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Integrating Community and Ecosystem-Based Approaches in Climate Change Adaptation Responses

Multiple Authors

Two emerging approaches to adaptation have gained currency over the past few years, namely Community-based Adaptation (CBA) and Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EBA). Each has its specific emphasis, the first on empowering local communities to reduce their vulnerabilities, and the latter on harnessing the management of ecosystems as a means to provide goods and services in the face of climate change. In this paper, the Ecosystem and Livelihoods Adaptation Network (ELAN) argues for a more truly “integrated approach” to adaptation that addresses and seeks to reconcile differences between CBA and EBA.

The similarities and opportunities for shared learning between the two emerging approaches to adaptation may be far more significant than their differences. Indeed, to the extent that both CBA and EBA stress the relevance of local specificities; recognise the role of ecosystem goods and services in people-centred adaptation; and operate at scale, building from the bottom up, there should not be fundamental tensions between the two. Together, both approaches have a better chance to forcefully address short-comings of the mainstream top-down, “hard” infrastructure-based approach to adaptation, and promote more balanced and integrated approaches.

While there is much that CBA and EBA practitioners should teach each other, no single organisation can do everything. Collaborative partnerships are becoming more important than ever before, due to the scale, complexity, urgency and uncertainty of the challenges that ecosystems and poor people are facing in a changing world. There is also scope for collaborative learning. For instance, many CBA and EBA practitioners are trying to mainstream adaptation into pre- existing decentralised development, conservation and/or disaster risk management planning processes. This provides programmes and projects with ready-made platforms for bottom-up adaptation planning and action, as well as structured articulation within large-scale government systems. An agenda for collaborative learning about mainstreaming, for instance, could prove invaluable.

However, some obstacles to closer cooperation between CBA and EBA practitioners remain. These include differences in epistemologies and professional vocabulary; differences in values; erroneous assumptions about what others do and do not do; and organisational agendas, and perceptions that funding is limited. One way forward may be to demonstrate the practical challenges and the very real advantages of a bottom-up, localised and collaborative approach to adaptation.

Suggested citation

Girot, P., Ehrhart, C., Oglethorpe, J. 2012. Integrating Community and Ecosystem-Based Approaches in Climate Change Adaptation Responses. ELAN. URL:

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