Author: Martin Obermaier, International expert on climate adaptation and communication, GOPA/ECO
After I had asked Lili from Practical Action if she was interested in me writing a piece on ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA) in West Africa, I was immediately at a loss. What interest could an audience from Latin America have in EBA in West Africa? I then remembered that I’d worked - some five years ago - with Lili’s colleagues from Practical Action on a Global South knowledge exchange program named Evidence and Lessons from Latin America (ELLA). In ELLA we aimed to convey the “enabling factors” or entry points for community-based adaptation to a mainly African audience of policymakers, practitioners, and academics; why then shouldn’t I try to share with you of what these enabling factors look like from the other (East) side of the Atlantic ocean, from Mauritania? I argue that there are at least three “enabling environments” that could support wider EBA adoption: cooperation; marine biodiversity as a driver of EBA policy; and links between conservation finance and adaptation. To be clear, my interpretation of things stems largely from my experience in Mauritania (where I live), but I think they may be applicable also to West Africa in larger context.
First, increasing cooperation can support EBA. For example, participation of civil society in environmental or climate policy decisions is traditionally weak in the region; in fact, one could say the line between an NGO, a Civil Society Organisation (CSO), and a consultancy bureau in West African countries is often rather small… However, in Mauritania a facilitated dialogue that started four years ago finally seems to give nascence to a multi-stakeholder “Actors of the sea” platform, including journalists, CSOs, private sector, academia, and government agencies. This platform has the potential to become an independent voice on coastal and marine environmental issues. From what I’ve heard in the last meeting of the dialogue - which took place December 2018 -, climate change and EBA are a real concern. Importantly, this process is under the auspices of Mauritania’s Ministry of the Environment. Therefore, political anchorage is provided for. There is another example of improving cooperation among the international technical and financial cooperation (EU, UNDP, GIZ, others) to improve synergies between their programs, with a potentially wider recognition of the importance of ecosystem services. While there is still a lot of “side by side” - rather than cooperation – among actors, encouraging first steps are being made.
Second, the increasing recognition of coastal and marine biodiversity can be a driver for climate policy and program development, including EBA. Mauritania’s fishery resources in its economic exclusive zone (EEZ) are among the largest in the Atlantic. However, illegal fishing, and ocean warming and deoxygenation due to climate change threaten long-term reproduction of fishing stocks and the livelihoods of artisanal fishers. Here, high-sea marine ecosystems as well as the wetlands of the country’s largest protected area, the Banc d’Arguin National Park (PNBA), provide a vital nursery for many fish species at a larger ecosystem level: in other words, marine biodiversity conservation has considerable impacts on the availability of commercial fish all along the Mauritanian coast. In fact, there is over four decades of research on the ecological functions of the Banc d’Arguin, and new efforts to understand larger ecosystem effects under climate change are underway. How could we capitalize on this knowledge? Perhaps through an EBA program, aiming on protecting high sea and the euphotic zone (the sea layer close to the surface that still receives enough light for photosynthesis to happen), with one focus on enhancing food security in the country. Such a program could bring together - under one umbrella - parks, researchers, government, practitioners, and the traditional populations, with added benefits for cooperation. I could argue for similar approaches along for Mauritania’s coast, including the Diawling National Park (PND) just North of the Senegal river and the PNBA. Marine and coastal natural resources (fishery and in the near future oil & gas exploitation) have an immense economic importance for Mauritania; that is why their sustainable development can also drive EBA.
Third and finally, finance instruments for conservation are in place and working, and this could evidently support the development of EBA interventions and policy. Mauritania’s interministerial Commission for Offshore Environment as well as the Environmental Fund at the Ministry of the Environment (FIE) both receive biodiversity offset payments, particularly from the oil & gas sector. These offset payments have already financed a baseline study on chemical micro-contamination at sea; future studies could, why not, focus on EBA. Otherwise, a conservation trust fund (BACoMaB) has raised capital and now finances a part of the recurrent costs of the PND and PNBA; a future project approach for this trust fund could, among other, include a capacity building program for the parks, support to multi-stakeholder dialogues (see my argument above), or financing the restoration and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of dunes restoration in Mauritania’s capital, Nouakchott. Dunes here serve as a natural protection against predicted sea-level rise, which in Nouakchott is almost certainly bound to lead to more inundations, increase groundwater salinity, and provoke the dying-off of native vegetation… There is no lack of technical capacity in Mauritania’s institutions to undertake these activities, but long-term finance to maintain these programs is difficult to assure. So the availability of these financial instruments provides an important piece in EBA development.
In conclusion, these short arguments may not seem satisfactory. Perhaps these conditions are insufficient to allow for broader EBA interventions. In fact, the debate on EBA in Mauritania and also West Africa as only recently begun. However, the “enabling environment” I’ve described here is rather synergetic - several important developments occur right now. And as the African saying goes, “you can’t start to climb a tree from the top.” So, if you would ask me personally, I am confident that EBA is a possibility, in Mauritania and also in West Africa. On any occasion, there is much work to be done.