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As cities are forced to adapt to the challenges of the climate crisis, communities are moving away from traditional engineered responses to using ecosystem-based adaptation services.

Communities worldwide have become more vulnerable to extreme weather conditions and natural disasters caused by climate change. The Global Climate Risk Index 2020 reported that globally, 495 000 people have died as a direct result of more than 12 000 extreme weather events. The index also reported that the world economy has lost US$ 3.54 trillion (in purchasing power parities) from 1999-2018 due to extreme weather conditions. In the past, engineered solutions have been implemented to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis. However, local communities are now adapting through natural solutions called ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA). 

Ecosystem-based adaptation services involve using natural services provided by the local ecosystem to help minimise the impacts of climate change on local inhabitants and biodiversity. The approach aims to provide long-term ecological and socio-economic benefits to local residents. A briefing released by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) shows that EbAs are economically viable solutions as they can be more cost-beneficial than engineered solutions. Currently, EbAs are being implemented in a range of ecosystems, including mountains, coasts, wetlands, drylands and urban cities.

Examples of Ecosystem-Based Services:

Madagascar’s Blue Forest

For decades, mangrove forests in Madagascar have undergone high rates of deforestation for urban development, agricultural purposes and wood use. Globally, mangroves are declining at a rate of 1-2% annually, however, in comparison to previous decades, the rate of mangrove loss is in decline. This could suggest growth in awareness among communities of the importance of mangroves. Mangroves are sinks which are able to sequester more carbon than other kinds of forest systems and at times up to 3-5% more carbon than upland tropical forests. Studies suggest that mangroves also have the ability to adapt to three millimetres of rising sea levels annually. Because of their resilience, mangroves are now being used as a tool in the fight against the climate crisis.

Madagascar has restored 1 200 hectares of mangroves to adapt to rising sea levels and to facilitate large amounts of carbon sequestration. The country implemented a combination of engineered and ecosystem-based approaches. To combat rising sea levels, along with the restoration of the mangrove forest, a 1 km sea wall has been built as a defence in the cities of Manakara and Toamasina to reduce coastal erosion. The initiative of combining approaches has resulted in a more resilient coast line.

The Cloud Forest of Xalapa

Xalapa, a city situated in the foothills of Mexico, has also embraced EbA, in partnership with the UNEP. The city is surrounded by a cloud forest, an indigenous rainforest located in the mountainous regions. The forest plays a major role in carbon sequestration and in providing water to the inhabitants of Xalapa, controlling the water flow. Trees also reduce the frequency of landslides and erosion through soil retention, which in turn prevents flooding and droughts.

Due to deforestation, the forest has been reduced to one percent of its original size. Locals are threatened by the climate crisis as changing temperatures and irregular rainfall has caused landslides in the urban settlements nearby. Reports suggest that by 2039, the forest could experience a temperature rise of 1.8 which will be detrimental to the ecosystem, as well as to local farmers. To minimise the damage caused by these landslides, the city is working to restore the cloud forest and use the trees as an ecosystem-based adaptation tool for. Restoration efforts include planting montane forest species on the mountain slopes, planting native riparian plants along streams to conserve the soil, and building ditches and berms for soil retention and improved water infiltration.

Urban Wetlands of Laos

Laos has been frequently impacted by urban flooding as a result of the climate crisis, which has been detrimental for the economy; the total damages and losses caused by flooding in 2018 cost the economy an estimated US$371 million, exacerbating poverty and placing further pressure on resources. Laos clearly needs a long-term solution should flooding become the norm for the country (as it appears to be becoming) and in mid-November, the UNEP announced a project in the cities of Vientiane, Paksan, Savannakhet and Pakse, that will help 10% of the country’s population become resilient to climate change.

The project takes an alternative route from the traditional urban management approach implemented through infrastructure. Instead, the goal is to restore 1 500 hectares of urban wetland and stream ecosystems; these ecosystems play a major role in regulating water flow and filtration and restoring them will reduce the flooding that has been plaguing the country. The Deputy Director-General of the Department of Climate Change at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of Laos, Syamphone Sengchandala, stressed the importance of the project, saying: “This project offers hope for the future by recognising that nature provides some of our greatest defences against extreme weather. The question is whether we can learn to protect these natural services, and this project is a major step forward.”

As the pressure of the climate crisis mounts, communities around the globe are trying to develop new methods to become resilient. Ecosystem-based adaptations are approaches that have shown to be effective in mitigating the effects of the climate crisis, and allow communities to flourish and maintain their livelihoods despite the difficulties posed by it.

To save forests in Madagascar, experts suggest five policy measures to protect biodiversity and ensure the sustainable development of the country.

Scientists from across the globe have urged Madagascar’s new President Andry Rajoelina to prioritise conservation of the nation’s forests and biodiversity. Because, they have said, this is the last chance for the Indian Ocean island nation to save its unique forests–home to rare plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.

A new collaborative study led by a team of 16 researchers, published in Nature Sustainability, proposed five policy measures for the government to implement.

The scientists from the UK, Madagascar, Australia, the US and Finland said that they are ready to help Rajoelina to save the country and its wildlife.

“The time has come for action,” said Professor Ratsimbazafy, one of the researchers. “It’s not too late to turn things around in Madagascar. But it soon will be.”

The research was funded by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Madagascar, and World Resources Institute.

You might also like: Ecosystem-Based Adaptation: Fighting the Climate Crisis with Nature

Experts say boosting the tourism sector may benefit local people and drive economic growth—provided the country’s biodiversity is effectively protected.

An earlier study on forest cover, published by the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD),  showed that 44% of natural forests of the island nation had been lost since the 1950s. The remaining forests are highly fragmented with the rate of deforestation increasing rapidly since 2005.   

Illegal mining, logging, and capturing endemic species for the pet trade are rampant in the country. Poaching, forest fires, and livestock grazing take a huge toll on remaining forests. The county’s high poverty levels and widespread corruption also put high pressures on biodiversity.

The authors pointed out that corruption and economic instability harmed the environment.  “The destruction of the biodiversity in Madagascar benefits few; those who profit from rosewood trafficking, illegal mining in protected areas, or the prohibited trade in species like our Critically Endangered tortoises,” said Dr. Herizo Andrianandrasana, a leading Malagasy conservationist and the country’s first doctoral graduate in Oxford University’s 800-year history. “However, the costs are widespread and affect all Malagasy.”

The Proposal

The research team identified five policy measures for the new government to focus on: investing in protected areas, strengthening local people’s tenure over natural resources, ensuring new infrastructure development limits impacts on biodiversity, tackling environmental crime linked to corruption, and investing in major restoration efforts that will address the country’s growing fuelwood crisis.

Professor Julia Jones of Bangor University, who led the study said that Madagascar is one of the poorest countries on the planet and the conservation efforts must benefit, not harm, local communities. “More than 40% of children under five are stunted due to malnutrition in the country. There are more people living here in extreme poverty than almost anywhere else on Earth,” she said. “Conservation, therefore, needs to contribute to, and not detract from, national efforts targeting economic development. It must not make situations worse for the rural poor who are so often marginalised in decision making.”

Madagascar relies heavily on foreign aid to support its economy and fund conservation. In 2016, a group of donors and investors announced financial support of $6.4 billion for the country, about half of which is earmarked for infrastructure development.  

However, the authors argued the constant flow of aid is not enough. “No amount of international aid can solve Madagascar’s biodiversity crisis. Sustained commitment from the national government is essential,” the paper said. Conservationists also fear that rapid infrastructure development could give rise to greater environmental damage and biodiversity loss in Madagascar. The authors say the government must do everything it can to limit the impact of these projects on biodiversity.

Boosting the tourism sector, as the President plans to do, may benefit local people and drive economic growth—provided the country’s biodiversity is effectively protected.

The scientists are hopeful the new government will change the fate of Madagascar implementing their policy recommendations. “Since his election, President Rajoelina has given positive indications that he recognises the importance of Madagascar’s biodiversity,” said Professor Jones, adding that they would submit a copy of their research paper to his cabinet.

Madagascar is the oldest island in the world. Separated from the South Asian landmass about 86 million years ago, it hosts a plethora of plant and animal species found nowhere else on Earth, including at least 100 species of lemurs.

“The US has the Statue of Liberty, France has the Eiffel Tower,” said co-author of the paper Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy, University of Antananarivo. “For us in Madagascar, it is our biodiversity–the product of millions of years of evolution. It is the unique heritage we are known for around the world. We cannot let these natural wonders disappear.”

 

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