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Advancing ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change in transboundary basins

Water-related ecosystems can be significantly impacted by climate change. At the same time, healthy and sustainable ecosystems increase our resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change because of the services they could provide. Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) is one of the nature-based solutions which uses biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy to help populations to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.

Adopting ecosystem-based approaches are central to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as they offer a means to address the challenges posed by climate change while simultaneously delivering vital benefits to the environment, society and economy. Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) is promoted by global agreements including the Ramsar Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Over 60% of the global freshwater flow occurs in transboundary basins. Transboundary water cooperation is thus a prerequisite for ecosystem and climate resilience and sustainable water management. Ecosystem-based adaptation is in many cases effective from a basin perspective as it can bring benefits for all riparians.

Experiences and good practices from basins across the world

In order to build capacity on EbA, UNECE and partners held a global workshop “Ecosystem-based Adaptation in Transboundary Basins” organized in the framework of the Water Convention.

The workshop aimed to analyse EbA in water resource management, by sharing experiences from transboundary and national basins around the world. It brought together more than 100 participants across the world from Australia to Chile to review tools, good practices, case studies and financing mechanisms focusing on transboundary aspects of ecosystem-based adaptation

The workshop evidenced that multiple experiences on ecosystem-based approaches in water resource management exist from basins across the world. A representative of Costa Rica presented the transboundary Sixaola basin management which relies on a mosaic of protected areas combined with sustainable agricultural production areas and strong participation by indigenous people’s originations in the Binational River Commission. In Europe, the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River has developed a transboundary climate adaptation strategy which was recently revised. In certain parts of the basin, river restoration works are implemented through a public-private Living Danube partnership including a Coca-Cola bottling company and WWF. The case-study from the Mekong basin showed how the concept of free flowing rivers helps to make the rivers and their deltas in particular more resilient to climate change.

The Niger Basin Authority showcased an example of ecosystem-based adaptation integration into the transboundary climate resilience plan of the Niger river, covering 9 countries and with funding from the Green Climate Fund. A further example of the Niger sub-basin, the Mekrou river, showed how ecosystem restoration activities are implemented at a local level to benefit climate adaptation and overall local development.

The participants also had the opportunity for a first-hand experience of the Swiss river management activities during a field visit (pictured above) to the Rhône river ‘Third Correction’ programme focused on restoration of the river for natural flood mitigation.  

A growing selection of tools, guidance, assessment methodologies, and communities of practice on EbA approaches are already available for practitioners and policy-makers, and some of these are targeting specifically the water resource management. For example, IUCN together with partners is developing ‘EbA qualification criteria and quality standards’ and CLIMA checklist and tool for governance for EbA, while AGWA and partners have recently launched a risk-assessment tool ‘Climate Risk Informed Decision Analysis CRIDA’.

Financing is also a critical issue. The application of nature-based approaches is already acknowledged and supported by several financial institutions and government agencies, as highlighted by the World Bank, WWF and others. Innovative financial instruments are also emerging such as climate bonds and insurance policies.

The workshop, held in Geneva from 29 to 30 April 2019, was organized in cooperation with the International Network of Basin Organizations (INBO), the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), under the leadership of the Netherlands and Switzerland.

It was followed by the 10th meeting of the Task Force on Water and Climate, where participants discussed inputs to global processes such as the Climate Action Summit in September 2019 and how to mainstream water into the revised Nationally Determined Contributions 2020 under the Paris Climate Agreement.

More information on the workshop, presentations and background reading are available at:

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