Nature-based Solutions (NbS) involve working with nature to promote human well-being and ecosystem benefits, and can support climate mitigation and adaptation actions and reduce climate risk. However, the widespread popularisation of NbS through various northern-driven, high-level campaigns has raised concern amongst scholars in the Global South regarding the appropriateness of some of these solutions in local contexts. This is especially applicable in Africa where many peoples’ livelihoods are heavily dependent on their landscapes and the multiple ecosystem services derived from these landscapes. Furthermore, the impacts of climate change on many of these critical ecosystem services are not yet fully understood. NbS tend to be much more complex and contested in practice than is generally implied in the dominant narratives. The outcomes of these solutions are often mixed and dependent on the institutions, politics, and particularities of place. Little work has been undertaken on the longevity of NbS under a constantly changing climate. The TES NbS project explores the role of NbS in reducing risk and vulnerability to climate change in developing regions, focusing on Southern African Water Towers, which are mountainous areas (including high-lying hills and plateaus) important for water supply to lowland areas (e.g. Viviroli et al 2007, 2020 and Le Maitre et al 2017).
Thus far, synthesis research has concentrated on the Global North despite numerous NbS interventions and multilateral projects in the Global South. There has been a dominant focus on global benefits of carbon sequestration. There is limited consideration of water-carbon trade-offs, differential benefits and disbenefits, and resilience of NbS and associated outcomes to a changing climate. The TES NbS project therefore aims to answer the overarching question: Will the NbS that have been proposed, planned, and/or implemented in Southern African Water Towers be equitable in terms of the distribution of global versus local benefits; and will the intended benefits be sustained under future climate conditions?
The overall research objective is to inform more appropriate choice, design and implementation of NbS in Water Towers, that would safeguard the provisioning and regulating ecosystem services essential for vulnerable local communities and promote resilient and equitable water supply and carbon storage services. The project team endeavours to provide the necessary evidence to envision and support transformative pathways and approaches for equitable and sustainable NbS that are well-adjusted to the Southern African context and that epitomise wise investment of limited adaptation and mitigation resources. The intersecting objectives of this research are to:
Determine the factors that need to be considered when identifying, planning and implementing NbS in Southern Africa’s Water Towers to maximise equitable social benefits to upstream and downstream vulnerable communities and social groups.
Identify the social-ecological limits and constraints of the landscape restoration/protection NbS proposed for the different Water Towers, including the unintended impacts, especially for vulnerable, natural resource dependent groups such as women, that could result from these NbS under current and future climate conditions.
Build an understanding of the distribution of global versus local benefits of the NbS that have been proposed, planned, and/or implemented in Southern African Water Towers, particularly in terms of the trade-offs between water and carbon related ecosystem services.
Inform long term decision making by assessing whether intended benefits can be sustained under future climate conditions.
The TES NbS project is focused around the Water Towers that supply rivers in 11 Southern African countries, namely; Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Review of the ‘state of the art’ knowledge on NbS in Southern Africa, including seeking expert opinion from a range of stakeholders.
Identify the biophysical limits of the landscape restoration/protection NbS proposed for the different Water Towers under future climate change.
Model global carbon versus regional and local water trade-offs of landscape restoration/protection NbS.
Unpack the economic, social and political processes and trade-offs that shape which interventions are adopted and who benefits (with a focus on the gender dimensions).
Explore the constraints to implementation, particularly in terms of ensuring fair distribution of global versus local benefits and in avoiding local negative outcomes.
Engage with the policy and practice communities to consider the findings and what is needed to support more equitable and sustainable implementation of NbS in Southern Africa’s Water Towers and the lessons for other developing regions.
PI: DrPetra Holden
Co-PI: ProfSheona Shackleton
Project team members: Dr Vernon Visser, Dr Assumpta Nnakenyi, Dr Monicah Mbiba, Dr Piotr Wolski, Ms Cherie Dirk, Dr Chris Trisos, Prof Mark New, Prof Gina Ziervogel, Prof Martin Wittenberg, Ms Claire Austin, (University of Cape Town), Prof Cang Hui (Stellenbosch University) and Prof Simon Dadson (Oxford University).
A collaborative partnership between:
African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI), University of Cape Town
Climate Risk Lab, University of Cape Town
Climate System Analysis Group (CSAG), University of Cape Town
Mathematical Biosciences Hub, Stellenbosch University
School of Geography and the Environment (SoGE), Oxford University
Statistics in Ecology, Environment and Conservation (SEEC), University of Cape Town