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A Brief Introduction to Nature-based Solutions

Cecilia Pera
“There is growing recognition and awareness that nature can help provide viable solutions that use and deploy the properties of natural ecosystems… These Nature-based Solutions provide sustainable, cost-effective, multi-purpose and flexible alternatives for various objectives. Working with nature, rather than against it, can further pave the way towards a more resource efficient, competitive and greener economy.”  (1) The European Commission

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a reminder of the disruptive relationship between humans and nature and how it may have consequences on our health and our economy. Today, our planet is facing a dual climate and biodiversity crisis. On one hand, the climate emergency is threatening millions of people with extreme heat waves and sea level rises; on the other hand, human activities are having an impact on natural resources in terms of biodiversity loss, threatening millions of animal and plant species with extinction (2). This is why the fight against climate change and the decarbonization of our economy, while crucial, are not sufficient.  We need to shift to nature-positive models that protect and enhance biodiversity and implement solutions that are at the crossroads between fighting climate change and protecting and preserving our planet’s natural ecosystems. Nature-based Solutions (NbS) have the extraordinary ability to address the dual challenge we are facing. 
What are Nature-based Solutions and how do they work? ClimateSeed has prepared a brief and simple introduction to Nature-based solutions in which we answer the most important questions. Let's get started!
What are Nature-based Solutions?
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines Nature-based Solutions 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” (3). In general, the terms “Nature-based Solutions” or “ecosystem-based approaches” are used to describe non-traditional and alternative approaches to address environmental issues which benefit biodiversity and support ecosystems. According to the WWF, NbS harness the power of nature to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They are win-win solutions that involve protecting, restoring, and sustainably managing ecosystems to address society's challenges and promote human well-being (4). NbS can be fundamental in climate change mitigation strategies as ecosystem services are used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to conserve and expand carbon sinks by increasing natural ecosystems’ resilience.
The fundamental concept underlying NbS is the idea that healthy ecosystems can perform a range of services that human well-being depends on. These include storing carbon, controlling floods, providing food, and clean air and water among others. NbS is a specific concept that differs from traditional biodiversity conservation in that it supports biodiversity while aiming to address societal goals, including poverty alleviation and socioeconomic development. 
Why are they important? 
The United Nations has stated the importance of Nature-based Solutions for climate and biodiversity and to achieve the goals stated by the Paris Agreement. Research has shown that NbS have the potential to provide over one-third of the cost-effective climate mitigation needed between now and 2030 to stabilize warming to below 2°C (5). Furthermore, the UN has predicted that adequate investment in NbS will reduce the financial consequences of climate change as well as help create new jobs and support a greener economy. NbS can also help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in that they promote access to fresh water, improved livelihoods, and food security from sustainable food systems. Finally, NbS provide a valid alternative to technological solutions, which generally rely on finite resources and often need to be improved and replaced (6).
Which concrete measures fall into the category of Nature-based Solutions? 
NbS is a term that incorporates a wide range of solutions including the protection and management of natural ecosystems, urban policies that include green infrastructures in cities and land use policies that encourage a shift towards more sustainable agricultural practices (7). NbS can be implemented to protect and restore ecosystems with a high potential to sequester CO2. The protection and restoration of forests is probably the most well known NbS for climate change mitigation, but other fundamental ecosystems include peatlands, mangroves, wetlands, savannahs, and coral reefs. Measures which reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land use or land use change, for example the restoration of peatlands formerly used for agriculture, are also considered to be NbS. Finally, NbS can be carried out in urban areas to increase green spaces, such as green parks, gardens, restored wetland, sustainable urban drainage systems or green roofs, thus increasing well-being and health of the local population. 
What are the advantages of Nature-based Solutions?
The main advantage of NbS is the fact that they offer many co-benefits for the environment, economy, and society, especially at the local and regional levels (8). For example, forest restoration increases CO2 sequestration, protects biodiversity, and may create local employment opportunities or protect local communities from flooding. Restored peatlands not only create habitats for endangered species and improve the water balances of entire landscapes, but also significantly contribute to greenhouse gas emission reductions.
NbS have reduced upfront capital costs and are often more cost-effective in the long term than purely technological approaches. Furthermore, these solutions are more flexible and resilient and adapt more easily to the constantly changing climate. They increase the resilience of fragile nature reserves threatened by climate change and are a powerful tool to enhance much-needed public and private sector investment in biodiversity conservation efforts.
Who finances NbS? 
Funding for NbS can come from both public and private, national and international funds and consists mostly of payments for ecosystem service programmes, including the purchase of carbon credits, under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change compliance (Green Climate Fund) or the Voluntary Carbon Market (private funding). Funding mechanisms are diverse and range from climate contributions, where project developers fund their projects through private voluntary contributions, to participatory budgeting in which citizens can make decisions about how a public budget is spent on NbS in urban areas, alongside several others (9). 
How can we measure the effectiveness of NbS? 
Measuring the effectiveness of NbS is not an easy task as appropriate indicators must be identified and effectiveness is often influenced by several interactive factors. Effectiveness should be measured case by case according to the perspectives and needs of every single project. Assessment frameworks usually contain indicators on biodiversity and green space management. The IUCN is conducting research to create an international certification for NbS as at the moment no standard to assess the environmental impact of NbS exists. However, when a NbS project contributes to GHG emissions reduction or avoidance, international standards such as Gold Standard or VCS can certify the amount of  CO2 emissions captured or avoided and issue verified carbon credits (VERs). 
What are the current challenges for Nbs?
As with every other solution, NbS can present some challenges. The three main issues concerning NbS are: 
  • The difficulty of measuring and predicting their effectiveness as ecosystem response is more difficult to predict and assess (10). 
  • The difficulty in managing the projects, which require active cooperation and coordinated action.
  • The poor financial models that often make it difficult for projects to find appropriate financing. 
In conclusion, while Nbs present some challenges, they are extraordinary solutions to face the double climate and biodiversity crisis that we are facing. ClimateSeed believes in the potential of Nature-based Solutions to tackle climate change, protect biodiversity, and help support local communities. This is why ClimateSeed has included a number of NbS projects in its portfolio to help promote and support these valuable solutions in the fight against climate change.

  1. The European Commission, Nature based solutions, available at:  https://ec.europa.eu/research/environment/index.cfm?pg=nbs 
  2. World Economic Forum, The Future Of Nature And Business, New Nature Economy Report II, 2020
  3. IUCN, IUCN Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions, available at: https://www.iucn.org/theme/ecosystem-management/our-work/iucn-global-standard-nature-based-solutions
  4. WWF,Nature- based solutions, available at: https://wwf.panda.org/our_work/our_focus/climate_and_energy_practice/what_we_do/nature_based_solutions_for_climate/
  5. UN Global Compact, Nature-Based Solutions to Address Climate Change, available at: https://www.unglobalcompact.org/take-action/events/climate-action-summit-2019/nature-based-solutions
  6.  Silva Mariana, What are nature-based solutions and why do they matter?, 2019, available at: https://www.climatechangenews.com/2019/12/09/nature-based-solutions-matter/
  7. The European Commission, Biodiversity and Nature-based Solutions, Analysis of EU funded projects, 2020, available at: https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/d7e8f4d4-c577-11ea-b3a4-01aa75ed71a1 
  8. Nature-based approaches for climate change mitigation, available at: https://www.ecologic.eu/sites/files/publication/2014/eco_bfn_nature-based-solutions_sept2014_en.pdf
  9. The European Commission, Biodiversity and Nature-based Solutions, Analysis of EU funded projects, 2020, available at: https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/d7e8f4d4-c577-11ea-b3a4-01aa75ed71a1
  10. Chausson A., Seddon N. et al., Understanding the value and limits of nature-based solutions to climate change and other global challenges, 2020, available at: 
Article written by Cecilia Pera