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Home > 2022 > Ecosystem-Based Approach to Build Climate Resilience | KN Ninan

Mainstream, VOL 60 No 39-42 September 17 - October 8, 2022 - Bumper issue

Ecosystem-Based Approach to Build Climate Resilience | KN Ninan

Friday 16 September 2022

by K N Ninan

Abstract: Climate change poses a great challenge to governments, societies, and entities. Finding ways to transit to a climate resilient economy and society therefore assumes great importance. Evidence collated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) point to an increasing trend in global temperatures and sea levels, increasing frequency and intensity of disasters and extreme weather events. These will have adverse short and long-term impacts on ecosystems, economies, and societies. There are different approaches to address the risks posed by climate change and disasters, and extreme weather events. Ecosystem-based approach or nature-based solutions is one such approach that is being advocated to reduce vulnerability and build resilience to climate change and disasters such as flooding, droughts, storm surges, landslides, etc. Ecosystem-based or nature-based solutions are cost-effective and have several co-benefits. It can help promote multiple objectives such as promoting climate stabilisation, conservation, and development. It is also critical for realising the sustainable development goals. This article reviews the approaches and policies to realise a climate resilient economy and society and the role that ecosystem-based approach and nature-based solutions can play. It then reviews India’s climate action plan and the challenges and constraints in transiting to a low carbon economy and society.

Introduction

Climate change poses an immense challenge to governments, societies, and entities. The Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) depicts a grim picture of the trends in climate variables (IPCC 2022). These indicate an unprecedented rise in global average land and ocean temperatures, the melting of glaciers, rising sea levels, and an increase in the frequency and intensity of natural calamities and extreme weather events. If countries including India continue to pursue a Business as Usual (BAU) development path, average global air temperatures are likely to rise to between 2 to 4.5oC or higher by the turn of the 21st century. If this happens it will have disastrous consequences on ecosystems, species, lives, and livelihoods. Poor and marginalised people, developing countries and small island states are more vulnerable to the risks posed by climate change and extreme weather events (Ninan and Inoue 2017). The Stern Review (2007) suggests that with a 5-6oC warming, an average of 5 to 10 per cent loss in global GDP is possible, with poor countries suffering losses of more than 10 per cent of GDP. A study by Ahmed and Suphachalasai (2014) notes that without global deviation from a fossil fuel intensive path, South Asia could lose an equivalent of 1.8 per cent of its annual GDP by 2050, which will progressively increase to 8.8 per cent by 2100 on the average under BAU scenario. The study further notes that the estimated decline in real GDP due to climate impacts (cumulative per cent change compared to the baseline during 2010-2050) for India is 4 per cent and more than 10 per cent for South Asian countries.

     To address the risks posed by climate change and extreme weather events we need to strengthen the resilience of nations, people, and households to cope with these rapid environmental changes. There are different approaches to build resilience to climate change such as ecosystem-based approach or nature-based solutions (NBS), engineering approach, hybrid, social and behavioural approaches.

     This article discusses the ecosystem-based approach to build resilience to climate change and extreme weather events. Apart from assessing the trends and damage costs of disasters and extreme weather events, it will review the different approaches to build climate resilience. This is followed by an analysis of the economic benefits of ecosystem-based approach to build climate resilience and assessing the role of nature in realising the sustainable development goals. Lastly, it discusses the importance assigned by India to nature-based solutions to realise its Climate Action Plan as committed to the Paris Climate agreement and the challenges for fulfilling this commitment.

Disaster Trends

Here we briefly review the trends in disasters for the world as a whole and assess the damage costs of climate-related disasters. Table 1 shows that the direct economic losses due to disasters increased from around US$ 895-1313 billion (at 2017 US$ values) during 1978 to 1997 to almost US$ 3 trillion during 1998 to 2017. The share of climate-related losses to the total losses from all disasters rose from 68 per cent during 1978-1997 to 78 per cent during 1998-2017. Almost 90 per cent of the disaster events recorded during the two decades from 1998 and 2017 were due to climate-related events such floods, storms, extreme temperatures, and droughts (Table 2). Out of 4.45 billion people impacted by disasters during this period over 90 per cent was due to climate-related events. Climate-related events accounted for almost 75 per cent of the total economic losses due to disasters. According to the World Bank the real cost to the global economy due to disasters is estimated at about US$ 520 billion per year. Disasters also impoverished 26 million people around the world. Large coastal cities could face annual losses of US$ one trillion from flooding by the mid-21st century (Royal Society 2014). A recent IPCC report notes that sea levels are rising faster than previously thought (IPCC 2019). Even if emissions decline sharply and global warming is limited to below 2oC, sea levels are likely to rise by 30-60 cm by the year 2100 (IPCC 2019). If sea levels rise by 50 cms, 45 cities with 5 lakh population are at risk of being flooded. These include many Indian coastal cities such as Mumbai, Kolkata, Surat, Chennai. Global losses due to natural disasters during the year 2020 was estimated at about US$ 210 billion of which US$ 82 billion was insured (www.munichre.com). India figured among the top five countries in the world with disaster-related losses estimated at US$ 79.5 billion (at 2017 US$ values) between 1998 to 2017 (CRED and UNISDR 2018). The losses for India were mostly due to flood-related events.

Table 1: Direct Economic Losses due to Disasters

Period/Item Direct economic losses in 2017 US$ Climate-related losses to total losses from all disasters (%)
1978 to 1997 US$ 895 to 1313 billion 68
1998 to 2017 US$ 2980 billion 78
Real cost to the global economy US$ 520 billion per year 26 million people impoverished

Source: CRED and UNISDR, 2018

Table 2: Global Disaster Profile: 1998 to 2017

Disasters  Number of disasters   % Number of people affected % Number of deaths % Economic losses %
Floods 43.4 45 11 23
Storms 28.2 16 17 46
Extreme Temperature (ET) 5.6 Negligible 2 Negligible
Droughts 4.8 33 Negligible 4
Earthquakes 7.8 3 56 23
Wildfire, volcanic activity, dry mass movement 10.2 3 (incl. ET) 14 (incl. droughts) 4 (incl. droughts)
Total 7255 4.45 billion 1.31 million US$ 2.9 trillion

Source: CRED and UNISDR, 2018

Approaches to Build Climate Resilience

There are a few approaches to build resilience to the adverse effects of climate change and extreme weather events. These are as follows:

  • Ecosystem-based approach (e.g., conserving & restoring mangroves)
  • Engineering-based approach (e.g., investing in climate infrastructure like sea walls, coastal shelters, disaster warning systems, etc)
  • Hybrid approach (i.e., a combination of ecosystem and engineering-based approaches)
  • Social-based approach or Community-based approach (community action)
  • Behavioural approach (changing people’s attitudes and lifestyles)
    Table 3 illustrates some of the measures undertaken under ecosystem or engineering-based approaches and hybrid approach to address the adverse impacts of four types of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, coastal or river flooding and droughts. Ecosystem-based approach or nature-based solutions rely on green solutions to adapt to and mitigate the adverse effects of climate change. It helps promote multiple goals such as conservation and development as well as adaptation and mitigation to climate change. Further it is cost-effective as compared to other alternatives such as engineering approach and has several co-benefits such as generating employment opportunities as well as help in covid recovery stimulus programmes.

Table 3: Examples of different ecosystem or engineering-based or hybrid (combination
       of ecosystem and engineering-based) options to reduce the impact of four types of extreme weather events

Extreme weather events Examples 
Heatwaves Afforestation; Maintenance of existing vegetation; Green roofs, vertical greening systems; White roofs; Urban planning, grid design, etc.; Air conditioning; Insulation
Coastal flooding Maintenance of natural reefs (coral/oyster); Maintenance of mangroves; Mangrove planting and re-establishment; Maintenance and creation of salt marsh, wetlands, inter-tidal ecosystems; Maintenance of other coastal, forest and ecosystems; Coastal re-vegetation and afforestation (above inter-tidal zone); Beach and dune nourishment; Artificial reefs; Dykes, levees; Coastal barrages
Drought Removal of thirsty invasive plant species; Reforestation; Forest conservation; Agroforestry; Breeding drought resilient crops and livestock; Sustainable agroecosystem management practices; Soil and water conservation; Reservoirs, ponds, and other water storage; Wells; Irrigation; Inter-basin water transfer; Waste-water recycling
River flooding Re-establishment of floodplains, green rivers; Catchment afforestation, increased vegetation cover; Maintenance of existing catchment vegetation; Planting of riparian buffers; Changes to catchment agricultural land management; Natural flood management; Stream habitat restoration; Dams; Drains, dykes, levees, sluices, pumps;Dredging; Sustainable urban drainage systems; Canalisation of urban streams

Source: Royal Society (2014)

Economic Benefits of Ecosystem-based Approach

The economic benefits of ecosystem-based approach to address the risks posed by climate change and extreme weather events are quite significant. Table 4 presents information on the economic benefits of ecosystem-based approaches covering a cross-section of ecosystems and sites for different countries. As evident, conservation of mangroves, protected areas, floodplains, and watersheds yield high benefits including non-market benefits such as carbon sequestration, soil and water conservation, flood management and storm protection services, etc. For instance, a study in Thailand noted that the net present values (NPV) from mangroves was US$ 60000 per ha as compared to US$ 16700 per ha from shrimp farming. Another study noted that the avoided losses from coastal flooding and protection afforded by mangroves was valued at US$ 80 billion per year globally. The global annual non-market benefits of mangrove forests were estimated at US$ 40-50 billion. A study estimated the annual storm protection services provided by US coastal wetlands at US$ 23.2 billion. Another study noted that the benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of floodplain restoration in Waza, Cameroon was 6.5:1. The benefits from ecosystem-based approach to adapt to and mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change are significant and has co-benefits such as employment generation. It could also form part of covid recovery stimulus programmes.

Table 4: Economic Benefits of Ecosystem-based Approach: Selected Cases

Cases Country Benefit Net Present Values (NPV)/Benefit Cost Ratios (BCR) Reference
Mangrove versus Shrimp Farming Thailand Carbon sequestration, biodiversity, storm protection, nursery for fisheries, income & employment  US$ 60000/ha versus US$ 16700/ha (2006 US$; 6% discount rate; cash flows summed over 30 years) Balmford et al, 2002
Mangrove versus Shrimp Farming Thailand Carbon sequestration, biodiversity, storm protection, nursery for fisheries, income & employment  US$ 12392/ha versus US$ 9632/ha(1996 US$; 10% discount rate; cash flows summed over 9 years) Barbier and Cox 2007
Mangrove Forests Global  Avoided losses from coastal flooding and protection. Non-market benefits provided US$ 80 billion per yearUS$ 40-50 billion per year Global Commission on Adaptation 2019
Protected Forests- Oku Aizu Forest Reserve Fukushima, Japan Soil and water conservation, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, air pollution control, water purification, recreation, and other benefits Net Annual Benefits from the Forest Reserve: US$ 1.43 to US$ 1.48 billion per year (or US$ 17016 to US$ 17671 per ha per year in 2009 US$ values) using alternative valuation methods and prices Ninan and Inoue 2013
Protected Forests -Nagarhole National Park Karnataka, India NTFPs, Soil and water conservation, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, air pollution control, recreation, and other benefits Net Annual Benefits from the Park US$ 13-148 million (or US$ 203 to US$ 2294 per ha in 2014 US$ values) using alternative valuation methods and prices.  Ninan and Kontoleon 2016
Floodplain Restoration Waza, Cameroon Flood management, additional water flow NPV- US$ 7.8 millionBCR- 6.5:1(10% discount rate; cash flows summed over 25 years) Neβhover et al. 2009 
Watershed Development Mittemari, India Increase in agricultural yields, water table, and other benefits NPV- US$ 0.32 million to US$ 1.7 millionBCR- 1.2 to 1.8
(alternate discount rates of 3%, 5% & 8% used; cash flows summed up over 25 years valued at 1989-1990 US$)
Ninan and Lakshmikanthamma 2001
Watershed Development Kumbharwadi, India Increase in agricultural yields and water table, and other benefits NPVs- US$ 5573 to 8772/haBCR- 2.28 to 3.37 Baig et al. 2016
Coastal Wetlands USA Storm protection Value- US$ 23.2 billion. 1 ha wetland loss leads to an average of US$ 33000 increase in storm damages Costanza et al. 2008

Nature and Sustainable Development Goals 

Nature (biodiversity and ecosystem services) provides a broad array of goods and services such as provisioning, regulating, cultural and support services. It also helps to reduce vulnerability to climate-related disasters and extreme weather events as well as health risks such as zoonotic diseases. Nature plays an important role in influencing human well-being and good quality of life. Two of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) i.e., SDG 14 and SDG 15 (Life below Water and Life on Land) relate to marine and terrestrial ecosystems covering biodiversity and ecosystem services. Most of the 17 SDGs are directly or indirectly related to nature such as poverty, hunger, health, water, sanitation, etc. However, the world has failed to achieve the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets as stipulated in the UN’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 which imperils the achievement of the SDGs. The Covid-19 pandemic further jeopardises the achievement of the SDGs. While framing the post-2020 biodiversity targets there is a need to align the targets for nature such that it fits in with the metrics tracked by the SDGs (Ferrier et al., 2016).

India’s Climate Action Plan and Challenges

India’s Climate Action Plan as communicated to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) assigns a major role to ecosystem-based approach or nature-based solutions such as increasing the share of renewable energy, increasing the forest cover to adapt to and mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change. India’s climate action plan emphasises the following:

  • Reduce emission intensity of its GDP by 33-35% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. Increase share of non-fossil fuel-based energy sources to 40% of cumulative electric power installed capacity by 2030 with transfer of technology and low-cost international financing including from the Green Climate Fund (Renewable energy goal raised from 36 GW to 175 GW in the next few years). India took the initiative at the Paris Climate Summit for setting up a Global Solar Alliance with 120 countries.
  • Shift from carbon subsidising regime to carbon taxes (cess on coal, reduce subsidies and raise taxes on fossil fuels).
  • Increase Forest and Tree cover by 2030 so as to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (7.5% weightage for area under forests for distribution of funds from the Federal pool to States).
  • Incentives for Clean Energy and Adaptation (setting up of National Clean Environment Fund, National Adaptation Fund, Tax-free Infrastructure Bonds to fund renewable energy projects, etc).

     India’s faces formidable challenges in realising its development and environmental goals.While pursuing efforts to meet its climate targets India also needs to meet the development aspirations of its people such as increasing incomes, reducing poverty, giving people access to basic needs, employment generation, etc. India also needs to get access to clean technologies and international climate finance. The Paris Climate agreement had set a target of US$ 100 billion per year by 2020 to help needy countries which is yet to be realised. India’s need for climate finance is estimated at US$ 206 billion  (at 2014-15 prices) between 2015 & 2030 for implementing adaptation actions in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, infrastructure, and water resources. The adaptation costs in the energy sector alone are estimated at US$ 7.8 billion by the year 2030 and US$ 21.5 billion by the year 2050 as per the Asian Development Bank. The mitigation costs for moderate low carbon development are estimated at around US$ 834 billion till 2030 at 2011 prices as per NITI Aayog.

Conclusion

Rapid environmental change in the recent decades fueled by socio-economic and other drivers has led to an increase in the frequency and intensity of climate-related disasters and extreme weather events as well as health risks. Building resilience to address these climate and health risks assumes importance in order to promote human well-being and good quality of life. Evidence collated here show that ecosystem-based approach or nature-based solutions gives significant benefits and also has several co-benefits such as enhancing biodiversity and ecossytem services, and synergies with the sustainable development goals. Apart from reducing vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change such as disasters and extreme weather events, or zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19, it is cost-effective and can enable developing countries like India to meet their climate stabilisation, development and environmental targets. Conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services is also critical for realising the sustainable development goals. Removing perverse subsidies and policies that favour destruction of nature can go a long way in meeting our development and environmental goals.

(Dr. K N Ninan is Lead Author, Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Geneva, Switzerland; Senior Fellow, World Resources Institute-India, New Delhi and Chairperson, Centre for Economics, Environment and Society, Bangalore)

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