EbA Evidence and Policy: Costa Rica

IIED and IUCN are using evidence from a project in the Sixaola River Basin in Costa Rica to support the Climate Change Directorate in the Ministry of Environment and Energy to adopt effective ecosystem-based adaptation as part of its approach to dealing with climate change

July 2015 - September 2019
Xiaoting Hou Jones

 Xiaoting Hou Jones was a senior researcher in the biodiversity team of IIED's Natural Resources research group until March 2024

Ecosystem-based adaptation
A programme of work focused on people using biodiversity and ecosystem services to adapt to climate change and promote sustainable development
This bridge crossing the Yorkin river in the Sixaola Basin is used daily by local communities, including children on their way to school in the early morning. (Photo: Paul Aragón,©IUCN)

This bridge crossing the Yorkin river in the Sixaola Basin is used daily by local communities, including children on their way to school in the early morning. (Photo: copyright Paul Aragón/IUCN)

Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) involves people using biodiversity and ecosystem services to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and promote sustainable development. Between 2015 and 2019, IIED, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) are jointly implementing a project called 'Ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation: strengthening the evidence and informing policy' (EbA Evidence and Policy).

Working with local partners in 12 countries in Asia, Africa and Central and South America, the project aims to gather practical evidence and develop country-specific policy guidance on EbA, and to promote EbA at international level. More information and all the case studies sites are available via the main project page

What are we doing in Costa Rica?

The Adaptation, Vulnerability and Ecosystems (AVE) project operated in Costa Rica (and an area of Panama) in the Sixaola River basin from 2015 to 2018. The Sixaola River basin is rich in biodiversity and characterised by tropical and subtropical broadleaf forests and large and small river ecosystems. The AVE project focused on the Bribri indigenous communities from both Costa Rica and Panama  that do not recognise political boundaries. The government of Costa Rica recognises the Bribri indigenous territory, with its own rules and governance structures, but Bribri territory is not recognised by the government of Panama.

Subsistence agriculture is important for these communities, and they grow bananas, plantains and cocoa. View an infographic on the IUCN website about the region (PDF).

AVE project activities were implemented with the engagement of a local NGO, Corredor Biológico Talamanca Caribe. EbA activities included: productive transformation of local farms through crop diversification and measures to restore local biodiversity and water system functioning; strengthening local water governance structures; establishing demonstration sites for soil conservation practices; and establishing local timber and fruit tree nurseries.

In this short film (in Spanish), Miriam Morales, a community leader from the community of Yorkin, explains the diversity in farms and the effects of climate change on farming practices. 

And in this film (in Spanish), Marta Pérez de Madrid (IUCN) explains the importance of the EbA approach for livelihoods in Mesoamerica. 

IIED and IUCN have used the EbA Evidence and Policy project's framework for assessing EbA effectiveness to consult with communities and national and local government staff involved with the project. Interviews were carried out in November 2017. The findings will be combined with those from the 11 other countries to help show climate change policymakers when and why EbA is effective. 

Informing policy

The application of the EbA Evidence and Policy project's framework with different stakeholders was crucial. Results emerging indicate that diversification in farming has resulted in increased food security in particular, but longer-term research is needed to assess this over both rainy and dry seasons. The project has also improved ecosystem resilience and helped maintain or restore ecosystem services, although it could take time for improvements to the delivery of some services to materialise. Interviewees felt that the project work was cost-effective and compared favourably with other adaptation options. A range of policy, institutional and capacity barriers to implementing EbA were apparent at local, provincial and national levels.

Results from the EbA Evidence and Policy project are informing the Sixaola Binational River Basin Commission on the importance of and opportunities for EbA in an overall climate change adaptation strategy, as well as IUCN’s engagement with the Climate Change Directorate in the Ministry of Environment and Energy. IUCN Costa Rica is working to support the Climate Change Directorate to adopt effective EbA as part of its strategy by including a strategic guideline in its National Adaptation Policy.

Advocacy work is aiming to increase awareness of the importance of monitoring and evaluation systems at the project level in order to understand results and improve EbA projects. 

Update from IUCN Cost Rica


The National Adaptation Policy of Costa Rica was approved and launched: the Tweet below shows the launch event.


  • IUCN participated in the Policy Drafting Committee of the National Adaptation Policy of Costa Rica. As a result of joint advocacy efforts and the commitment of the government, EbA is included in one of the strategic guidelines of the National Adaptation Policy. 
  • Inputs were given to the development of the National Adaptation Plan. IUCN, together with other organisations, arranged a Consultation Workshop about both the National Adaptation Policy and the Guidelines for the National Adaptation Plan.  
  • With the support of the project, IUCN helped the Ministry of Environment to organise a national workshop to discuss information and data access, as a way of having more up to date information for EbA implementation.
  • The EbA field work in the Sixaola River Basin was featured in the Nacion Newspaper, the leading newspaper in Costa Rica in terms of circulation/reach. 
  • The team applied the EbA Evidence and Policy project's framework for assessing EbA effectiveness with multiple stakeholders


IUCN was focused in the planning of EbA actions in the field and contributing to the baseline study for the EbA Evidence and Policy project's framework.

Additional resources

Comunidades con inteligencia natural (PDF), IUCN, (Spanish language publication)

Explorando la eficacia de la Adaptación basada en Ecosistemas en el campo, IUCN web page (in Spanish)

La Cuenca del río Sixaola: Costa Rica y Panamá (PDF), Nazareth Porras (2016), IUCN (Spanish language)


International Climate Initiative (IKI)
The German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) supports the IKI on the basis of a decision adopted by the German Bundestag.