Ecosystem-based climate adaptation at the World Bank?

“An essential component of adaptation is the protection and restoration of ecosystems and the habitats, natural resources, and services they provide.”

You’re probably assuming this quote was lifted from American Rivers’ latest report on climate adaptation, right? If you’ve been paying attention to our work for the past few years, this is a common refrain: restoration and protection of ecosystems is the most cost effective and flexible way to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

We can’t take credit for this quote, though, because it comes from, of all places, the World Bank.


This is from the same World Bank that has been the largest single source of funding for large dam construction worldwide? This is coming from the organization whose dam projects have drowned tens of thousands of square kilometers of forests, decimated fisheries and displaced millions of residents?

Yup. It’s not a typo.

In a new book titled Convenient Solutions to an Inconvenient Truth: Ecosystem-Based Approaches to Climate Change, the World Bank argues that the preservation and restoration of ecosystems is an essential strategy for addressing the consequences of a shifting climate.

Underlying the Bank’s conclusion in this ground-breaking report is the recognition that ecosystems provide essential services from flood control to maintaining clean water supplies that will help us weather an increasingly volatile climate. The report notes that healthy ecosystems are resilient to climatic shifts, and that they provide a cost-effective and flexible approach for reducing vulnerability to floods, droughts and other climate impacts:

“Such ecosystem-based strategies can offer cost-effective, proven, and sustainable solutions that contribute to, and complement, other national and regional adaptation strategies.”

The fact that such a powerful institution as the World Bank is talking about ecosystem-based adaptation is very promising. If we finally begin to realize the importance of ecosystem services and the role they play in buffering us from a changing climate, we might be able to avoid the worst impacts. Of course, simply recognizing the importance of ecosystems in a report isn’t enough; it has to be backed up with action. The logical extension of the argument in this report is that destruction of ecosystems makes us more vulnerable to climate change, and we’ll have to stop building new dams, draining wetlands and razing forests for short-term economic gain, both at home and abroad.

One report isn’t enough to set us on the right track, but it’s the right message from a powerful organization. It’s a good start.