Links between Climate Change Mitigation,
Adaptation and Development in Land Policy and
Ecosystem Restoration Projects: Lessons from
South Africa


Links between climate change adaptation, mitigation and development co-benefits in
land policy and ecosystem restoration projects are hampered by limited understanding of how
multi-faceted policy, institutions and projects interact. This paper explores perceptions of co-benefits
produced by two community-level projects that pursue ecosystem restoration in South Africa.
It develops a new analytical framework to assess the enabling and constraining factors in delivering
triple wins for adaptation, mitigation and development. The aim is to investigate the potential for
integrating community perspectives into policy and project development and implementation. Data
collected through mixed-methods (policy analysis, semi-structured interviews, participatory site visits
and focus groups) are analysed using thematic analysis. We find that while the projects investigated
have potential to deliver triple wins, siloed approaches presently hinder effective implementation.
In particular, project focus on job creation hampers the achievement of longer-term mitigation and
adaptation benefits. Operational flexibility, long-term goals, multi-sectoral cooperation and enabling
frameworks are imperative to the achievement of triple wins. Findings provide valuable lessons that
can be applied across sub-Saharan Africa towards achieving triple wins in climate and development
policy and practice, especially those developed with job creation and ecological restoration aims.


Mitigation of and adaptation to anthropogenic climate change ultimately share the same objective,
namely to moderate its undesirable impacts. The two approaches, however, are fundamentally
dissimilar, differing from each other, inter alia, with respect to the typical spatial and temporal scales on which they are considered. Both mitigation and adaptation interventions are usually undertaken at the regional or local levels. Yet, while the benefits of mitigation are global, those of adaptation are relatively localized and private [1]. Furthermore, whereas mitigation is a long-term effort requiring long-term commitment, adaptation is often a short-term coping strategy [2]. Owing to such major differences, the types of policies and sectors involved in the implementation of mitigation and adaptation strategies inevitably vary. Füssel and Klein ([3], p. 304) note that mitigation and adaptation policies are ‘formulated largely independent of each other’, while Swart and Raes [4] argue that in most economic sectors concrete options for win–win outcomes that both reduce emissions and vulnerability to climate change remain limited. It is worthwhile noting at this point, however, that important exceptions have been highlighted in the literature, particularly in the land and water management, as well as in the urban planning sectors.

For instance, urban green spaces help to improve the physical and mental well-being of residents,
while delivering at the same time adaptation benefits (e.g., cooling and storm-water drainage) and
mitigation benefits through, for example, the shading of buildings [5]. Reforestation and agroforestry
schemes can help, for instance, to sequester carbon, prevent flooding, enhance biodiversity, rehabilitate degraded lands, provide a local energy supply for the rural poor and improve land use and watershed management [6]. In the water sector, hydropower facilities can reduce fossil fuel use and improve energy security [7]. Obviously, while exploiting the possible synergies mentioned above could offer opportunities for multiple benefits, there can also be trade-offs. Adaptation projects at the local level may in some cases increase energy use and associated greenhouse gas emissions, while hydropower developments could have consequences for flows of water and sediment deposition further downstream [4]. Notwithstanding trade-offs, there has been an increasing recognition among decision-makers and governance scholars of the important role mitigation and adaptation can play in managing future climate change. At the same time, there has also been a growing realisation among involved stakeholders of the threat climate change poses to development, and the consequent need to mainstream climate change into nations’ overall development trajectories [8]. Several countries have already taken steps to integrate or reconcile mitigation, adaptation and development in order to leverage the associated benefits, which include reduced poverty, increased employment opportunities, improvements in health, energy and food security, as well as climate benefits [9]. However, these countries—especially in the developing world—have also critically recognised that development gains of the past decades are far from secure and stable, as they have been made in climate-sensitive sectors [10]. As a result of such shifts in policy thinking, there has been growing interest since the mid-2000s in identifying integrated climate change planning approaches that seek to achieve synergies for mitigation, adaptation and development [11,12]. Opportunities to harness these benefits together are referred to as “triple wins” [13], although investigations aimed at aligning climate change and development trajectories in policy and practice have produced a range of terminologies with varied spatial and conceptual emphases on each dimension. “Low carbon development”, “climate resilient development”, “co-benefits” and “climate compatible development” are all examples of operational concepts currently in use in the literature which underpin achievement of triple wins [12]. A subset of studies on triple wins has assessed the aforementioned dimensions through policy analyses across the Southern African Development Community, where high climatic uncertainty limits accuracy in projecting future
socio-economic development trajectories [7,14], and confirms the region as a location where further
investigation is required. Focusing on the project level, Stringer et al. [8] indicate that triple wins
in southern Africa can be achieved only through a systematic change across all governance levels,
enabling a shift in the overall development landscape. More broadly, Tanner et al. [15] observe that
institutional failings are a major constraint to delivering triple wins, due to the pressures from multiple actors towards fostering short-term improvements, rather than longer-term triple win outcomes. Suckall et al. [13] stress the importance of implementing local climate policy interventions and community-based management to avoid adverse adaptation effects that might threaten achievement of mitigation and development goals across temporal and spatial scales. Dyer et al. [16] observe that adequate participatory practices and community engagement, combined with establishment of successful multi-stakeholder partnerships, are key factors for project and policy objectives to be met. However, the capacity to set adequate objectives that address mitigation, adaptation and development is hampered by the difficulty in engaging locally to tailor actions that can address community-specific needs [17]. Focus on mitigation, adaptation and development dimensions varies across stakeholder groups at multiple levels, and there is a need to better understand how best to assess and integrate local-level perspectives into climate and development policy and practiceTo address this gap, this paper proposes a new comprehensive framework to investigate local perceptions of adaptation, mitigation and development co-benefits produced by two community-level projects that pursue ecological restoration in South Africa.

This allowed investigation of the following two research questions:

  1. What are the policy drivers of projects that support delivery of triple wins (Section 3.1), and what
    are the reported project achievements and challenges? (Section 3.2);
  2. What are the mitigation, adaptation and development co-benefits produced across the case
    studies at community-level, and how well do these map onto the challenges perceived by people?
    (Section 3.3).

Data was collected through mixed-methods, including policy analysis, semi-structured interviews,
participatory site visits and focus group discussions, and analysed using thematic analysis.
While there is potential for the delivery of triple wins, data show that siloed approaches hinder
effective implementation. By discussing key opportunities and challenges in the integration of
community perspectives into policy and project development and implementation through case studies from South Africa, these findings provide valuable lessons that can be applied across sub-Saharan Africa and the developing world more widely in order to facilitate the achievement of triple wins for adaptation, mitigation and development. A further contribution of this paper is the development of a novel analytical framework that can be applied as a useful tool for empirical project analyses.