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Assessing how ecosystem-based adaptations to climate change influence community wellbeing: a Vanuatu case study


Climate change poses significant threats to wellbeing and livelihoods of people and the ecosystems in many Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Adaptation solutions must counteract these threats while also supporting development in vulnerable SIDS. Suitable options need to ensure that connections between the social, economic, and environmental dimensions of socio-economic systems are defined in a way that can support how decisions are made (and by whom) and how these can impact on other parts of these systems. This is particularly important in many Pacific SIDS, where communities practise customary natural resource management and continue to rely on local natural resources. In this study, we model the anticipated impacts of climate change and the benefits of the ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) approaches on community wellbeing in Vanuatu. To do this, we applied participatory and expert elicitation methods to develop a Bayesian network model, which was designed to evaluate community wellbeing responses at four explicit spatial scales. The model includes both acute and chronic impacts of climate change, the impact of coral bleaching, and the potential loss of Vanuatu’s fringing coral reefs. The model predicts that all proposed EbA interventions will have a positive impact on wellbeing in all four locations to some degree, by either directly improving the integrity of Vanuatu’s ecosystems or by protecting these ecosystems as a positive spill-over of related actions. Significantly, it also predicts that if climate change exceeds 1.5 °C of warming, the costs of achieving the same level of wellbeing are increased.

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  1. Pronounced ‘custom’ and loosely translating as such, though the term encompasses broader concepts associated with culture, taboos, and natural resource management.

  2. In the cost-benefit analysis from Buckwell et al. (2020), the authors estimate costs in terms of programme need and benefits in terms of ecosystem service benefit on a per hectare per year basis. Our BN considers only programme costs, taken on an island by island needs basis, determined mainly by the population requirements, so therefore we use a per person cost of programme implementation.


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This research was undertaken through an MoU with the Tafea Provincial Government and under a research agreement with the Vanuatu National Cultural Centre representing the Government of the Republic of Vanuatu and the local community. We hope the information arising from this study is of assistance to them in planning for climate-resilient development pathways. We are grateful to the Port Resolution community for their permission to undertake this research and for their cooperation, generosity, humour, and hospitality. Thanks also to Alan Dan, our Tanna Kastom advisor and community liaison.


The research was supported by a grant to Griffith University from a charitable organisation which neither seeks nor permits publicity for its efforts. The donor had no influence on any aspect of the design, execution, or documentation of this research.

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Correspondence to Oz Sahin.

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Communicated by Tony Weir

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Sahin, O., Hadwen, W.L., Buckwell, A. et al. Assessing how ecosystem-based adaptations to climate change influence community wellbeing: a Vanuatu case study. Reg Environ Change 21, 90 (2021).

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  • Participatory Bayesian networks
  • Adaptation planning
  • Small Island Developing States
  • Adaptation cost and benefit