Determining the effectiveness of ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change

Adapting to the effects of a rapidly changing climate is humanity’s biggest challenge this century. The dominant approach to meeting this challenge is engineered interventions such as sea walls and irrigation infrastructure. However, there is growing recognition that ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) —i.e. the strategic conservation of natural ecosystems—can help people and communities cope and adapt to extreme weather while also safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem services. Whether restoring coastal ecosystems to dissipate storm energy or managing wetlands to stabilize water flow and quality, EbA comes with many co-benefits (ecosystem services). Despite this, EbA is not being widely implemented and a key reason for this is the lack of science-based evidence for its effectiveness. To address this, this project aims to enhance understanding of the ecological and cost effectiveness of ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change. Within this broad aim, the project will address two key research questions:

(i) What is the impact of current EbA initiatives on socio-ecological resilience to climate change?

(ii) What is the cost-effectiveness of EbA relative to alternative adaptation approaches?

Working with Case Partner, the International Institute for Environment and Development, the student will systematically review currentand emerging natural and social science on the impacts of EbA interventions on ecological and social resilience to climate change and then apply this knowledge to the evaluation of current EbA initiatives in a range of ecosystems globally.  The project will also involve applying spatially explicit integrated modelling tools (e.g. InVEST) to estimate the value of biodiversity and ecosystems in case studies, and use this information to determine the cost-effectiveness of different adaptation pathways. Research outputs of such a study would enable decision-makers to make more informed policy and investment choices, and NGOs and other civil society actors to better advocate for policy change and hold government accountable, with particular attention to the interests of poor and vulnerable people.

Please contact Natalie Seddon if you are interested in this project nathalie.seddon@zoo.ox.ac.uk