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Helping Small Island Developing States adapt to climate change using coastal ecosystem-based approaches

New web-based resources encourage the adoption of coastal ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA) as part of wider adaptation strategies of island nations.
Multiple Authors


Ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA) refers to the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall strategy to help people adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. It is relevant to many situations, from mountains to lowlands, and from land to sea. With so much of the world’s population living in or near coastal regions, and with many of their livelihood activities dependent on marine and coastal ecosystems, coastal EBA initiatives are especially important.

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) will suffer disproportionately from climate change impacts. They are particularly dependent on ecosystems and their services for human well-being, livelihoods and economic development, and are therefore highly vulnerable to the multiple threats climate change poses for coastal ecosystems. Sea-level rise threatens to inundate economically productive land and salinize water resources, whilst sea surface temperature increases can impact commercially important fish populations. Ocean acidification threatens coral reefs, which are experiencing widespread bleaching and dieback, in the long-term affecting their potential for coastal protection, beach sand production and ecotourism. All these threats can act synergistically and are exacerbated by other drivers of ecosystem degradation and loss.

Tackling these multiple problems is not easy, and decision makers need tools to plan effective EBA approaches as part of an overall adaptation programme. This is what UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) has recently developed as part of a UN Environment-led initiative on ‘Building capacity for coastal EBA in SIDS’. Two knowledge products have been launched and tested through two training workshops held in 2016 in the pilot regions of Africa and the Caribbean. They are an EBA options guide, and a website including a decision-support tool (DST).

Coastal EBA Options Guide

The Coastal EBA Options Guide describes ten different options for coastal EBA. These encompass the conservation and management of important coastal ecosystems such as mangrove forests, seagrass meadows and sand dunes. They also include approaches using area-based management frameworks such as marine protected areas (MPAs). These are existing instruments that can be used to harness ecosystems and ecosystem management to reduce people’s vulnerability to climate change. Another EBA option focuses on diversification of environmental livelihoods. Coastal communities can become more resilient when they have a wider range of possibilities for making a living, and pressures are reduced on ecosystems (such as coral reefs) that are particularly important for managing climate risks. For each EBA option, the guide describes what makes the measure an effective choice for adaptation, the factors that can affect success, and some of the on-the-ground practicalities of implementation. It also gives a range of additional resources for finding out more. The Guide is available as a pdf from the right-hand column of this page, and the material is also included in the coastal EBA website.

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EBA website and decision support tool (DST)

The interactive EBA Website and Coastal EBA Decision-Support Tool (DST) provide a platform for learning about the principles and practice of EBA. The steps of planning and implementing an EBA measure are described, whilst recognising that adaptation is an iterative (rather than linear) process, which benefits from experience and evidence over time. An introductory infographic allows the user to explore how ecosystems provide adaptation benefits for people, whilst a second one guides users through the seven steps of the DST:

  1. Understanding EBA
  2. Understanding the planning context
  3. Understanding the adaptation context
  4. Selecting adaptation options
  5. Developing and implementation strategy
  6. Monitoring and adaptive management
  7. Capacity building and mainstreaming

The first three steps are about developing a solid conceptual basis: understanding what EBA entails in the first place, understanding the planning context, and understanding the adaptation context (climate change hazards, vulnerability, and the range of EBA options available). The next two steps are about planning: how, first of all, to select the most suitable EBA options for given localities and vulnerabilities, and how to develop an implementation strategy underpinned by a theory of change that clearly maps how the adaptation activities will contribute towards the adaptation goals. The last two steps in the DST are about the implementation and follow-through, including how to design and undertake monitoring and adaptive management, and how to capitalise on the experience of a project through capacity building and mainstreaming.

Having developed these resources, UNEP-WCMC is keen to see EBA becoming a key component in building the resilience of communities to climate change in SIDS and other coastal regions. Contact us to find out more about the support that we can provide to the implementation of EBA.


Suggested Citation

For the guide:

UNEP (2016) Options for Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EBA) in Coastal Environments: A Guide for environmental managers and planners. UNEP: Nairobi, Kenya

For the decision-support tool:

UNEP (2016) The Coastal EBA Decision Support Tool (DST). UNEP: Nairobi, Kenya. Available at:

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