What constrains ecosystem-based adaptation?

Cyclone Pam

While ecosystem-based adaptation is a popular approach to managing climate change risks, uptake is still low. This paper explores the constraints and barriers around the adoption of ecosystem-based adaptation and seeks to enable practitioners and academics a pathway to embrace all of the dimensions involved to increase uptake and success.

In the international climate policy arena, Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbAEbA Ecosystem-based adaptation - an adaptation approach to climate- and environmental-change which primarily deploys ecosystems and ecosystem functions to mitigate risks from hazards.) has become the preferred adaptation approach to climate change in the least developed and developing countries. Its perceived strength lies in the premise that adaptation strategies need to address both ecosystems and livelihoods simultaneously, given these are crucially intertwined and both under a threat from climate change.

While EbA has certainly made progress as an adaptation approach, a lack of understanding still exists how EbA approaches contribute to ‘effective’ adaptation, including the circumstances where they face constraints and limits. Furthermore, implementation of EbA approaches ideally requires a level of understanding about ecosystem structure, productivity and dynamics, and how these are affected by climate change and other direct anthropogenic stressors, that are rarely available in developing countries.

This paper aimed to synthesise the current knowledge in the emerging body of EbA specific literature on the kinds of constraints that hamper the use of EbA. Our analysis examined the following constraints: economic and financial, governance and institutional, social and cultural, knowledge constraints and gaps, and physical and biological constraints and limits.

The identified constraints demonstrate the complexities in developing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating EbA and propose significant further areas of research, including the need to provide well-documented case studies of EbA, which crystallize the main lessons learned such as practical challenges in designing and implementing EbA projects and research programs.


Johanna Nalau, Susanne Becken, Brendan Mackey. (2018) Ecosystem-based Adaptation: A review of the constraints, Environmental Science & Policy, Volume 89, Pages 357-364, ISSN 1462-9011. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2018.08.014


This research was supported by a grant from a private charitable trust.

About the authors:

Johanna Nalau

Dr. Johanna Nalau

Climate change adaptation scientist.

Susanne Becken

Prof. Susanne Becken

Lead – Social Policy & Analysis. Expertise in carbon footprint; climate change vulnerability and adaptation destination management.

Brendan Mackey

Prof. Brendan Mackey

Project Director – Expert in climate change adaptation and mitigation.

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