The Mexican city of Xalapa is surrounded by ecosystems that are not only home to stunning flora and fauna, but also provide crucial services to the city and its 580,000 inhabitants.

The mesophilic forest, a tropical mountain forest neighboring the city, provides 30 percent of Xalapa’s water supply, while the diversity of soils and vegetation around it is a vital carbon pool. But both these natural assets and the city itself are feeling the effects of climate change. Fluctuating temperatures and rainfall patterns are destabilizing the mountain slopes around the city, leading to frequent landslides, while heavy rains in the mountains cascade into urban areas, affecting residents of the city.

“Human resilience to climate change depends on ecosystems and we need urgent measures to conserve them,” says Isabel García, author of a study that examines the climate scenarios of Xalapa in 2039.

In particular, García’s study identified urban sprawl, and its effect on the surrounding environment, as a factor that exacerbates the climate risks facing the city.

The mesophilic forest provides 30 percent of the water supply to Xalapa. Photo: Conacyt.

Nature-based solutions

Local authorities are now turning to nature-based solutions to cope with the effects of climate change. In partnership with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), they plan to restore areas of mesophilic forest around the city under the CityAdapt project supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

CityAdapt, a five-year initiative, is working in Latin America and the Caribbean to support cities in their efforts to adapt to climate change, an issue that is increasingly a priority for municipalities in the region, according to the regional director of UNEP for Latin America and the Caribbean, Leo Heileman.

“In Latin America and the Caribbean, where 80 percent of the population lives in cities, we need to move from vicious cycles of degradation to a virtuous dynamic of resilient ecosystems,” says Heileman.

The rapid urban expansion of Xalapa has often led to the degradation of ecosystems. Photo: CityAdapt.

Xalapa is the first Latin American city to harness the potential of ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA), an approach that uses nature’s services to help people adapt to climate change. By taking advantage of the natural environment, for example trees in regulating water flow and preventing landslides and erosion, EbA can help reduce both flooding and drought, and often provides solutions much more cost-effective than engineering structures built to fulfill the same role.

“One of the main objectives of this project is to improve the capacity of local governments to face the adverse effects of climate change,” says Sergio Angón, National Coordinator of CityAdapt in Mexico.

Within the framework of the project, two reports have already been produced, one on vulnerability to climate change and the other on climate scenarios for Xalapa to 2039, key for decision-makers.

The vulnerability analysis identified the areas most exposed to climate change. It also measured the adaptive capacity of ecosystems that are providers of environmental services such as surface water supply, soil retention and carbon storage.

The climate scenarios report includes 20-year projections. It is estimated, for example, that by 2039 the temperature in the mesophilic forest could increase by 1.8%, which could affect the biodiversity of the mountain mesophilic forest and probably greater diseases of the coffee crop.

Farmers will learn about sustainable agroforestry practices that combat climate change, ensure food security and protect biodiversity. Photo: UNEP.

Balancing people and nature

The CityAdapt project aims to help Xalapa achieve a vital balance between people and nature.

“It is about Xalapa advancing in an orderly manner towards a new model of land management, in which resilience is the key issue,” explained the municipal president of Xalapa, Hipólito Rodríguez.

“The second component of the City Adapt project has to do with the implementation of pilot actions at the basin level, at the urban landscape level and at the local community level,” according to coordinator Sergio Angón.

Pilots are already underway on rainwater harvesting in public buildings and schools, as well as on better production practices. One of the first initiatives, which will benefit 2,000 people, revolves around the production of edible mushrooms, due to its high economic value and ease of reproduction.

Until 2021 there will be other pilots around soil conservation and reforestation. It could restore the landscape on the Estropajo hill, especially affected by landslides, and create ecological corridors in the city linking green areas.

“This is an opportunity to rethink the way of building the city,” says Angélica Moya.


Article originally published on November 20, 2019 on the UNEP website –