Adapting to change, the natural way

The impacts of climate change are already being felt by both people and the environment around the world and they’re set to get a lot worse. Sea levels are rising, threatening island nations and coastal areas, storms are becoming more violent bringing floods and landslides, and droughts are intensifying.

Women at pump, Tanzania

While richer nations can try to ‘buy’ protection in the form of engineered solutions, poorer people in developing countries who are bearing the brunt of the impacts urgently need a proven, accessible and affordable option. One such option already exists—conserving and managing nature.

Conserving and managing nature can help people adapt to climatic changes. Mangroves and wetlands can form physical barriers against extreme weather and help to regulate floods. These natural buffers are often less expensive to maintain and in certain cases, can be as effective as built structures such as dykes or concrete walls. Managing agricultural land using local knowledge of crop varieties and maintaining diverse landscapes can help ensure food supplies in uncertain conditions. Healthy ecosystems provide a range of other natural services that people rely on, among them, the provision of food, clean water, shelter, fire wood, fibre and medicine.

Sustainably managing, conserving and restoring ecosystems so that they continue to provide the services that allow people to adapt to climate change is known as Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA). This approach builds on traditional knowledge, generates a range of social, economic and cultural benefits and helps to conserve biodiversity. In the run-up to the UN climate change meeting in Copenhagen in December, IUCN and its members are working to ensure that the new international climate change agreement recognizes the role of ecosystems in enhancing human well-being in the face of climate change.

In the second part of our three-month focus on climate change, we look at how communities around the world are boosting their resilience to changing conditions with natural infrastructure at the forefront of their efforts. We see how lessons learned on the ground are being fed through to international policy to ensure that nature-based solutions are central to international efforts to combat climate change.

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