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Mainstreaming Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services for Effective Management in Cities

Mainstreaming Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services for Effective Management in Cities
isaac Mariera

Mainstreaming Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Addis Ababa, Dar es Salaam and Lilongwe

Key points:

  • The adaptation of urban riverine ecosystems is essential to build resilience to droughts and flooding and to improve the well-being of those reliant on the rivers for their livelihood.
  • The aim of the project is to mainstream biodiversity and ecosystem services into urban planning and local government decision-making processes, promoting the socio-economic importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
  • The coordination and engagement of key stakeholders is vital to mainstreaming and knowledge sharing, there has to be successful involvement of the local communities in order for the projects to be sustainable and successful.


This case study is from the FRACTAL Adaptation Inspiration Book– this link provides a summary of the book, the other case studies and a downloadable pdf.

The ecological components of urbanised environments, and the adaptation of these landscapes to meet human needs in city regions have long been focal points of discussion for policy-makers, urban planners and other relevant actors in these transformative processes. Local Governments for Sustainability Cities Biodiversity Center (ICLEI), together with project partners, designed the Urban Natural Assets: Rivers for Life (UNA Rivers) project to approach this issue with a special focus on urban river systems in three target cities: Addis Ababa, Dar es Salaam and Lilongwe.

The goal is to mainstream biodiversity and ecosystem services (the processes by which the environment produces resources such as clean air, water, food and materials) into land-use planning and local government decision-making processes. The project also aims to contribute to an enhanced understanding of the socio-economic importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and to facilitate the use of new understanding into strategic climate change adaptation plans.

Urban Natural Assets for Africa Rivers for Life (UNA Rivers) furthermore improves coordination and engagement within the project cities (between departments and key stakeholders: Community-based Organisations (CBO’s), NGOs, researchers, communities (inter alia) as well as between cities. Lastly, through locally appropriate, scalable project implementation (with a specific focus on community-based art and culture activation), the project successfully connects people living in urban communities to biodiversity and ecosystems within an urban river context, enhancing overall human well being.

The FRACTAL Adaptation Inspiration Book contains a variety of case studies which are related to this case study, examining adaptation for ecosystems and biodiversity. The related articles can be found here:

Climate risks and other stressors

Typical climate hazards associated with riverine ecosystems are the impacts of flooding and drought, both likely to deteriorate the existing biodiversity, and to threaten the livelihoods of the people living nearby. Building resilience at the local level by managing the natural asset base and restoring riverine ecosystems can help confront these natural hazards.

Adaptation approach

By sustainably managing and restoring rivers and riverine ecosystems in three African cities, this project aimed to protect natural ecosystems so that the natural asset base is maintained for cities to better adapt to climate change. UNA Rivers adopted certain measures with an ecosystem-based approach to attain their goals. This approach involved mapping the existing natural assets in the three target cities, and then sharing the capacity-building potential of the mapped information with key decision makers. As a result, land-use planning incorporated biodiversity and ecosystem services into the process, with the aim of better guiding policy and planning systems. In addition, on-the-ground engagement promoted coordination of key role-players in managing urban rivers. Then, pilot riverine ecosystem restoration measures were implemented.

Link to SDGs

This project primarily aligns with SDG Goal 15 through protecting, restoring and promoting the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems. Through better coordination and community-based activation, the project contributes to strengthening sustainability and resilience at the local level, thus enhancing human well-being and poverty alleviation (SDG 3).


Through an intensive consultation during the planning phase of the project, important relationships were built that led to increased access to relevant information, and to enhanced understanding of the governance structures in the project cities. Understanding these structures proved crucial in mainstreaming information, and overcoming barriers.


Substantial benefits can result from the ecosystem-based approach presented here. Through better coordination and community-based activation, resilience at the local level can be strengthened and human well-being can be enhanced. Understanding the decision-making processes in the project cities, and improving the co-ordination of key stakeholders is essential for the transformation needed to build resilience. Improved information helps to provide much needed links between decision-makers and technical officials in the cities, enabling cities to better protect and manage riverine environments.

Lessons Learnt

Several key lessons emerged from the implementation of the project. To identify entry points to mainstream information, it is important to understand the city context, the official and unofficial governance structure, and the roles played by key decision-makers. There is still a major need for implementation-oriented pilot projects that introduce innovative ideas, and push for a change in the use of urban ecosystems.

Also, co-ordination of environmental protection interventions in African cities is still widely lacking. Improved coordination leads to knowledge and lesson-sharing, and therefore eventually accelerates adaptation activities. Projects should be aligned with city needs and policies, and to that end, projects should be co-produced with relevant decision makers, such as city officials.

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