A quick review of Nature-based Solutions and its future expected outcomes

By Diego Portugal Del Pino, Co-Lead, IUCN CEM Nature-based Solutions Thematic Group.

In the last decades, international organizations have proposed different innovative ways to tackle environmental issues with programs such as ‘’Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries’’ (REDD+), or ‘’European Commission Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Action Plan’’ (EU FLEGT). Most of these programs answer to problems occurring worldwide, and they require globally integrated actions to tackle them effectively. These issues include climate change, water security, food security, natural disasters, social and economic development, and human health; and they are recognised as societal challenges.

It is in this context that in 2016 (after the climate change negotiations in Paris) the concept of Nature-based Solutions (NbS)—which had first been promoted in a position paper by IUCN on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP 15—started gaining recognition as an over-arching policy term aiming to achieve human well-being and ecological benefits  by promoting the enhancement, maintenance and restoration of both biodiversity and ecosystems to overcome societal problems in a holistic approach. The European Commission also promoted NbS and adopted it in programs, such as Horizon 2020, and through several platforms, such as BiodivERSA ERA-NET, NATURVATION, OPPLA, that provide urban NbS case studies around the world.

NbS is an umbrella type approach for ecosystem-related/based approaches

NbS, which IUCN had formally adopted as one of the three priority areas of its global programme since 2012, is defined by the IUCN as, ‘’actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits‘‘. Other well-known terms such as Ecosystem-based Adaptation, Green & Blue Infrastructure, Urban Forests, Integrated Water Resource Management, etc. fall under the umbrella of NbS.

Then, knowing that there were similarities between terms, what was the reason to come out with NbS?

To answer this question, lets first consider the IUCN principles of NbS (see further analyses)

  1. Embrace nature conservation norms (and principles);
  2. can be implemented alone or in an integrated manner with other solutions to societal challenges (e.g. technological and engineering solutions);
  3. are determined by site-specific natural and cultural contexts that include traditional, local and scientific knowledge;
  4. produce societal benefits in a fair and equitable way, in a manner that promotes transparency and broad participation;
  5. maintain biological and cultural diversity and the ability of ecosystems to evolve over time;
  6. are applied at a landscape scale;
  7. recognise and address the trade-offs between the production of a few immediate economic benefits for development, and future options for the production of the full range of ecosystems services; and
  8. are an integral part of the overall design of policies, and measures or actions, to address a specific challenge.

These qualities enable the term to provide a plethora of co-benefits over other terms, and it is also regarded as cost-effective solutions for society and human well-being values. It is important not to create rivalries between terms but rather appreciate them as complementary of each other.

So, what makes NbS special?

We already established that there was an international need to address issues holistically. Environmental concerns are not restricted to one area of work and do not always respect political boundaries. For instance, management of a watershed often involves diverse management strategies, with a diverse number of stakeholders and ideologies. NbS, unlike other related terms, stands out for its multi-functionality and the broadness of its scope. The opportunity ahead of NbS is to address problems differently. Instead of using conventional approaches to problems, NbS invites us to use nature in our favour. Many are the examples worldwide that show us why choosing NbS over conventional engineering approaches (grey infrastructure) might be the optimal decision.

An excellent, very well-known example is the Catskills’ watershed in New York. In 1992, The US Environmental Protection Agency required the city to build a 6-9 billion USD water filtration system due to the ongoing pollution from sewage, fertilisers and pesticides in the watershed. The city’s administrators, nevertheless, opted for investing in natural capital to safeguard essential ecosystem services by protecting and managing the upper watershed as a forest reserve and thus avoiding the building of more dams. These actions were possible thanks to the united cooperation of many stakeholders involved and it allowed the city to save billions of dollars in water filtration costs. This case study and many other examples on NbS can be found online. For instance, Nature4Cities serves as a platform for NbS that provides links to research and innovations actions that are funded by Horizon 2020.

What are the next steps?

There seems to be confusion regarding what applies to be an NbS and what does not. To avoid misconceptions and safeguard the quality of the term, the IUCN and the Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM) are working on standardising the use of NbS. The process to define the global standard for NbS has already involved an internal and public consultation. We are currently undertaking a second public consultation, which will be open until October 14th 2019, and you are welcome to take part in this process! The official Global Standard is expected to be released at the next World Conservation Congress in June 2020, to be held in Marseille, France.

To take part in crafting the Global Standard, you are invited to use the online survey, in English, French or Spanish. If you are interested in testing the standard in your case study, please feel free to contact.

Likewise, if you have further questions or enquiries, feel free to contact me.

More information on CEM’s work on NbS can be found here.

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