Climate and Ecosystem Change Adaptation

, ,

  • Large-scale climate and ecosystem changes, resulting mainly from human activities, are affecting the global environment to an unprecedented extent and threatening the sustainability of ecosystems that are essential to our survival and well-being. Adapting to climate and ecosystem change is a challenge resulting from the uncertainty of future climate, difficulties in downscaling global changes to local impacts and assessing future development–environment interactions. Enhancing resilience for sustainability should be the guiding principle in designing adaptation strategies within the context of development planning.

    Through the Climate and Ecosystem Change Adaptation Programme, the UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP) undertakes specific activities in Asia and Africa will promote higher education and research in adaptation to climate and ecosystems change in water and agriculture sectors; ecological security through the efficient management of transboundary basins; the management of urban risks; and capacity development for integrated environmental modelling. Land, water and cultural connections will be explored, in particular in Southeast Asian communities, to identify and enhance local knowledge and to strengthen resilience to climate and ecosystem change.

    The programme is closely linked to the research and teaching activities of postgraduate programmes of UNU-ISP, including the Master of Science in Sustainability, Development and Peace and a forthcoming PhD programme, which is expected to launch in September 2012. The research programme further contributes to other UNU-ISP teaching and capacity development activities, such as the Postgraduate Course on Building Resilience to Climate Change and other short-term postgraduate and credited courses.


    The UNU Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (UNU-INRA) is the twining partner in this activity. A five-year research and capacity development fund was granted to UNU-ISP to conduct the project titled “Enhancing Resilience to Climate and Ecosystem Changes in Semi-Arid Africa: An Integrated Approach”. This funding scheme was developed by the Japan Science and Technology Agency and the Japan International Cooperation Agency to promote international joint research targeting global issues and envisaging future utilization of research outcomes . Implemented through collaboration with Official Development Assistance, the scheme aims to acquire new knowledge leading to resolution of global issues and advancement of science and technology. Given UNU’s strategic priority on Africa and the advantage of having UNU-ISP’s twin institute in UNU-INRA, the proposal mainly focuses on reducing vulnerability and strengthening resilience against climate and ecosystem changes in Ghana, through both technical and institutional capacity development. The proposal was prepared in November 2010 by UNU-ISP in close collaboration with UNU-INRA, the University of Tokyo, Kyoto University, and the University of Ghana.

    Focal Point

    Senior Academic Programme Officer Dr. Srikantha Herath is the focal point for the programme.


    The primary purpose of this programme is to carry out research on adaptation planning, evaluation and implementation to establish ‘adaptation science’ by linking ‘sustainability science’ and ‘ecological security’ with ‘adaptation’. The derived principles will be used to mainstream adaptation to development planning in the water and food sectors that have the highest impact on the most vulnerable communities. The programme will focus on three sub research items: a) water management under climate and ecosystem change, especially on flood risk reduction and water cycle management with a focus on urban and transboundary issues; b) biodiversity and resilience linkages for sustainability; and c) indigenous management systems in the mountainous regions of Mainland Southeast Asia (MMSEA), focusing on how indigenous systems adapt to global changes to enhance the capacity of ethnic communities in dealing with them.


    The programme takes an integrated approach to local capacity development for climate and ecosystem change adaptation. The main components of the programme are applied field projects supported by postgraduate research, capacity development training for implementation agencies and policy synthesis. Networks of leading institutes of higher education are established to promote development of common educational programmes and research projects to share resources and experiences. To address capacity development needs across all levels, advanced training of in-service professionals working in implementation agencies will be undertaken thus improving interaction among field professionals and the higher education sector, and in addition, educational programmes will be delivered as a part of UNU’s postgraduate school. A number of interdisciplinary case studies will be carried out in different communities involving postgraduate students in cooperation with partner universities and stakeholders.


    Gender perspectives are an intrinsic part of the social–ecological systems of local communities. A gender perspective is essential in developing a holistic approach to natural resource management. Local stakeholder participation from case study regions will consist equally of both men and women. Gender perspectives are not categorically highlighted in higher education networks. However, partners will be strongly encouraged to keep in mind the vulnerabilities of weaker sections of society, which include women and children, while considering adaptation strategies for the region.

    Target Audience

    Climate and biodiversity are both local phenomena that depend on the geographical, biophysical and socioeconomic characteristics of a particular location. Hence, adaptation strategies developed through this programme will target all stakeholders including local universities (including faculties, students), research institutions (including researchers and end-users of the research), civil society organizations and local and national governments. International agencies, donors, INGOs and corporations (having CSR mandates) also form the main audience of the programme. These two large segments, considered the audience of the programme, will be approached with differently packaged sets of information for effective dissemination of useful results and success stories.

    Intended Impact

    Impact: Contribution to a UN assessment/issue/query
    Target: Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
    How: The project outputs are communicated to the climate- and biodiversity-related information synthesis of the UN, namely IPCC for climate change and IPBES for biodiversity issues.

    Impact: Contribution to the work of a specific UN agency
    Target: The climate and ecosystem adaptation network will be supporting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) Nairobi Plan of Action as well as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the World Meteorological Organization and the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) are other agencies that are significantly collaborating with UNU approaches to capacity-building and knowledge generation and dissemination. The programme is also expected to provide scientific support to the implementation of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems programme.
    How: This will be achieved through participation in assessment reports of ISDR, UNFCCC, CBD and UNESCO, in addition to jointly organizing training programs and joint publications.

    Impact: Curriculum development
    Target: The programme will produce educational curricula for postgraduate studies for universities in Asia Pacific on climate and ecosystems change adaptation.
    How: The programme has formed a University Network on Climate and Ecosystems Change Adaptation Research (UNCECAR) that is jointly developing curricula for postgraduate studies. Already two of the sessions have been conducted and the programme is now developing further teaching materials.

    Impact: Capacity development in developed/developing countries
    Target: Capacity development of academic and professional communities as well as policymakers.
    How: Within the framework of UNCECAR the programme is conducting a number of research programmes. The research outcomes are communicated to relevant communities through training programmes especially developed for dissemination and training purposes.

    Impact: Supporting academic communities
    Target: The programme will support development and expansion of a university network on ‘climate and ecosystem change adaptation’ in Asia and Africa. The ‘Culture and Environment’ network in mainland Southeast Asia will also be developed.
    How: This will be achieved through organization of a series of focused regional workshops, exchange and cooperation visits, making an online repository available to participating universities and contribution to the Interdisciplinary Task Force on Traditional Forest Knowledge of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations.

    Research Findings

    Quantitative assessments on flood risk increase for different return periods in Sri Lanka and Thailand have been undertaken. The rice yield reduction as well as economic impacts on rice production under future climate change has been estimated for Thailand, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Viet Nam and India.

    Policy Bridging

    The research conducted under the aegis of climate and ecosystem adaptation is likely to deliver results that are robust from academic and scientific perspectives. While it will be relevant to local needs, it will be dovetailing emerging global perspectives and challenges to cater to long-term adaptation needs. Therefore, the research results will be able to provide significant policy-relevant guidance and recommendations.

    Value Added

    The research conducted under this programme will be actively shared with the climate and ecosystem change community mainly coordinated by UNFCCC and the CBD secretariat. It will contribute to enhancing UNU’s presence in internationally important forums such as Conference of the Parties meetings and global assessments. One of the important value additions of this research is to advocate for integrated approaches that holistically encompass climate as well as ecosystem changes under one programme.


    This programme will synthesize knowledge and experiences available within UNU and a number of Japanese institutes of higher education in partnership with leading universities in Asia and Africa to produce: 1) a postgraduate curriculum, 2) a set of demonstration projects, 3) robust capacity development modules that address the needs of the higher education sector and practising professionals and 4) to establish ‘adaptation science’ to be followed in developing adaptation strategies to climate change.

    Timeline/Programme Cycle

    The programme spans a period of 72 months, from January 2010 to December 2015.


    This programme is ongoing and an international advisory board comprising of senior academics from the UNCECAR network will review the activities, suggest necessary changes and offer guidance on further improvement at regular intervals.


    Adaptation is a local phenomenon, to be studied at the locality of each research project. However, the results should be summarized in a manner that would be useful in different parts of the world. In the case of climate change impacts, leadership for local capacity development needs to be taken in the postgraduate education and research domain. Catering to diverse academic standards and practices to develop common educational programmes will be a big challenge.

    Expected Duration

    The programme is expected to run for a duration of 72 months, from 1 January 2010 through 31 December 2015.

  • Activities within the programme will involve cooperation between UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace and four partners:

    • UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security
    • UNU Institute of Advanced Studies
    • UNU Institute for Natural Resources in Africa
    • UNU Institute for Water, Environment and Health
  • Dr. Kazuhiko Takeuchi, Director
    United Nations University
    Institute for Sustainability and Peace
    United Nations University
    5-53-70 Jingumae
    Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
    Japan 150-8925

    T: +81 3 5467-1212
    F: +81 3 3499-2828