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Challenges of Scaling Up and Financing Ecosystem-Based Adaptation in Africa: The Role of Innovation

Nature is a critical component to scaling up climate change adaptation and resilience. However, financing mechanisms are needed to mainstream approaches such as Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA), which is the operationalisation of nature-based solutions for climate adaptation, to reach the communities who need them the most. A recent session at CBA15 discussed challenges of scaling up and financing EbA in Africa, with a focus on the role of innovation.

The 15th International Conference on Community-based Adaptation to Climate Change (CBA15), held virtually from June 14-18 2021, brought together practitioners, grassroots representatives, local and national government planners, policymakers, and donors working at all levels and scales to discuss how we can drive ambition for a climate-resilient future.

The Global Resilience Partnership (GRP), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Global Adaptation Network (GAN), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Friends of EbA network (FEBA) hosted a joint session during the conference, entitled “Challenges of Scaling Up and Financing Ecosystem-Based Adaptation in Africa: The Role of Innovation”, which explored innovative financial solutions that can overcome the challenges/barriers to scaling up Ecosystem-based Adaptation.

Dr. Richard Munang, the UNEP/GAN Regional Coordinator for climate change and focal point for Ecosystem-based Adaptation for Food Security in Africa Assembly (EBAFOSA), opened the session by discussing the need and approaches to remove barriers to upscaling EbA, namely by moving from silos to an integrated approach, and adding value to EbA. Dr. Munang highlighted that the best tool we have to remove barriers is in demonstrating the effectiveness of EbA: every $1 poured into restoration provides a 34-time return on investment (UNEP, FAO. 2 June 2021. Becoming #GenerationRestoration: Ecosystem Restoration for People, Nature and Climate). This is how EbA, as a tool, can remove barriers and unlock innovative approaches. As the African continent is facing the brunt of climate change impacts, EbA is key to provide adaptation and resilience to communities.

Discussions on the barriers to EbA financing and scaling up

After this scene-setting introduction by Dr. Munang, a series of small-group breakout sessions provided an opportunity for participants to discuss the three main barriers to EbA,  identified by the Global Commission on Adaptation

  1. Lack of awareness of the critical role of natural assets in underpinning resilience and limited availability of knowledge and evidence to help make the case for working with nature.

The discussions in this breakout group were led by Cretus Mtonga, Executive Secretary of Aqua-Farms Organization.

Panellists and participants discussed the accessibility of knowledge, especially at the local level and the need to repackage and disseminate actionable knowledge to primary users. They highlighted the importance of innovation and partnerships in closing these knowledge gaps, agreeing that knowledge should not only flow from global to local levels but also from local to global levels. It will help the global community understand what is needed from the local level, and to find out about new innovative solutions on the ground. Finally, the participants stressed the need for funding opportunities to be more accessible to local actors.

2. Policy and regulatory environments and governance challenges that influence the attractiveness and feasibility of using these approaches.

The discussions in this breakout group were led by Cecilia Kinuthia-Njenga, UNEP, Head of the UN Environment Office in South Africa.

Participants discussed the need for coherent, harmonized, and standardized policies across ministries and government entities, recognizing that EbA is cost-effective across sectors, and provides co-benefits (incl. through lower health care costs, improved access to education, lower costs for emergency responses, etc), especially in order to break silos. Policies should be framed so that communities can independently create change. Formulated policies must include and recognise the power of local and traditional knowledge, from the beginning. Locally led and inclusive processes in policy making yield better implementation and buy-in from communities.

3. Limited access to finance for applying and scaling up nature-based approaches.

The discussions in this breakout group were led by Mandy Barnett, South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Chief Director: Adaptation Policy and Resourcing.

Participants agreed that the real challenge is leveraging existing money and mechanisms. We need to unlock these existing sources of funding, redirect and/or eliminate existing subsidies, and use existing structures such as Small Grants Funds instead of setting up new systems. It is also crucial to engage the private sector and start public-private partnerships. Finally, we need a policy shift to change and shorten the value chain to support value-added products, and to demonstrate benefits at different levels. We also need to reconcile short term finance and long-term aspirations.

4. Key messages from these discussions.

These lively break-out sessions allowed us to formulate these four key messages:

  1. Appropriate innovative EbA approaches must prioritize the needs of local communities – including empowering local, traditional, youth, gender and other perspectives and knowledge – from the start of project development and continued engagement for the long term – even after the ‘project duration’ has passed.
  2. It is crucial to overcome the siloed approach and adopt an integrated approach to developing, financing, and implementing EbA – including in policies and on-ground approaches. We are moving toward ‘business unusual’.
  3. Gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) are crucial when discussing, planning, and implementing innovative approaches and innovative financial solutions for EbA across Africa – and, indeed, across the globe.
  4. We must now move from piloting to full scale. Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) is a critical component of implementing any EbA project, including to catalyse access to novel sources of finance (i.e., promoting other cross-sectoral collaboration).

Discussions on innovative finance

Following the discussions on the barriers, Adam Bornstein, Team lead for Innovative Finance and System Change at the Danish Red Cross,sparked a dialogue in plenary surrounding innovative financing solutions. Adam discussed the need to look at innovation as a mechanism rather than an idea. With a focus on humanitarian development goals, in a more creative and outcome-based and -driven approach, EbA can continue to be a cross-cutting approach that is well placed for innovative financing solutions. Key suggestions and ideas during this session included:

  • We need local-based market incentives, as system thinking is not a one size fits all, but is needed, nonetheless. Further, we cannot talk about EbA without talking about value addition.
  • There is a need to quantify the value of ecosystems, like mangroves, which are a unifying force to provide cross-sectoral engagement.
  • It is critically important to link natural systems, including appropriate value chains, in the context of EbA, especially when it comes to renewable energy and water resources.

Regarding upscaling EbA, Norah Ngeny, Associate Programme Management Officer at UNEP,and Wendy C. Atieno, Programme Officer, Ecosystem-based Adaptation at IUCN, presented an overview of the Global EbA Fund, a nascent funding mechanism jointly implemented by IUCN and UNEP, and funded by the German Federal Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), through its International Climate Initiative (IKI). By providing rapid and targeted financial support to innovative and catalytic projects, the Global EbA Fund seeks to address specific gaps in policy and technical knowledge to maximise the impact of this vital nature-based solution on a global scale. The Global EbA Fund prioritises the closing of resource and knowledge gaps with a broad thematic focus on innovation and urgency for climate change adaptation, thus encouraging creative solutions and partnerships among funding applicants and the wider EbA community.

As part of this work, FEBA and GAN are collaborating on gathering knowledge, evidence, and stories about EbA initiatives, along with lessons learned for upscaling EbA practices, towards a future publication on overcoming global barriers to the implementation of EbA (This process will consist of both an online survey and global and regional stakeholder dialogues taking place between June and September 2021.). As such, FEBA and GAN would like to invite all to contribute to this process by participating in this survey to help gather valuable information on your country’s or region’s EbA activities and projects, with a focus on innovative approaches to overcoming key barriers to scaling up EbA (approx. 40 minutes to complete). This survey is also available in French and Spanish and is open until July 31, 2021. 

What are the next steps and how can you engage with us?

We are very pleased with the conversations that took place during the conference, and thankful for everyone who participated, and we want to make sure to keep these discussions going and to invite more people to join in.

To do so, you can sign up for our newsletters and make sure to join the next events we will organize. You can also share your thoughts and experience through the survey mentioned above. And finally, you are welcome to join our networks, and take part in our activities. See below to find out more about our organizations and networks.

The recording of the CBA15 session on “Challenges of scaling up and financing Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) in Africa” is available here.

Thank you to all session hosts, speakers and facilitators including, but not limited to: Adam Bornstein (Danish Red Cross), Amber Bjerre (IUCN/FEBA), Ameil Harikishun (GRP), Cecilia Njenga (UNEP), Cretus Mtonga (Aqua-Farms Organization), Dr. Richard Munang (UNEP/GAN), Elisabeth Mullin Bernhardt (UNEP/GAN), Mandy Barnett (SANBI), Norah Ngeny (UNEP), Oscar Ivanova (UNEP/GAN), Wendy C. Atieno (IUCN).

About GRP: The Global Resilience Partnership (GRP) is made up of 60+ organisations that have joined forces to work together towards a vision where people and places are able to persist, adapt and transform in the face of shocks, uncertainty, and change. We believe that resilience underpins sustainable development in an increasingly connected and unpredictable world.

About UNEP: The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda, promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system, and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment.

About GAN: Founded by UNEP in 2010, the Global Adaptation Network (GAN) provides a worldwide platform to distribute and exchange climate change adaptation knowledge in a variety of ways. As an umbrella organization spanning most continents, GAN is composed of many regional networks and partners, each of which provide knowledge services in their respective regions.

About IUCN: The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a membership Union composed of both government and civil society organisations, which harnesses the experience, resources and reach of its more than 1,400 Member organisations and the input of more than 18,000 experts. This diversity and vast expertise makes IUCN the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it. IUCN is one of the world’s leading organizations with respect to EbA, and together with local stakeholders, has been involved in 100EbA related projects in 109 countries since 2008.

About FEBA: Friends of EbA (FEBA) is a global collaborative network of 90+ agencies and organisations involved in Ecosystem based Adaptation (EbA) working jointly to share experiences and knowledge, to improve the implementation of EbA related activities on the ground, and to have a stronger and more strategic learning and policy influence on EbA. EbA has paved the way for the wide uptake of working with nature as a cornerstone of adaptation strategies to simultaneously address climate risks, the biodiversity crisis, and human wellbeing.