Ecosystem-based Adaptation, thematic issue of Science for Environment Policy

 

The impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels to increasing storm frequency and devastating droughts, are already affecting millions of people around the world. As a result there is an urgent need for robust and effective strategies which allow society and ecosystems to adapt to a changing world. Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA), by employing ecosystem-based approaches and making use of green infrastructure, harnesses the adaptive forces of nature and provides one of the most widely applicable, economically viable and effective tools to combat the impacts of climate change. The low-cost, flexible approaches of EbA can also provide multiple other benefits, such as poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

Coastal areas are particularly at risk from climate change’s impacts. Over a third of the global population live in coastal settlements and the rising sea levels and increased storm frequencies already observed threaten not only property and jobs, but also human lives. Past strategies to alleviate the risks of flooding and storm damage have focused on ‘hard’ engineering approaches, such as dams or storm barriers. However, there is growing evidence that EbA will provide more flexible alternative options, vital to providing resilience under changing conditions.

The articles ‘Salt marshes protect shorelines by reducing waves and erosion’ and ‘Coastal wetlands can protect against rising sea levels and increasing storms’ both combine the results of multiple studies revealing that coastal ecosystems, such as mangroves and marshes, are highly effective in protecting the coast against the impacts of climate change. Together they demonstrate that coastal vegetation can be used for adaptation to rising sea levels and increased storms via multiple positive effects, such as sediment trapping and reduction in erosion, storm surge, and wave height. A case study in India suggests that these beneficial effects are likely to have reduced the number of human deaths caused by cyclone impacts.

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