A Socio-Ecological Approach for Identifying and Contextualising Spatial Ecosystem-Based Adaptation Priorities at the Sub-National Level

Bourne, A. et al. | PloS one | 2016 | Peer Reviewed | Original research | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0155235


Climate change adds an additional layer of complexity to existing sustainable development and biodiversity conservation challenges. The impacts of global climate change are felt locally, and thus local governance structures will increasingly be responsible for preparedness and local responses. Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) options are gaining prominence as relevant climate change solutions. Local government officials seldom have an appropriate understanding of the role of ecosystem functioning in sustainable development goals, or access to relevant climate information. Thus the use of ecosystems in helping people adapt to climate change is limited partially by the lack of information on where ecosystems have the highest potential to do so. To begin overcoming this barrier, Conservation South Africa in partnership with local government developed a socio-ecological approach for identifying spatial EbA priorities at the sub-national level. Using GIS-based multi-criteria analysis and vegetation distribution models, the authors have spatially integrated relevant ecological and social information at a scale appropriate to inform local level political, administrative, and operational decision makers. This is the first systematic approach of which we are aware that highlights spatial priority areas for EbA implementation. Nodes of socio-ecological vulnerability are identified, and the inclusion of areas that provide ecosystem services and ecological resilience to future climate change is innovative. The purpose of this paper is to present and demonstrate a methodology for combining complex information into user-friendly spatial products for local level decision making on EbA. The authors focus on illustrating the kinds of products that can be generated from combining information in the suggested ways, and do not discuss the nuance of climate models nor present specific technical details of the model outputs here. Two representative case studies from rural South Africa demonstrate the replicability of this approach in rural and peri-urban areas of other developing and least developed countries around the world.