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Back to the Basics: Nature-Based Solutions for Climate Adaptation

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Adanna C. Kalejaye
January 29, 2024

The need for climate adaptation measures is increasing as the impacts of climate change become more evident. Coastal cities in America are having to deal with flooding from sea level rise, high tide flooding, severe storms and increased hurricane intensity, threats from saltwater intrusion, ocean acidification and harmful algae bloom. Warmer temperatures have increased the frequency of wildfires, forced some animal species like the red fox to migrate further north and altered the biological cycle of certain plants and bird species. Despite the partisan gap and the varying arguments on the issue of climate change, the narrative that climate change is a hoax is gradually waning as 54 percent of Americans view climate change as a major threat. With two-thirds of American adults saying that large businesses and corporations are doing too little in regard to climate change issues, most Americans agree that the fight against climate change should involve big businesses and large corporations.

Given that climate change ultimately degrades the ecosystem, inducing biodiversity loss and altering the natural order of life with rippling social and economic consequences, one of the greatest strategies for tackling climate change should be to restore and protect the ecosystem. By utilizing the earth’s existing resources and leveraging on its innate penchant to restore itself, the ecosystem with its network of forests and wetlands will act as a buffer to withstand the extreme weather and secure our critical supplies like food and water. Essentially, by employing the power of nature, the challenges from climate change are addressed in a more sustainable manner, the risk of disaster is reduced and human and biodiversity adaptation occurs more effectively.

In addition to building ecosystem resilience to support adaptation to hazards from climate change, nature-based solutions have been found to be approximately two to five times more cost-effective. For example, restoration of coastal wetlands, mangroves and coral reefs are not just effective adaptation measures for stabilizing the shorelines of coastal cities by reducing flooding and erosion, they are also more economical. As such, incorporating solutions that harness the restorative aspects of the ecosystem in our climate adaptation policies and programs will not only effectively deal with the issues arising from the changing climate facing us, but it will help reduce the cost of adaptation especially for low-income communities that have been disproportionately impacted by climate change. The UN convention on Biological Diversity, by adopting certain nature-based approaches and setting guidelines for their design and implementation, reinforce the efficacy of taking adaptive measures to address climate issues. Another policy framework that advocates the use of nature-based solutions to build resilience and reduce disaster is the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. The Sendai Framework was built on the premise of reducing and preventing new disaster risk through the implementation of integrated and inclusive measures that would minimize vulnerability and increase preparedness and resilience. Also, the European Green Deal, in its Biodiversity Strategy 2030, outlines nature restoration as integral to climate change adaptation.

Whilst nature-based solutions have been found to be important and effective measures needed to carry out adaptation strategies, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes that they cannot work as a sole response to climate change but in consonance with a wider adaptation plan that integrates technology, nature and infrastructural development. Another key component of nature-based solutions is that they should not and cannot be successfully achieved without the custodians of the knowledge and systems of nature to implement them. This is because these custodians—who are indigenous people—and local communities have sustainably co-existed with nature for centuries, they have therefore amassed such knowledge and structure when dealing with nature that their participation is vital in not only applying the measure but also in dealing with the climate crisis. Kickbacks of sidelining local communities and indigenous people when executing nature-based solutions are the poorly conceived/implemented strategies that could exacerbate the existing climate issue. The implication of planting the wrong non-native species of plant is that they can become invasive and destroy the biodiversity in the region. Thus, it is important that the local communities are actively involved in the decision making and implementation of these potential solutions.

The call for nature-based solutions for some local communities may be reminiscent of an earlier western clamor for nature conservation, where wilderness and protected territories were created and resulted in the displacement of indigenous people. To avoid this, it must be understood that local stakeholder involvement is crucial for any sustainable solution and the urgency of the climate change issue should ensure that a concerted effort is made when forging a partnership that is not only symbiotic but beneficial, especially to the marginalized demographic of the locality (women and children). Although, as Hippocrates noted, “nature itself is the best physician”, it is important to state that nature-based solutions can only be effective where the local context is taken into consideration, transparent collaborative governance is practiced, technical standards are set and monitored and capacity building and knowledge transfer is encouraged as well as the integration of technology and infrastructure development. 

Author: Adanna Kalejaye is an internationally specialized lawyer in the fields of commercial law, environmental law, energy law and maritime law. She holds an LL.M (Master of Law) from Swansea University, Wales, UK. She is currently a doctoral candidate and research assistant in Public Policy at the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston. She teaches courses on sustainable development and zero waste at the Osher Life-Long Learning Institute (OLLI) in UMass Boston. Her research interests are in environmental law and policies, climate change, sustainable development, renewable energy, waste management, policy building and analysis at both national and international level. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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