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Towards equitable nature-based solutions to climate change in southern Africa’s water towers

Nature-based solutions involve working with nature to promote human well-being and to support climate mitigation and adaptation actions to reduce climate risk. However, there is some 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. These challenges are compounded by the fact that there is very little research on the longevity of nature-based solutions under a constantly changing climate.

The overall objective of this project is to support decision-making, planning, and implementation processes across 11 countries in southern Africa to ensure that nature-based solution initiatives at local and national levels are more equitable and sustainable. It focuses on southern African water towers, which are mountains and plateaus critical to the water supply. Just under half of these towers have already been earmarked for nature-based solutions, particularly for global benefits such as carbon sinks.

The project will identify the biophysical limits of the nature-based solutions proposed for the different water towers under future climate change and model the global carbon versus regional and local water trade-offs involved. It will unpack the economic, social, and political processes and trade-offs that shape which interventions are adopted and who benefits (with a focus on gender dimensions). It will explore the constraints to implementation, particularly in terms of ensuring fair distribution of global versus local benefits and avoiding local negative outcomes. It will also engage with the policy and practice communities to consider the findings and examine what is needed to support more equitable and sustainable implementation of nature-based solutions in southern Africa’s water towers.

Project ID
Project Status
36 months
IDRC Officer
Georgina Kemp
Total Funding
CA$ 539,200.00
South Africa
Climate-Resilient Food Systems
Climate-Resilient Food Systems
Climate Change
Institution Country
South Africa
Project Leader
Petra B. Holden
University of Cape Town