What are Nature-Based Solutions ?

The Nature-based Solution concept

Our societies are currently facing many challenges. Some are not new, such as food and water security, while others, more recent, are more directly linked to human activities, such as climate change. In this context, Nature-based Solutions, or NbS, provide solutions to these societal challenges by relying on what nature already provides. Several approaches that combine protection, management, and restoration of ecosystems already exist. The key novelty of the NbS concept is that such approaches must be beneficial to biodiversity while improving human well-being. For example, a mangrove forest fixes the coastline and thus protects it from possible flooding (which risk increases due to climate change), but it can also sequester four times more carbon than a rainforest per unit area. Therefore, protected, managed, or restored mangroves can help to mitigate and adapt to climate change. In addition, co-benefits in terms of biodiversity occur by providing habitat for numerous marine and terrestrial species.

Figure 1: Definition of NbS: From IUCN. (2020). Guidance for using the IUCN Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions: a user-friendly framework for the verification, design and scaling u of NbS. Source: https://doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.CH.2020.08.en

The term NbS was clearly defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)[1] and the European Union (EU)[2] in an effort to bring together all ecosystem-related approaches already meeting this dual purpose of benefiting biodiversity and human well-being to answer to a societal challenge. This term is thus intended as an umbrella term.

What makes a Nature-based Solution?

The IUCN has defined 7 societal challenges to which NbS must respond: (1) climate change mitigation and adaptation, (2) food security, (3) water security, (4) disaster risk reduction, (5) human health, (6) economic and social development, and (7) environment degradation and biodiversity loss. In 2020, the IUCN has also published global standards that allow characterising protection, management, and restoration actions as NbS through 8 criteria. These criteria include the need to address at least one of the above societal challenges, as well as the benefit to biodiversity and human well-being through sustainable management and implementation. An NbS must also be designed at a large spatial (generally defined as land‑, freshwater- and seascape) and temporal scale (several decades) in partnership with all stakeholders for inclusive, sustainable, and integrated governance. In addition, this solution must be economically feasible and the positive effects quickly observable, but can also be adaptive, which makes its strength. Taking the example of a salt marsh that needs to be managed to limit the risk of flooding, one possible action is to plant and facilitate the development of vegetation capable of regulating the water flow. However, depending on the plant species, the growth of the plants can be more or less long. In this context, artificial management of the water flow can be set up so that positive effects on the scale of the first year can be observed while waiting for the natural action of the vegetation to be effective. Finally, to be recognised as an NbS, the effectiveness of the actions implemented and any land-use planning developed should be measurable. In this context, it is imperative to have tools capable of assessing the effectiveness of an NbS. These tools must be developed around scientific studies, based on in-depth knowledge of ecosystems and their services, as well as the links between biodiversity and environmental health in contexts of varying anthropic pressures. Further research is also needed to understand better the interconnection between biodiversity, climate change and provided services within ecosystems to recommend actions that could be an effective NbS in a specific area. 

Figure 2: The 8 criteria of the global standards for NbS published by the IUCN: From IUCN. (2020). Guidance for using the IUCN Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions: a user-friendly framework for the verification, design and scaling u of NbS. Source: https://doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.CH.2020.08.en

The way ahead for marine and coastal Nature-based Solutions

NbS can apply to both natural and modified ecosystems (such as urban areas). Currently, most NbS have been identified in urban and terrestrial environments and agriculture sector, while natural marine environments and their specificities are less considered and very few NbS have been recorded. One of the main reasons is that it is more challenging to implement and then evaluate out of sight large-scale actions in the ocean. The lack of basic knowledge on ecological responses to marine ecosystem-based approaches in terms of ecosystem service provision or biodiversity gain is also an obstacle to proposing relevant NbS in the marine context. MaCoBioS thus aims to address these knowledge gaps and disseminate the principles and purpose of NbS to coastal marine ecosystems’ stakeholders.

[1] “Nature-based Solutions are actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing 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.” Source: https://www.iucn.org/theme/nature-based-solutions/about

[2] The Commission defines nature-based solutions as: “Solutions that are inspired and supported by nature, which are cost-effective, simultaneously provide environmental, social and economic benefits and help build resilience. Such solutions bring more, and more diverse, nature and natural features and processes into cities, landscapes and seascapes, through locally adapted, resource-efficient and systemic interventions.” Source: https://ec.europa.eu/info/research-and-innovation/research-area/environment/nature-based-solutions_en

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