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Feature Story

New guidelines to help states adapt to climate change

September 9, 2021

View overlooking the city of Xalapa, Mexico
Photo credit: Tobia Maddalena/Shutterstock

For generations, people have combed the sponge-like cloud forests around the city of Xalapa, Mexico for edible mushrooms. But a combination of deforestation and climate-change-related drought have devastated mushroom crops, an important source of income in a region beset by poverty.

That is starting to change, though, through an initiative called CityAdapt, supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) with backing from the Global Environment Facility. It is helping locals cultivate their own mushrooms while replanting 2.5 kilometers of riverside forests, which do the dual job of protecting against landslides and capturing rainwater for Xalapa.

Strategies that use natural solutions to counter the effects of climate change, like those in Xalapa, are known as ecosystem-based adaptation. Despite their benefits, these approaches are not widely used due to a variety of barriers, including a lack of awareness. 

To help address that, UNEP released this week the Guidelines for Integrating Ecosystem-based Adaptation into National Adaptation PlansThe document aims to show national and local officials around the world how to integrate ecosystem-based adaptation into national plans designed to counter the effects of climate change.

The guidelines detail the benefits as well as the challenges of adopting ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation. They also cover what information planners should collect, what expertise is needed and which stakeholders they should engage to successfully integrate ecosystem-based adaptation into national adaptation plans.

The guidelines follow the release of a landmark report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It found that unless the world drastically reduces greenhouse gas emissions, rising global temperatures could spark more extreme weather, including flooding, wildfires, drought, and erratic rainfall, which would impact homes, infrastructure, and livelihoods. 

“Ecosystems provide a wide range of services vital to adaptation and resilience, and need to be protected and included in that planning.”

The new ecosystem-based adaptation guidelines contain a tool that maps out where ecosystems, such as mangroves, forests, coral reefs, and seagrasses, overlap with human populations vulnerable to storms, flooding, and landslides. This combination helps identify areas where ecosystem-based approaches will have the greatest impact.

“Integrating ecosystem-based adaptation in national adaptation plans generates a wide array of co-benefits in addition to climate resilience,” said Mozaharul Alam, UNEP’s Climate Change Coordinator for the Asia-Pacific Office. "It is a win-win strategy."

UNEP’s Adaptation Gap Report 2020 found that 72 percent of countries have adopted at least one national-level adaptation planning instrument, while a further 9 percent are developing one. Most developing countries are preparing National Adaptation Plans.

The guidelines were developed under the National Adaptation Plan-Global Support Programme, implemented jointly by UNEP and the United Nations Development Programme. The initiative, funded by the Global Environment Facility, assists least-developed and developing countries to identify technical, institutional and financial needs to integrate climate change adaptation into medium- and long-term national planning.

The program supports the process to formulate and implement national adaptation plans under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. In doing so, it works with development partners to implement the Nationally Determined Contributions and promotes ambitious climate action in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals.

The guidelines were officially launched on September 6 at the 2021 IUCN World Conservation Congress.

This piece was originally published by the UN Environment Programme.