Plans to protect ecosystems and help people adapt to climate change ― also known as ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA) ― must involve vulnerable groups, including women and communities greatly hit by global warming if they are to succeed, according to scientists who met in Tanzania last month (21-23 March).
Scientists and policymakers at the UN-led international workshop on EBA in Dar-es-Salaam, also said that more needed to be done to monitor and evaluate the cost-effectiveness of such adaptation, and to learn from past experiences in order to transfer knowledge into action and policy.
"Adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change is vital in order to reduce the impacts of climate change that are happening now, and increase resilience to future impacts," says Richard Kinley, deputy executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which organised the meeting.
"Ecosystem-based approaches are part of the solution that countries could use in building resilience to climate change," he adds.
For example, mangroves or forest — rather than artificial sea walls — should be maintained or restored to help protect coastlines.
The mangroves can improve water quality and thus increase fish yields, while also protecting fishing communities from future disasters.
Shyla Raghav, senior manager for climate adaptation policy at Conservation International, a non-profit environmental organisation, tells SciDev.Net that the workshop took stock of the science and implementation of EBA around the world, and demonstrated the need for further action to help understand, enable and implement the approach.
Raghav calls for systems such as agro-biodiversity, the preservation of seeds and the maintenance of a genetic pool to help make agriculture more resilient.
She highlights the importance of involving stakeholders in such measures and adds that women often serve as stewards of nature and ecosystems and are key drivers of adaptation measures.
A session on gender and indigenous knowledge at the meeting identified best practices in EBA.
These include: engaging stakeholders, especially marginalised groups early on; the inclusion of specific gender and indigenous knowledge in national adaptation planning and implementation stages; and using both indigenous and conventional knowledge to design and implement EBA.
Euster Kibona, senior environmental programme officer with the consultancy group Environmental Protection and Management Services, in Dar es Salaam, told the meeting that one of the best practices identified was training women to use donkeys rather than cattle in farming activities in Uganda.
Kibona explained that during droughts most of a cattle herd can die, forcing men to migrate with the remaining animals in search of pastures, and leaving drought-resilient donkeys behind.
"Training women to use donkeys in farming activities helps them sustain themselves and the ecosystem," Kibona explained. "In Sub-Saharan Africa, [it is often] women who lack formal education and thus depend much more on the ecosystems for their livelihoods, so we need to look at how ecosystem-based adaptation can help them."