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UNDP Global

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UNDP Issues Brief on Nature-Based Climate Solutions

Nov 10, 2020

The conservation, rehabilitation and climate-informed management of biodiversity and ecosystems increases resilience to climate change and provides low-cost and long-term solutions to protect lives, livelihoods and infrastructure, and advance progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals. Human, economic and social development relies on the health of natural systems. Ecosystems can significantly reduce the impact of floods, catastrophic storms and serious droughts, and can offset vast amounts of the world’s CO2 emissions. It powers industries, provides fresh water supply, food, shelter and reliable sources of incomes. The rate at which current development pathways damage and destroy natural capital, biodiversity and ecosystems is putting Earth’s flora and fauna at risk and is exacerbating climate change impacts across the globe affecting those most vulnerable to climate change. We are fast-losing nature’s capacity to regulate an inhabitable climate and systems that support our life on Earth. Case in point: in 2019, over 4.5 million forest fires worldwide larger than one square kilometer, were registered. Over 90 per cent were caused (either intentionally in the name of development and agri-business, or accidentally) by humans. A vicious cycle is created whereby deforestation increases CO2 emissions, fueling climate change and worsening droughts, which in turn increases the risk of fire.

Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) provides multiple benefits in terms of poverty alleviation through livelihood opportunities, carbon storage and biodiversity conservation. It is one of the most effective pro-poor approaches to climate change adaptation by way of enhancing the adaptive capacity of the most vulnerable communities – especially women, the elderly and children – as well as the resilience of ecosystems and their services (fresh water, food security, climate regulation, etc.) through restoration of natural capital and biodiversity conservation, restoration and/or regeneration measures. Ecosystem-based approaches, such as support to wetlands and mangrove protection or reef regeneration, often represent low-cost solutions to grey adaptation measures such as sea walls. Failure to act on rehabilitation is costing our global economy as much as US$20 trillion a year in lost ecosystem goods and services. Across coral reef coastlines, coral reefs reduce the annual expected damages from storms by more than US$4 billion.

For successful EbA, sound understanding of ecosystems and their role in adaptation to and mitigation of climate change impacts is critical. First, climate observations and projections must be studied to understand their impact on local ecosystems and ecosystem services and then ecosystem-based solutions can be proposed. EbA measures often have CO2 mitigation and sequestration potential, support regenerative agriculture, increased fish stocks, restoration of degraded areas, increase tree coverage, protection of wetlands and mountain ecosystems that prevent floods and increase water absorption, the restoration of coastal ecosystems that serve as a natural buffer against ever-more-powerful storms for disaster risk reduction.