17 Dec 2014

Resilience to Extreme Weather: the role of ecosystems

Edward Perry called for a holistic integration of ecosystems in adaptation planning (BirdLife)
By Martin Fowlie

Typhoon Hagupit that thrashed the Philippines last week was a timely reminder of the impact that extreme weather events already have on society. As countries fail to make emission cuts necessary to curb dangerous climate change, the problem is going to get worse.
In Lima’s “little Pentagon”, on the edges of the UN climate talks, 70 participants from across the globe gathered to discuss how to build the resilience of humans to such extreme weather events. The side event, co-facilitated by BirdLife International and Royal Society, looked in particular at the potential role that ecosystems can play.

Virgilio Viana, CEO of Fundação Amazonas Sustentável and member of the Royal Society working group, presented Royal Society’s recently released report on Resilience to Extreme Weather, which was informed in part by BirdLife International’s Darwin Initiative project on Ecosystem Conservation for Adaptation in East Africa, and a visit to the project site in Uganda, Echuya Forest.

The report finds that while the concept of resilience is often linked to engineering, ecosystem based approaches and hybrid approaches can provide a cost-effective alternative whilst delivering additional benefits such as biodiversity conservation and protection against other hazards. It also emphasises the need for more effective monitoring and evaluation for adaptation, particularly for ecosystem based approaches, to build the evidence based and better inform policy making.

A panel of policy makers and practitioners responded to the Viana’s presentation and provided additional insights. Xianfu Lu, Coordinator of the Nairobi Work Programme at the UNFCCC Secretariat showed how ecosystems have been “engraved” in the provisions of the UNFCCC and noted that a growing number of knowledge products are being developed under the Nairobi Work Programme, such as a database on ecosystem-based approaches. Lu also presented the recently launched Lima Adaptation Knowledge Initiative.

IIED Fellow, Saleemul Huq, stressed that community based adaptation and ecosystem based adaptation are interdependent and should not be treated as separate practices. He also warned of the risks of excluding communities in the decision-making stage of adaptation.
Kit Vaughan, Director of Climate and Environment at Care International, noted the need for a bottom up approach to scaling up adaptation, and for more comprehensive accounting of ecosystem services in policy. He highlighted that success will depend fundamentally on the political economy, and getting the governance right.

Stephen King’uyu of Kenya’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources stressed the need for better funding, monitoring and evaluation, and legal frameworks for adaptation. He highlighted good practices and experiences in Kenya on integrating ecosystems into adaptation through the National Climate Change Action Plan and different sectoral policies.

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BirdLife’s Edward Perry called for a holistic integration of ecosystems in adaptation planning that considers ecosystem based adaptation interventions, actions to help species and ecosystems adapt and ensure the continued provision of ecosystem services, and safeguards to minimise potential impacts of engineering approaches on ecosystems. Perry said that the Paris 2015 agreement on climate change presents an important opportunity to get it right, by ensuring that all climate action is in harmony with nature, embedding and enhancing the Cancun Adaptation Framework in the agreement and recognising the role that the land use sector can play in delivering mitigation, adaptation, livelihood and biodiversity benefits.