Key concepts and caveats to inform the implementation of nature-based solutions

It’s the end of a seven-part series which explores the application of nature-based solutions (NbS) to climate and natural challenges (from the report Waterways to Resilience). While the overarching series focused on the application of NbS in Africa, this final article functions as an appendix of sorts, with a set of key concepts and caveats on nature-based solutions.

Although there is a growing number of reports, journal articles and books on NbS, there is still considerable confusion about the concept as well as a series of concerns regarding the implementation of NbS projects, in terms of community rights and resources. Below, we offer some high-level concepts and caveats about NbS as a basis for the rest of the report.

NBS must be implemented with the full participation and consent of affected communities. Recognizing the rights, territories, laws and culture of indigenous peoples and local communities is essential to ensure inclusive and sustainable development and find the most effective solutions to the most pressing environmental problems. Criterion 5 of a Global Standard for NBS from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) states that NBS programs and projects should be developed and implemented through governance processes that are inclusive, transparent and empowering. Participation must consider equity, diversity and inclusion.

NBS can be doubly useful to vulnerable communities. Many rural communities depend directly on freshwater ecosystems for their food and livelihoods. These same communities are often among the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change. NBS offer an opportunity to improve the resilience of vulnerable communities to the negative impacts of climate change through adaptation interventions, which are also beneficial for the ecosystem services on which they depend.

NbS should not be confused with conservation programs. While NbS projects will benefit biodiversity, the definition of NbS clearly indicates that their defining characteristic is that they take up a societal challenge. In other words, they must provide a service that someone other than a conservation organization or agency is willing to pay for, such as entities responsible for providing clean water or reducing the risk of flood. Although NbS projects focus on natural systems, conservationists can ask this question as a filter to determine if a project qualifies as NbS: “Does this project solve someone else problem (e.g. disaster risk reduction) to the extent that they would be willing to pay for it? »

But conservation goals can benefit because NbS interventions can tap into different and larger funding sources. Well-planned NbS projects will contribute to development and conservation goals. For development, NbS can address challenges, reduce risks and deliver multiple development benefits cost-effectively while being resilient to climate change. For conservation, NBS can leverage broader sources of funding than are typically available for nature protection or management and can thus contribute to large-scale conservation goals (Figure 1). This provides a compelling reason to link biodiversity, development and social goals through NBS. From the perspective of conservation organizations, if the NbS solves someone else’s problem, then other sources of funding beyond conservation funds can be used to support the project. If the project is well designed, this means that these other, usually larger, sources of funding can also be used to achieve conservation goals. For example, if all water management agencies worldwide invested in reforestation activities within their watersheds (to maintain or restore water quality), regional extinction risk could be reduced. for over 5,000 species – 40% of these conservation gains occurring in Africa. This illustrates the potential biodiversity benefits of one type of NbS intervention.

NBS should not be seen as a substitute for necessary investments in infrastructure. On the contrary, NbS can often complement traditional infrastructure and increase the efficiency of these investments, potentially reducing some long-term costs. For example, while NbS can help maintain clean water flow to watersheds, it is not a substitute for investments in safe and reliable municipal water supply systems to deliver water to homes and businesses. . For water supply, NbS investments are complementary to traditional infrastructure – with the potential to reduce the need for some additional capital investments (such as the case of watershed protection to reduce water infrastructure investments). Engineering for New York City Water Supply). Similarly, although dykes or flood walls may still be needed to reduce flood risk in urban areas, floodplain reconnection projects can reduce the pressure on these man-made structures, further reducing the risk to people and potentially reducing damage to structures and thereby reducing long-term maintenance costs. . Africa has a major infrastructure investment gap (e.g. water supply and wastewater treatment), and calls for increased investment in NBS are by no means a suggestion that they can replace these necessary investments. On the contrary, a key point of this report is that a diversified NbS portfolio approach, effectively integrated with engineering infrastructure, will improve the resilience and performance of water management systems and reduce a range of risks.

Many NbS interventions offer both climate change mitigation and adaptation opportunities. For example, NBS can play a role in carbon capture and storage and provide opportunities to mitigate the effects of climate change and disaster risk. Many wetland systems, including mangroves and peatlands, provide some of the highest rates of carbon sequestration per unit area among ecosystem types. A 2020 report from Oxford and IUCN recommends increased attention to NbS projects that can provide both mitigation and adaptation benefits. Well-planned projects can contribute to both goals – and potentially also to biodiversity conservation and restoration goals. Thus, well-planned NBS have the potential to achieve a “triple win” towards a set of major global goals: the Paris Agreement (mitigation), the Sustainable Development Goals (adaptation) and the biodiversity goals in the new agreed global framework for nature. under the Convention on Biological Diversity earlier this month.

NBS must themselves be “climate smart”. Climate change is already impacting all major biomes on Earth, and ecosystems are changing in terms of species composition, timing of key processes, and frequency and intensity of disturbances. Since SfN projects rely on ecosystems and biophysical processes, they themselves must be planned and managed to be resilient to changing conditions. Key considerations include the mix of plant species used and site selection for interventions. General tools such as scenario planning can be used to inform these efforts.

The rationale for the NbS is clear. It is now up to everyone involved in the worlds of climate, sustainability and water to ensure that NbS and improved water resources management are at the heart of efforts to mitigate climate change. climate impacts and building resilience in Africa.

It is essential that African countries address their growing water resource challenges and accelerate adaptation to climate change. Given the strong evidence base for their effectiveness, NBS should be central to efforts to build more resilient societies and economies, leveraging and maintaining the environment’s ability to naturally adapt.

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