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To respond to the increasing threat of climate change and to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, business-as-usual application of adaptation technologies is not sufficient. Instead, innovative approaches to adaptation – that integrate both technology and nature-based solutions – are imperative to enhance the climate resilience of ocean and coastal communities globally. Forward-looking, integrated and sustainable approaches are urgently needed at the scale where they can be deployed efficiently.  

Upscaling hybrid adaptation strategies, especially ones that integrate technological and ecosystem-based strategies, aligns with achieving a “Green Recovery” from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Recovery plans need to address short-term risks, such as COVID-19-related health and economic crises, while also providing a solution for the ultimate long-term risk: the climate crisis. This is an especially pressing need in ocean and coastal settings, where climate change is precipitating sea level rise and changes in marine conditions and exacerbating the consequences of unsustainable resource use to threaten marine biodiversity and livelihoods.   

In this context, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Technology Executive Committee (TEC), in partnership with the Nairobi Work Programme (NWP) Expert Group on Oceans, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Friends of Ecosystem-based Adaptation (FEBA) Network, organised a virtual event to explore the main challenges and opportunities for integrating both technology and ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) to build the resilience of oceans and coastal ecosystems and communities.  

This session was the first in a series of joint events as part of the TEC Technology Day. Through an interactive panel discussion, the event focused on exploring and promoting innovative approaches to scale up adaptation in oceans and coastal settings, as well as presenting and discussing state-of-the-art learning and examples of integrating joint approaches of both technology and EbA. The session, held as part of the IUCN World Conservation Congress on 6 September 2021, was attended by over 70 participants, with ongoing additional viewership of the recorded livestream.   

Insights from experts and panel discussion:

Opening remarks from Kinga Csontos of the UNFCCC TEC Committee highlighted the TEC-WIM Executive Committee (Excom) Joint Policy Brief on Technologies for Averting, Minimizing and Addressing Loss and Damage in Coastal Zones. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) expert Dr. Hans-Otto Pörtner’s keynote speech provided an overview of observed changes and impacts as well as projected climate risk for oceans and coastal areas as presented in the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.​ Dr. Pörtner also provided information on the role of ecosystem-based approaches and hybrid approaches in building resilience in oceans.   Patrycja Enet (European Maritime Spatial Planning Platform), Emily Corwin (Conservation International), Sylvester Wong (AECOM), Serena Heckler (UNESCO) and Dr. Vivien Gornitz (NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Center for Climate Systems Research) participated in an interactive panel discussion led by Ali Raza Rizvi, Global Coordinator of Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction at IUCN.

Speakers reflected on the fact that technology, conventional engineering approaches, and nature-based solutions have often been siloed through a false “either/or” dichotomy. This is particularly true in coastal settings, where adaptation investments continue to be allocated primarily to grey infrastructure like levees and seawalls. Speakers emphasised that we need to break the siloes between technology, infrastructure, and nature-based solutions and move toward integrated measures that optimise for adaptation effectiveness, cost, durability, sustainability, and co-benefits for people and nature. Panellists also raised the potential for integrated approaches to bridge short- and long-term needs for coastal and ocean resources and space. Competing, increasing demands for food, clean energy, transportation, development and recreation from marine sources can lead to overcrowded areas and space-sharing conflicts. Innovative, multi-use solutions that combine the advantages and co-benefits of technological and ecosystem-based approaches can help resolve the disparity between immediate economic drivers and the need for long-term prosperity and coastal/ocean resilience.   

 One strong thread that ran through the discussion was that these integrated technologies and solutions often already exist, but are not being implemented or mainstreamed at scale. Three global barriers to the uptake of integrated adaptation technologies were identified and discussed:

  • ​Lack of robust evidence and data about the role of natural assets in underpinning resilience. While public and private sector actors, including those in engineering and architecture firms, may understand the potential for nature-based solutions, they often lack the data, design parameters, and construction standards needed to scale up hybrid approaches in the context of conventional infrastructure investments. We must systematically measure and learn from the results of hybrid interventions to develop this evidence and data as well as make it accessible to practitioners.   
  • Policy and regulatory environments and governance challenges limit the feasibility of implementing hybrid adaptation approaches. In the next 20 years, an estimated US $94 trillion will be spent on infrastructure globally. Rigid regulatory and funding policies, designed with grey infrastructure in mind, inadvertently maintain the status quo. Facilitating the uptake and implementation of integrated green-grey approaches requires building enabling policy and regulatory environments and robust and effective policy frameworks. National climate policies and funding mechanisms, local land-use and marine planning and zoning, building codes, and engineering guidelines all contribute to an enabling environment. The innovative character or effectiveness of a project does not matter if the ability to permit or approve it is in not place – regulations need to be adaptable to create space for innovation. Parties can start building the mechanisms needed to shape sustainable, effective and integrated adaptation strategies through their Nationally Determined Contributions, National Adaptation Plans, marine spatial planning and other country-level plans.  
  • Limited access to finance for applying and scaling up integrated approaches. Capital investments in integrated adaptation technologies are constrained by real and perceived risks in developing economies, despite significant opportunities for achieving social, economic, and climate mitigation and adaptation objectives at a competitive cost. Solutions to manage these risks include developing financial strategies to distribute the risk and enable innovation and engaging the insurance sector during project design and implementation. There is a need for funding during early-stage project development to incentivise – or seed – hybrid solutions alongside financial and insurance strategies to manage risk for designers, builders, and investors. 

The closing keynote was provided by Rojina Manandhar and closing remarks were delivered by Wanna Tanunchaiwatana, both from the UNFCCC Secretariat. They highlighted the role of the NWP Knowledge-to-Action Hub for Climate Adaptation and Resilience and its mandate to address key ocean-climate gaps. The closing speakers emphasized that accelerating and enabling innovation is critical for an effective long-term global response to climate change and promoting economic growth and sustainable development. Long-term partnership is needed for a coordinated and inclusive response to climate change under the Paris Agreement, as well as to promote and scale up innovative approaches to build resilience in ocean and coastal communities.      

Key quotes from the session: 

 “The turning point is for the public and private sector to start designing, investing and building outside of the comfort zone that people have now.” – Emily Corwin, Director of Nature-based Engineering Solutions, Conservation International  

“This is an issue of entrepreneurial urgency. It’s not just about physical solutions; it’s about people and financial infrastructure as well.” – Sylvester Wong, Vice President of Asia-Pacific, AECOM 

 “Let's revitalise the knowledge that people have in their communities. People have the knowledge, and they are observing the changes… let’s work on that and work together to build that.” – Serena Heckler, Advisor for Ecological and Earth Sciences, UNESCO 

Key takeaways from the event:  

  • Ecosystems and technology intersect in an expansive array of data-driven adaptation solutions that can respond effectively to the moving target that climate change presents.  
  • Innovative approaches and case studies already exist for integrating technological and nature-based solutions, including many informed by local and indigenous knowledge, but there is an urgent need for political drive, national and local processes, and enhanced access to finance to implement, build on, and scale up these approaches. 
  •  Integrated approaches must comprehensively address climate risks while creating sustainable multi-use solutions in crowded seas and communities and responding to the priority technology needs identified by governments.  
  • Actors, such as public and private sector organisations and engineering and architecture firms, may understand the potential for integrated adaptation technologies, yet lack the concrete data, design parameters, and construction standards needed to scale up hybrid approaches in conventional infrastructure investments. We must systematically measure and learn from the results of interventions to develop this evidence and data. Furthermore, the evidence and data generated must be shared, exchanged and made accessible to practitioners. 
  •  Policy and regulatory environments and governance challenges often limit the feasibility of implementation of hybrid adaptation approaches. Facilitating the uptake and implementation of integrated green-grey approaches requires building enabling policy and regulatory environments across not only national climate policies and funding mechanisms, but also local land-use and marine planning and zoning, building codes, and engineering guidelines.  
  • We must invest long-term in knowledge co-production that brings cross-sectoral scientific, industrial, local and indigenous knowledge together to develop and promote localised hybrid adaptation solutions, empower the next generation, and address the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity

Next steps:  

The next joint Technology Day event in October 2021, under the guidance of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) chair, will focus on interaction with Parties and Non-Party stakeholders and UNFCCC bodies and mechanisms on potential uptake of ecosystem-based approaches to support countries in implementing their National Adaptation Plans and Nationally Determined Contributions.

Learn more about Technology Day and the work of the NWP  

 “Technology Day” (TD) is a series of events taking place in 2020 and 2021 whose objective is to promote innovative approaches to deploy, disseminate and scale up adaptation technologies in various key sectors. More information is available here:  

Oceans, coastal areas and ecosystems, including mega deltas, coral reefs and mangroves are amongst the priority areas under the Nairobi Work Programme (NWP), the UNFCCC knowledge-to-action hub for adaptation and resilience. The NWP expert group on the ocean has worked together since 2019 to find synergies to strengthen adaptation knowledge networks and address support of specific knowledge needs for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Islands Developing States (SIDS), while also collaborating with the constituted bodies under the UNFCCC process.    

About IUCN – Created in 1948, IUCN is the world’s largest and most diverse environmental network, harnessing the knowledge, resources and reach of more than 1,400 Member organisations and some 15,000 experts. Its broad membership enables IUCN to fill the role of incubator and trusted repository of best practices, tools and international standards. IUCN provides a neutral space in which diverse stakeholders including governments, NGOs, scientists, businesses, local communities, indigenous peoples organisations and others can work together to forge and implement solutions to environmental challenges, address climate change, reverse habitat loss, restore ecosystems and improve people’s well-being.

About Friends of EbA (FEBA): FEBA is a global collaborative network of 90+ agencies and organisations involved in Ecosystem based Adaptation (EbA) working jointly to share experiences and knowledge, to improve the implementation of EbA related activities on the ground, and to have a stronger and more strategic learning and policy influence on EbA. EbA has paved the way for the wide uptake of working with nature as a cornerstone of adaptation strategies to simultaneously address climate risks, the biodiversity crisis, and human wellbeing. FEBA works to synthesise multi-stakeholder knowledge on EbA; disseminate this knowledge by convening the global EbA community around high-level events, technical workshops, and expert working groups; and raise awareness and understanding of EbA in adaptation planning processes and multilateral policy frameworks. The CBD COP recognizes FEBA as a key partner “to support Parties in their efforts to promote ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation” (Decision 14/5).

About the Green-Gray Community of Practice: The Global Green-Gray Community of Practice, led by Conservation International is a collaboration across the conservation, engineering, finance, and construction sectors to generate learning and innovation to achieve climate adaptation benefits for communities, their future generations, and biodiversity. The multi-disciplinary Community of Practice has grown to over 100 member organizations spanning the globe, representing non-profit, academic, government and private organizations. We are working to: share ideas and facilitate collaboration; innovate and pilot new approaches; expand science, engineering, and policy activity; and implement and learn from projects in a multitude of geographies and settings.