Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) — a subset of nature-based approaches to help people adapt to climate change — is an increasingly popular strategy. Evidence from 13 initiatives in 12 countries shows that EbA can provide important, wide-reaching and long-term benefits relating to adaptation, the environment and social issues. However, there can be differences and trade-offs between who benefits, and when and where benefits accrue. EbA can be cost-effective; often more cost-effective than alternative approaches. Given these findings, EbA should be prioritised when planning climate change adaptation strategies. Those implementing EbA should adopt participatory processes, work with local organisations, value local knowledge and take measures to address differential benefits and trade-offs. In this briefing, we present key findings and summarise the policy, capacity and governance conditions that enable EbA to flourish, extracting lessons for both government bodies and on-the-ground implementers.