Bracing against climate change by strengthening nature

01 September 2011 | News story

While man-made infrastructure such as dykes and dams for flood defence has an important role to play in adapting to climate change, natural solutions can be a more effective and cheaper option for the poor.

The impacts of climate change are already being felt by both people and the environment around the world and they’re set to get a lot worse. Sea levels are rising, threatening island nations and coastal areas, storms are becoming more violent bringing floods and landslides, and droughts are intensifying.

While richer nations can try to ‘buy’ protection in the form of engineered solutions, poorer people in developing countries who are bearing the brunt of the impacts urgently need a proven, accessible and affordable option. One such option already exists—conserving and managing nature.

Using wetlands as natural sponges to absorb excess water, or adopting zero-tillage techniques to deal with water scarcity, can be less costly and more effective than infrastructure-based solutions in many locations. In some cases, natural defences can be especially effective when applied in conjunction with new investments in infrastructure. It has been estimated that a sea dyke with a protective mangrove belt can last up to 10 times as long as dykes with rock facing.

Sustainably managing, conserving and restoring ecosystems so that they continue to provide the services that allow people to adapt to climate change is known as Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA). This approach builds on traditional knowledge, generates a range of social, economic and cultural benefits and helps to conserve biodiversity.

IUCN, in partnership with WWF, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and CARE, have established the Ecosystems and Livelihoods Adaptation Network (ELAN). ELAN aims to enhance poor and marginalized people's resilience to the impacts of climate change by integrating ecosystem and right-based approaches into adaptation policies and practices.

In Vietnam, the commune of Da Loc was badly hit by Typhoon Damrey in 2005 which destroyed protective sea dykes and caused major flooding to coastal villages. Large areas of agricultural land became saline, seriously reducing crop production for years and forcing many people to leave the community in search of work. Climate change projections for Vietnam show that this type of extreme event is likely to increase.

After the storm it was found that the parts of the dyke that had been protected by mangroves were still intact. As a result, CARE working with the local community began to restore mangroves in an effort to protect lives and livelihoods in the face of further storms. The project aimed to increase awareness of the importance of mangroves and villagers were trained on how to create a nursery, plant mangroves and take care of them in the long term. The project also supported the development of income sources associated with mangroves such as sustainable oyster farming, shellfish harvesting and honey production for sale in local markets.

Read more examples of how sound ecosystem management and rights-based approaches are being used to help people adapt to climate change impacts on the ELAN website.

For more information contact:
Pauline Buffle, pauline.buffle@iucn.org