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Exploring the potential of ecosystem-based approaches

A policy brief to highlight the complex nature of environmental challenges and make recommendations for integrating ecosystem-based approaches within CCA and DRR science, policy and practice.
Ben Orlove


Ecosystem-based approaches offer opportunities to develop novel strategies to adapt to rapid change and reduce risk. From a practical perspective, the divisions between Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) and Ecosystem-based DRR (Eco-DRR) can be counter-productive as both approaches fully embrace the sustainable ecosystem management approach. It makes sense to dissolve the divisions between them.

This policy brief*is directed towards a broad range of stakeholders, including research funders and managers, policy makers, researchers, local authorities, and environmental and conservation agencies. It highlights the complex nature of environmental challenges and provides recommendations for the integration of ecosystem-based approaches within CCA and DRR science, policy and practice. This brief is based on the presentations and discussions held during a session organized in the context of the PLACARD project during the 4th Adaptation Futures Conference in Rotterdam (10-13 May, 2016).

*download from the right-hand column.

Gaps in ecosystem-based approaches

  • We need to demonstrate more explicitly the benefits and no-regrets options of ecosystems services to decision-makers, stakeholders and the public.
  • There’s a deficit in translating knowledge and data on ecosystem-based approaches into practice.
  • Systematic learning on the impacts and effectiveness of ecosystem-based approaches can help to determine if the benefits are able to keep up with changing socio-ecological landscapes.
  • Many CCA and DRR policies are already in place, but integration between policy and its implementation is not always enforced.
  • Political agreement and long-term support, as well as monitoring and funding are needed to implement and sustain ecosystem-based approaches.
  • Healthy ecosystems not only contribute to human wellbeing but also provide better community resilience to hazards and improve their ability to adapt to climate change.

Closing the gaps: Recommendations

Making the case for ecosystem-based approaches. Science demonstrates the benefits of adopting a more interdisciplinary approach to tackling climate change and climate hazards by using ecosystem-based principles and practices; it can also make a strong case for prioritising them over or combining them with grey solutions.

Using pluralistic knowledge to support decision-making. Knowledge from all available sources, especially local knowledge, should be fully integrated into strategies and vulnerability assessments. New mechanisms for science-policy interfaces are needed to improve the flow of information between science, policy formulation and action.

An opportunity for accelerating implementation. The use of ecosystem-based approaches makes a strong case for the integration of DRR and CCA goals. Integrating such approaches into development and land-use planning can provide an opportunity for faster implementation.

Investing in long-term options. Political decision-makers often work to short time-scales. Ecosystem-based approaches respond adaptively to immediate changes, and sustain the system in the long-term by building buffers, capacity and resilience.

Working across sectors and institutions. Ecosystem-based approaches can be mainstreamed and effectively applied by working across sectors, e.g. public, private and local community actors and institutions, e.g. water, disaster management, climate change, land-use, urban planning authorities.

Overcoming challenges of collaboration between multiple agencies and stakeholders. National processes, e.g. community-based actions designed to empower the local communities, need to be effectively informed and supported.

Long-term financial support. Funding is often granted to a defined agency to carry out a specific project – cross-sector funding can be difficult to obtain. Incentives such as microfinance can help support the long-term sustainable management of ecosystem-based projects.

Long-term monitoring. Long-term monitoring is needed to improve the design and governance of ecosystem-based approaches – guidelines can help provide evidence-based results from different initiatives.

Ecosystem-based approaches must be community-based. Local communities need to be empowered to share their knowledge into decision-making. As multiple communities can be part of the same landscape, larger spatial dimensions should also be considered to avoid unintended consequences that benefit one community but compromise another.

Suggested Citation

Salvaterra, T., Allenbach, K., Hobson, P., Ibisch, P. L., Korn, H., Mysiak, J., Renaud, F., and Pulquério, M. (2016) Exploring the potential of ecosystem-based approaches –Ecosystem-based Adaptation and Ecosystem-based Disaster Risk Reduction. Policy brief with proceedings from a PLACARD session convened as part of the 4th Adaptation Futures Conference, 10-13 May, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.



  • Tânia Salvaterra & Mário Pulquério, University of Lisbon
  • Karin Allenbach, University of Geneva
  • Peter Hobson, Writtle College
  • Pierre L. Ibisch, Centre for Economics and Ecosystem Management, Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development
  • Horst Korn, German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation
  • Jaroslav Mysiak, Centro Euro-Mediterraneo sui Cambiamenti Climatici
  • Fabrice Renaud, United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security

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