Vice-Chair Tim Kasten, represented UN-Water at the recent Dialogues for Water and Climate Change (D4WCC) held at the 16th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP16).
Ecosystem-based adaptation has had various meanings attached to it, though the Convention on Biological Diversity's 2nd Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group (AHTEG) on Biodiversity and Climate Change, defines EBA as the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy. It involves the use of environmental or natural resource management to aid adaptation to climate change, improve the resilience of ecosystems, enhance ecosystem services and sustain peoples' livelihoods.
The aim of EBA is to facilitate climate change adaptation by both society and the environment working in synergy.
But just like hard infrastructure, natural infrastructure, in particular its restoration and sometimes even its maintenance, has its costs. Emerging science and data, such as the preliminary findings of the UNEP Green Economy Initiative, indicate that investment in the development of water resources designed to both ensure the maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystem services can be expected to pay long-term dividends. But for these green investments to take place there must be economic tools, such as ecosystems valuations and payments for ecosystem services that make good business sense.
REDD+ for Water?
As I also work on REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) I have often been asked how we can do for water what we have done for forests. How can we value our water ecosystems the way we do our forested ecosystems such that the benefits of their restoration, protection and maintenance outweigh the costs?
We don't necessarily have to put a carbon value on freshwater ecosystems, but carbon sequestration is only one of many services provided by ecosystems. What about all the other services I mentioned already: flood prevention, water regulation and provisioning, recreation, etc. Are these services not also valuable to us? Absolutely they are.
Maintaining a healthy ecosystem is cheaper than restoration and the benefit/cost ratio higher -- though some evidence exists on not only the value of our freshwater ecosystems, but their benefit/cost ratio to restore those systems that are degraded. Let me give just one example from the study on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) on restoration of degraded systems.
TEEB found that the high end cost of inland wetland restoration is 33,000 USD/hectare. An average scenario for annual benefits is about 14,200 USD/hectare yet the net present value of benefits over 40 years is 171,300 USD/hectare. This is an internal rate of return of 12% with a benefit/cost ratio of 5 to 4. For lakes and rivers the same scenario gives us a rate of return of 27% and a benefit/cost ratio of 15 to 5.
Though much of this science is still emerging, it is of the type necessary to make a REDD type mechanism – or payment for ecosystem services mechanism -- work for water resources.
With the REDD+ mechanism moving forward, perhaps now is the time to develop a payment for water-related ecosystem services mechanism that will enable long-term, green, economic solutions to both the water and climate crises.