Ecosystem-based Adaptation in South Africa

Trevor Sandwith, from IUCN Member The Nature Conservancy, discusses Eco-system based Adaptation in South Africa.

Protea flowers, South Africa Photo: Alicia Wirz

The following interview was featured in the November issue of the IUCN UNFCCC Newsletter. Trevor Sandwith is Director of Biodiversity and Protected Areas Policy at The Nature Conservancy as well as Deputy Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA).

Why is ecosystem-based adaptation important in your region?
In South Africa, the mining sector is dominant in the economy, but there is a huge dependence, especially in rural areas, on agricultural systems – for crop production and cultivation, grazing and other
dryland and rangeland uses, and fishing. Water availability and distribution are limiting factors in the country’s economy, which is extensively based on the use of natural resources. Diversification of the economy, e.g. through tourism and wildlife, is also dependent on the integrity of ecosystems.

Climate change is strongly affecting the environment on which human communities depend, so adaptation strategies and actions must include consideration of how ecosystems, and the services they provide to livelihoods, are being affected.

What is being done?
A good example is Working for Water (, a government programme based on strong participation of local civil society. Profound changes are expected in the availability and the quality of water, in terms of both its geographic and seasonal distribution. Towns and villages depend on water coming down the mountains, whose integrity is threatened by invasive alien species, which are growingly affecting mountain ecosystems of the Cape Floristic Region. Investments in removing alien species have had a positive impact on water quantity and quality, as well as reducing the threat of these species on biodiversity.

The program has provided an opportunity to build capacity, involve local communities in a natural resource management process and enhance adaptive capacity. This approach is in line with the devolution of power to the administrations at the local level, and the development of more participatory approaches, that are currently going on in South Africa.

The project is an excellent example of adaptation to different changes – both environmental and societal. Climate change provides an opportunity to engage in cross-sectoral solutions, in this case in terms of agriculture, water, economy and biodiversity.

What is needed to support this?
An understanding is needed on how ecosystems and people will be affected by climate change. South Africa has already conducted a climate modelling process, which allows for prediction of the changes likely to happen, and a better understanding of the consequences for ecosystems and people.

Scientifically sound information to explain the processes happening at the smallest scale is also essential (for example, what is role of alien invasive species in affecting water and fire). Institutional capacity to coordinate these multi-stakeholder processes is needed – a programmatic approach, engaging the right Ministries to co-operate and pool resources. Political commitment must also reach out to the local scale and engage for example farmers, municipalities and NGOs with government departments in finding solutions to local problems.

What are your expectations for COP 15?
My expectation would be that the world rises to the occasion, sets differences aside and co-operates to pursue a global goal. Climate change is the one global problem that requires a co-operative solution. Perhaps donors, countries, communities, institutions, people, will be able to find practical solutions under a global banner – an emergence of innovative and inspiring solutions. The world of nature conservation has been waiting for the stimulus that demonstrates that our investment in natural resource management is fundamental to the sustainability of life on earth.

Work area: 
Climate Change
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