Defining Nature-based solutions
Nature-based solutions are actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural and modified ecosystems in ways that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, to provide both human well-being and biodiversity benefits. They are underpinned by benefits that flow from healthy ecosystems and target major challenges like climate change, disaster risk reduction, food and water security, health and are critical to economic development.
What do nature-based solutions look like?
A nature-based solution uses the tools that nature already provides to address issues resulting from poor land or resource use, climate change or societal challenges. Solutions often enhance existing natural or man-made infrastructure and spur long-term economic, social and environmental benefits.
They are not a single action, but many
Water supply for New York City
New York City saved US$1.5 billion by investing in the protection of the upstream Catskills watershed to secure the water supply for the city, thereby avoiding expensive water treatment plants.
Sustainable farming in China
In China, thanks to the restoration of the degraded Loess Plateau, over 2.5 million people improved their economic outlook. Through the introduction of sustainable farming practices, farmers’ incomes doubled, employment diversified and the degraded landscape was revitalized.
Mangroves in Senegal
In Senegal the world’s largest mangrove reforestation project led investors to generate half a million tonnes of carbon offsets over its 30-year lifetime. In addition, the delta now protects arable land from salt contamination, rice paddies are restored, and fish stocks replenished by up to 18,000 additional tonnes per year.
Green spaces for health
In greater Manchester, an estimated £150million/year is saved in healthcare costs related to improved mental health and physical benefits thanks to nature-based solutions such as access to green spaces and tree planting activities.
US$ 9 trillion benefits from trees
Under the Bonn Challenge, governments and businesses aim to restore 350 million hectares of deforested and degraded landscapes with the potential to generate US$ 9 trillion in ecosystem services through improved soils, increased freshwater flows, and other benefits.
Nature-based vs. Nature derived vs. Nature inspired
Solutions based on nature use the power of functioning ecosystems as infrastructure to provide natural services to benefit society and the environment.
Wind, wave and solar energy are derived from nature. In this case, they are solutions to help fulfil our low carbon energy needs through production methods deriving from natural sources. These energy sources come from the natural world but are not directly based on functioning ecosystems.
Innovative design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modelled on biological processes are nature-inspired. For example, biomimicry is a practice that learns from and mimics the strategies found in nature to solve challenges. These designs take inspiration from nature – such as specially made sticky gloves that mimic the wall climbing adaptations of geckos. They are not based on functioning ecosystems.
Nature-based solutions at a local level
None of these solutions are new to nature, but some are reimagined to fit today’s needs:
- an agro-business investing in landscape restoration techniques with its smallholder farmers to ensure a healthy, long-term supply chain;
- a hydropower company planting trees along a river to prevent erosion of the banks and siltation downstream;
- a hotel owner planting mangroves along the beach to hold together coastlines and protect them from the encroaching ocean;
- a farmer planting trees among his crops to provide shade, retaining water and providing habitat for wild species; or a row of bushes planted along the farmer’s field to slow the wind and retain the soil;
- a city manager installing trees and grasses along steep slopes to stabilise the earth and prevent landslides;
- an elected official that helps creates a marine protected area around a kelp bed to ensure a sustainable fish harvest for her community;
- a community organisation that educates on the importance of protecting fringing reef around an island to maintain it as natural barrier against high waves;
- an urban planner protecting or restoring a nearby forest crucial to the city’s water supply;
- an advocacy group protecting a marsh or wetland that filters contaminated water near a community; or
- a government actively restoring the productive capacity of degraded land.