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Guidelines for Integrating Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) into National Adaptation Plans (NAPs)

These guidelines aim to help adaptation practitioners at national and local levels to factor ecosystem functions and services into a country's National Adaptation Plan processes and instruments.
Building the resilience of Kune-Vaini Lagoon, Albania  Photo: ©UNEP


These Guidelines aim to help adaptation practitioners at national and local levels to factor ecosystem functions and services into a country’s National Adaptation Plan processes and instruments. The Guidelines detail the multiple benefits as well as the challenges of adopting ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation.

Strategies that use natural solutions to counter the effects of climate change are known as Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA). Ecosystems provide a wide range of services vital to adaptation and resilience and need to be protected and included in national adaptation planning. The Guidelines cover what information planners and countries should collect, what expertise is needed, and which stakeholders they should engage to successfully integrate ecosystem-based adaptation into the processes of National Adaptation Plans.

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

The Guidelines have been developed under the National Adaptation Plan Global Support Programme (NAP-GSP), implemented jointly by UNDP and UNEP, which supports the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to identify technical, institutional, and financial needs to integrate climate change adaptation into medium- and long-term national planning.

The programme supports countries in formulating and implementing the National Adaptation Planning under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In doing so, the NAP-GSP works with development partners to implement the Nationally Determined Contributions and promotes ambitious climate action in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals.

*Download the full publication from the right-hand column. A summary of the key findings is provided below. See the full publication for more details.

Adaptation Options

In detail, the publication provides guidance on:

  1. Making the case for mainstreaming ecosystem-based adaptation and nature-based solutions in adaptation planning processes as benefit multipliers
  2. Engaging stakeholders including key decision-makers and the private sector for budgeting and financing ecosystem-based adaptation
  3. Steps for integrating ecosystem-based adaptation at any stage along the National Adaptation Plan process: formulation, implementation and review
  4. How to identify entry points for ecosystem-based adaptation within the national and local adaptation planning process
  5. An enabling environment for factoring in ecosystem-based adaptation

On the Guidelines, you will also find:

  • Examples from a number of countries implementing EbA approaches as part of their adaptation planning and case studies on economic valuation of ecosystem-based approach, green-grey infrastructure, mapping different types of ecosystems providing adaptation services, and using climate science for ecosystem-based adaptation.
  • A number of tools for advancing ecosystem-based adaptation.


The report concludes that EbA focuses on reducing national vulnerability and building resilience to the impacts of climate change through the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services and that while inclusion of EbA in NAPs is critically important, the EbA measures identified and prioritized in the NAP process need to go far beyond NAPs alone. It provides seven recommendations.


Use an ecosystem lens: There are definite advantages to integrating EbA into NAPs, although EbA is not appropriate to every situation. Nevertheless, it is always worthwhile to examine possible adaptation options through an ecosystem lens, which means identifying the ecosystem context of the vulnerable communities that need to be protected from climate change impacts, assessing the ecosystem services that are affected by those impacts, and considering whether a nature-based response would provide the desired level of protection.


Have the right expertise and voices involved at all stages of the NAP process to help for a full conceptualization of the impacts and risks of climate change and the range of adaptation solutions possible, bearing in mind that different actors may be needed at each of the three stages.


Combine Indigenous and scientific knowledge: For generations, Indigenous communities have used many EbA measures as coping mechanisms. Consultation with village elders and other indigenous leaders can often identify knowledge about ecosystem structures and functions that have evaded modern scientific enquiry.


Identify and value co-benefits: One of the main attractions of EbA compared to infrastructure options is that EbA usually provides multiple co-benefits, such as biodiversity protection. While some of these co-benefits may be difficult to quantify regarding the additional economic value they provide, they may sway the decision towards EbA, even where the economic rates of return are less favourable than for infrastructure options. Conversely, many EbA measures are also “no-regrets” interventions, as they will deliver multiple benefits no matter how quickly the climate changes.


Empower public participation at all stages: While it is common practice to insist on public participation at the formulation stage, the public is often less involved at the implementation and review stages. Many EbA measures require ongoing maintenance to maintain their adaptation effectiveness. Public understanding and buy-in to provide voluntary inputs and/or day labour for such maintenance will help to avoid eventual maladaptation. Similarly, at the review stage, local observers can monitor and report on changes in the ecosystem that suggest the need for an adaptive management response.


Devise appropriate metrics and indicators: Setting quantitative targets and establishing a firm baseline are essential for results-based adaptive management. Ecosystem-related targets may already be established at the national level e.g., in National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans. A detailed MERL plan that allows for the complexities of EbA should be developed at the formulation stage and be part of the NAP documentation.


Use the review stage as input to NAP updates: Using the concept of adaptive management, MERL results should be relatively frequent and allow the NAP to become a “living” document. The lessons learned from EbA will be more nuanced and require more careful investigation than from infrastructural adaptation. Consider using an expert committee to examine the MERL results and propose any adjustment in the EbA approach to make it more effective.

Key Messages by Chapter

From Chapter 1:

  • These Supplementary Guidelines are intended to guide and motivate countries to adopt ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation.
  • Under the Cancun Adaptation Framework, NAPs were introduced to identify adaptation needs and develop action plans to address those needs.
  • As reinforced in the 2020 Adaptation Gap Report, EbA should be a key component of all national climate change adaptation strategies and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), including Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement.
  • As noted in the 2020 Emissions Gap Report, currently, the NDC mitigation commitments are not ambitious enough, creating ever greater urgency for climate change adaptation.
  • To achieve climate change objectives, EbA is a nature-based solution that protects, sustainably manages, and restores natural or modified ecosystems. Accordingly, there is a strong global agreement on the importance of NAPs and EbA and the need to integrate them.

From Chapter 2:

  • Managing ecosystems to deliver provisioning, regulating, and other services to enhance climate resilience is at the core of the EbA concept.
  • The biodiversity in ecosystems provides the raw materials, structures, functions, and processes needed to protect people and livelihoods from climate change impacts.
  • EbA generates multiple co-benefits in addition to protection from climate change impacts.
  • Ecosystems and ecosystem services are also adversely affected by climate change.

From Chapter 3:

  • The NAP process enables countries to formulate and implement NAPs that identify medium and long-term adaptation needs and then develop and implement strategies and programmes to address those needs.
  • Climate change risk assessments are the key entry points for EbA into NAPs and sector planning and budgets.
  • Use an ensemble of climate models to get a spread of results to reduce uncertainty and to help decide which models to select for the climate risk assessment.

From Chapter 4:

  • As much climate change adaptation is highly local, ensure that the national plan is fully devolved to the local government level for implementation and reflected in district development strategies, plans, and budgets.
  • Ensure that local stakeholders are empowered to participate in the implementation and ensure that no one is excluded.
  • To the extent possible, including the private sector in investment in EbA, at the very minimum where it involves protecting their own assets and income generation from the adverse impacts of climate change.

From Chapter 5:

  • The important review stage focuses on the evaluation process and methods, implementation of participatory methods, identifying gaps, and demonstrating how effective reviews and lessons learned can lead to continuous updating and revision of the NAP.
  • Periodic revision of NAP targets should be part of the NAP process.
  • The NAP should become a living document that is routinely revised and updated in a new formulation stage as conditions change.

From Chapter 6:

  • EbA can be implemented through sectoral plans and adaptation strategies at all governance levels and scales, and through regular or innovative sources of funding.
  • EbA, through its cross-cutting characteristics and ability to intertwine ecological, social, and economic dimensions, is a valuable approach to the enhancement of local, national, and international strategies and plans, as well as NAPs.
  • The same amount of attention should be paid to these linkages and alignment as there is to formulation, implementation and review of the NAP document.

Recommended Citation

United Nations Environment Programme (2021). Guidelines for Integrating Ecosystem-based Adaptation into National Adaptation Plans: Supplement to the UNFCCC NAP Technical Guidelines. Nairobi.

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