Learning from Water Sessions at Congress: Natural Infrastructure

24 September 2012 | News story

During the recent World Conservation Congress, IUCN's Global Water Programme worked with Members and partners on finding sustainable solutions for water management. The session on 'Natural Infrastructure as an Element of Green Economies' revealed key lessons and showed ways forward for the promotion of increased investments in ecosystems as vital players for economic growth.

The development of Green Economies, as a pathway to sustainable development and poverty reduction, was adopted as one of the two themes of the Rio+20 conference. The Green Economy approach is founded on the principle that healthy ecosystems (wetlands, forests, floodplains, estuaries, etc.), rich in natural capital, underpin sustainable economies that are resilient to external shocks. For example, a natural wetland can yield fish to ensure food security, water to allow for irrigation, and absorb shocks from extreme climate events. Currently, however, the ecosystem services provided by nature are usually overlooked in investment decisions. In response to this, the Congress session 'Investing in Natural Infrastructure as an Element of Green Economies' examined four key strategies:

1. Valuation of natural infrastructure;

2. Piloting new approaches to integrating the values of natural infrastructure into local and national development planning;

3. Strategies for encouraging investment in natural infrastructure by governments;

4. Policy processes for enabling change at the national and donor institution levels.

The workshop was opened by Mark Smith, Director IUCN Global Water Programme, followed by Andrew Deutz from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) who introducted the topic of green economies. Each panelist was in charge of one of the four strategies: Nick Davidson from Ramsar on TEEB and natural infrastructure valuations, Nina Marshall from CEPF (Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund) on piloting mechanisms, Valerie Hickey from the World Bank on scaling-up strategies, and Omer van Renterghem from the Dutch DEDGIS on policy process strategies.

Following the roundtable discussions with examples of good practices and a focus on barriers to implementation of the four key strategies, feedback from breakout groups was gathered. The TEEB report for Water and Wetlands, as well as the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund were both used as examples of achievements that inform policy-makers on natural infrastructure. Nick Davidson from RAMSAR, explained that the ecosystem's value of wetlands in monetary terms is higher than forests, however to restore them also comes at a higher cost.

Participants agreed that if the role and place of local communities in natural infrastructure is established and investment decisions mainstreamed in national budgets, natural infrastructure should be a key element of Green Economies. Some of the main messages from the discussion included that Green Growth is only useful if it is fully inclusive. Further points focused on how natural infrastructure will be more widely supported if it is understood when and how it fails, that policies need to be right from the onset, otherwise scaling-up will not be successful. And finally, setting clear objectives to acknowledge conservation is a means to achieve other development goals was agreed to be crucial.

Recommendations that were proposed to inform future discussions on the topic, included the Natural Infrastructure alphabet: A) Account, generate data, build evidence, understand failure rates; B) Bargain with decision makers based on evidence collected to understand winner and loser scenarios; C) Codify terms: Do we all speak about the same thing? Is green different from natural infrastructure?; D) Delegate, put institutional frameworks in place, increase accountability so that natural infrastructure is conclusively managed; E) Ecosystem investment, manage ecosystems efficiently, for example, increase productivity per unit of land.

Looking further ahead, the audience and panelists during the session, concluded that positive steps forward meant that the same language needs to be used to reach out to other sectors. It is important to bring together existing experiences, for example on how to set up a Water Fund. This information should be easily accessible and available. Futhermore, in terms of communications, success stories need to be shared so as to strenghten the case for investment in natural capital, as well as promoting the benefits. Also the issue of building the public's trust in the role and potential of natural infrastructure, away from concrete and closer to innovative means of tapping into natural assets for green economies.

Investing in Natural Infrastructure as an element of Green Economies was a workshop which took place on Sunday 9 September during the 2012 IUCN World Conservation Congress in Jeju, South Korea.

For more information, please contact water@iucn.org