Common purpose and inclusive action key to expansion of nature-based solutions

By conserving, restoring and managing nature we have the power to help address many of the most critical issues facing humanity and the planet, from climate change and nature loss to a range of socio-economic challenges, at local and global scales. 

From rewetting peatlands to restoring forests and saltmarshes, to nurturing green areas in cities, there is a huge potential for increasing the global rollout of these Nature-based Solutions (NbS), and the latest science shows that NbS are critical if we are to meet global ambitions to tackle climate change.

A new report developed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) has collated the key information and considerations on NbS, and sets out the action and input needed by governments, business and finance players and wider communities and civil society to ensure the rapid and equitable deployment of NbS at scale around the world. 

The severity and urgency of the various challenges now faced by humanity and the planet mean that if NbS are to deliver for people and biodiversity then we cannot wait – action on NbS needs to be substantially and rapidly scaled up.

Our new policy report aims to inform ongoing discussions and progress on mainstreaming NbS at all levels and provides clear context and recommendations to help governments, business and societies around the world to work together and scale up the effective rollout of NbS.

Barney Dickson, report lead and UNEP Senior Programme Officer, Nature for Climate

International recognition of the need for NbS has been growing, and the report outlines milestone discussions of NbS at leading development summits, as well as commitments made by individual countries and business initiatives.  

At the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) earlier this year, 193 countries signed up to an agreed global definition of NbS, recognising the broad scope and impact of NbS and framing them in the context of the world’s sustainable development challenges.  

NbS are actions to protect, conserve, restore, sustainably use and manage natural or modified terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems which address social, economic and environmental challenges effectively and adaptively, while simultaneously providing human well-being, ecosystem services, resilience and biodiversity benefits.

UNEP/EA.5/Res.5 Nature-based solutions for supporting sustainable development.

The new UNEP synthesis report, titled Nature-based Solutions: Opportunities and Challenges for Scaling Up, underscores the importance of the recent UNEA multi-lateral definition in progressing NbS uptake, while also exploring the possible complexities and contentions in relation to deploying NbS.  

Key policy and implementation issues include the involvement of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) in NbS project design and management, the oversimplification and poor effectiveness of some intended NbS interventions, and the complexity involved in measuring the long-term benefits of NbS.  

Addressing the overarching issue of return on investment, the report authors discuss in detail the assessments needed for NbS cost/benefit and trade-off planning and highlight examples of well-costed projects, such as an ongoing 17-year Vietnamese reforestation initiative costing approximately USD 9 million, but set to return the equivalent of more than USD 230 million in carbon and flood risk savings and boosts to local income.

With further NbS commitments likely to be seen at the imminent international UN Conference of the Parties meetings on climate change, UNFCCC COP27, and nature, CBD COP15, as well as other planned intergovernmental consultations in coming months, the authors state there is a real opportunity to translate commitments into action to scale up NbS on the ground. 

They conclude with four key recommendations for international, national and local leaders to drive progress on NbS: 

Build a common understanding: calling on governments to actively engage with international action on NbS, while encouraging cross-sectoral collaboration on NbS at national levels, and for all players to align with best practices in deploying NbS. 

Apply integrated approaches: increasing cross-sector and technical capacity for NbS as part of a joined-up approach to NbS deployment, in which initiatives are embedded in policies with specific targets, backed up by financial resources and other supporting mechanisms, and in accordance with social and environmental safeguards and standards. 

Enact robust safeguards systems and standards: the report provides examples of various sectoral and country-level safeguard systems on NbS and calls for a comprehensive review of safeguards, as well as further work at international and project-levels to improve monitoring and reporting. 

Empower locally-led action: in which the rights and contributions of IPLCs are recognised and valued through targeted funding and technical support to local communities, on top of fair consultation and participation in NbS design and implementation.  

The evidence-base for NbS is well-established and growing. Scientists and practitioners know smart use of nature brings myriad benefits for people and the environment, and we are seeing NbS becoming embedded into national and international action plans. 

Climate change and nature loss is not slowing down, so NbS activity urgently needs to speed and scale up. At the same time, we know there are various challenges to the equitable design, implementation and effectiveness of NbS. Our report has been designed as an accessible one-stop reference on NbS and its future practice, as a resource for policy, business and civic leaders to put to good use and help deploy NbS effectively for people and the planet.

Dr Valerie Kapos, report co-author and UNEP-WCMC Head of Nature-based Solutions

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