Ensuring NbS actions address global challenges
Nature-based Solutions (NbS) are a powerful ally to address societal challenges, such as climate change, biodiversity loss and food security. As the world strives to emerge from the current pandemic and move towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals, it is imperative that future investments in nature reach their potential by contributing to the health and well-being of people and the planet.
To this end -- and with growing interest from governments, business and civil society -- IUCN has developed the first-ever Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions to help users design, implement and verify NbS actions.
At the 2016 World Conservation Congress, IUCN Members adopted a resolution (WCC-2016-Res-069), which, for the first time, defined the use of nature for simultaneous benefits to biodiversity and human well-being. According to the resolution, Nature-based Solutions are defined 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.”
This definition is drawn from an IUCN publication that outlines the NbS framework (Cohen-Shacham, 2016), and a set of eight best practice principles. Further research by IUCN identified the core principles for successfully implementing and upscaling NbS (Cohen-Shacham, 2019).
Today, the IUCN Global Standard provides clear parameters for defining NbS and a common framework to help benchmark progress. Such a framework is essential to increase the scale and impact of the NbS approach, prevent unanticipated negative outcomes or misuse, and help funding agencies, policy makers and other stakeholders assess the effectiveness of interventions.
The new IUCN Global Standard enables everyone to consistently and reliably design, assess and scale-up Nature-based Solutions."
Why is the Global Standard needed?
Increased demand for NbS has led to cases of misuse of the concept, and even good intentions can result in harm to nature and people. In the worst-case scenarios, misuse runs the risk of damaging biodiversity and eroding the nature that we depend upon for services, such as clean water and food.
For example, a tree-planting project using just one non-native species could result in poor soil biodiversity, ultimately making it more costly or impossible to sustain a diverse forest in the future. Similarly, restoring a mangrove forest to reduce the risk of storm damage could be doomed from the start if upstream and downstream processes are not considered. Lack of water use considerations in certain projects could lead to too much withdrawal, creating pressure on local communities. Failure to take into account social and economic factors like these has meant that even seemingly successful pilot applications of NbS have ultimately not been sustainable. Worse, weak or mislabeled NbS projects can water down the case for the NbS approach – de-incentivising its use, eroding donor confidence and misdirecting efforts.
Funders, investors and decision makers need to be confident that NbS initiatives they support are effective and scalable, and consider potential externalities. Yet, many may not have the expertise or resources to help them analyze and evaluate NbS projects. The IUCN Global Standard helps fill this gap.
Who will use the Global Standard?
Governments, companies, NGOs and others can use the IUCN Global Standard, user guide and self-assessment tool to consistently design effective NbS projects that are ambitious in scale and sustainability, creating a shared language and framework for stakeholders and innovative partnerships.
Donors and financers can invest in NbS with confidence that the Standard provides a benchmark, minimising risks and adding assurance. All user groups across the public and private sectors can also further engage with the governance structure of the Standard, which connects stakeholders worldwide and ensures that the Standard is being used to its full potential to mainstream NbS around the world.
What does the Global Standard look like?
Through public consultation reaching hundreds of stakeholders from 100 countries, the IUCN Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions was developed to be facilitative, incentivising and enabling users to implement strong NbS projects.
The Global Standard includes a self-assessment that consists of eight criteria and associated indicators, which address the pillars of sustainable development (economy, environment and society) and resilient project management. In addition to the Standard, there is associated guidance, which instructs users how to perform a self-assessment to:
- Design new NbS project;
- Upscale pilots by identifying gaps; and,
- Assess past projects and future proposals.
The output of the self-assessment comes in the form of a percentage match compared against good practices, with a traffic light system to identify areas for further work and adherence to the IUCN Global Standard. The governing body of the IUCN Global Standard will be responsible for revising the criteria every four years, enabling improvement and engagement on NbS across sectors.
What is next for the Global Standard?
The successful global consultation and launch of the first version of the Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions in July 2020 is just the first step on this journey.
There are still opportunities to get involved. Interested stakeholders are encouraged to:
- Pilot the Global Standard in current and future applications; and,
- Engage with the governance structure of the Global Standard.
Further information and resources
To learn more, please contact the IUCN NbS Group by emailing: NbSstandard@iucn.org.
Register your interest to participate in the IUCN Global Standard User Group here.
Watch the high-level launch event of the Global Standard in July 2020 here.
Watch the high-level panel discussion on the Global Standard in July 2020 here.
Donor(s): The Agence Française de Développement (AFD)