Let nature play a role in climate adaptation, experts urge: TRFN

Delegates take notes during a plenary session of the U.N. Climate Change Conference COP 20 in Lima December 13, 2014. REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil (Reuters)

LIMA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When the rainy season comes and floods the fields, poor families in northwest Bangladesh once cut trees to survive or went hungry. Now, however, they are raising fish in the floodplains – a change that has helped protect the region’s forests and improved their own resilience to more extreme weather. Such “ecosystem-based adaptation”, which protects both communities and the environment, will be vital to helping a growing world population survive climate change impacts without destroying the natural world, experts said at the U.N. climate talks in Lima. It “holds a promising potential,” said Virgilio Viana, chief executive of the Brazil-based Amazonas Sustainable Foundation. Such adaptation is cost-effective, he said, and can be implemented with local people, rather than relying on engineering solutions that sometimes can damage ecosystems, he said. “For example, instead of using heavy construction material and machinery to tackle land erosion or landslides, ecosystem-based adaptation techniques such as increasing vegetation cover and planting (more) trees can help address these problems with local communities' involvement and at lower cost,” he explained. Kit Vaughn, environment and climate change director for CARE International, said many governments consider dams the only means of effectively managing floodwater. But forests and wetlands, lakes and riverside floodplains can also act as natural sponges, he said. They absorb large amounts of water and slowly and safely release it downstream later, or into groundwater, he said. Saleemul Huq, an advisor at the Lima talks for the Least Developed Countries group, representing nearly 50 of the world's poorest countries, said the northwest Bangladesh communities who have begun farming fish in the wet season to raise their incomes are also benefitting from better-protected floodplain forests. The riverside forests absorb large amounts of water in flood periods, helping protect livestock and families who might otherwise find themselves underwater, he said. Such systems have “great potential for replication and upscaling in developing countries, like Pakistan’s Indus river floodplains,” Huq said. Heavy rains in the main river basins and upstream catchments of India, along with rainfall in northwest and northeastern Bangladesh, now frequently trigger flooding in low-lying and heavily populated areas of Bangladesh during the July to September monsoon season. Bangladesh considers flooding a grave issue in many districts in the northwest part of the country, where many communities are classified as “extremely poor.” Xianfu Lu, an adaptation expert with the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, said ecosystem-based adaptation should be used in other developing countries in Africa and Asia where floods are a worsening problem. (Reporting by Saleem Shaikh; editing by Laurie Goering)