Specific analysis of the constraints is presented elsewhere (Nalau et al., under review) although we touch upon some generic issues regarding constraints and limits also in this report.
The report found that overall the discourse in regards to preferring EbA as an adaptation
approach includes such concepts as co-benefits and trade-offs, which all relate also to the
ways EbA is constrained and/or enabled as an option for climate change adaptation. The
main constraints related mostly to issues of governance systems and hierarchies, social and cultural constraints, knowledge-related issues and gaps, and physical constraints and limits. In contrast, the enabling factors related mostly to governance and knowledge aspects, with heavy emphasis on multi-stakeholder participation, and using diverse sets of knowledges, which are seen to enable a more equitable and just approach to climate change adaptation in particular in the Pacific region.
Recommendations put forward include the need to provide well-documented case studies of EbA in the region, which crystallise the main lessons learned, including the practical
challenges in designing and implementing multi-stakeholder projects, and how EbA can be
measured and monitored to ensure it is delivering the expected benefits. Increasing the
evidence base for EbA, while remaining realistic about the political and governance systems and capacity to adapt, is an important next step. More research should also examine the decision-making processes and to identify the main influencing factors when making decisions on adaptation options, and examine the robustness of EbA ‘heuristics’ in use.