Scaling nature-based solutions through policies and finance

It is the sixth of a seven-part series that explores the application of nature-based solutions (NbS) to climate and nature challenges, with a focus on water management in Africa for climate adaptation (and taken from the report Waterways to Resilience). This position focuses on scaling up NbS through policy and financial mechanisms.

Previous articles in this series have demonstrated that nature-based solutions (NbS) have considerable potential to contribute to the management of water challenges in Africa. However, funding and implementation of NbS programs and projects lag far behind, both in Africa and globally. Although there is evidence that NbS funding is increasing, the United Nations Environment Program Adaptation Gap Report 2020 concludes that adaptation funds are not sufficient for the necessary investments in adaptation:

NbS funding represents only a tiny fraction of total adaptation and conservation funding, despite numerous commitments from governments, the private sector, philanthropy and financial institutions to increase ambition and investments in the NbS.

Overall, it seems likely that the key global trends from the UNEP report apply to Africa:

· There is a current gap – and a looming future gap – in adaptation finance;

· NbS funding remains a small part of overall adaptation funding; and

· Support for NbS is growing, but the level of support and adoption lags far behind the potential for NbS projects and programs to deliver benefits.

These projects and programs are likely to offer a high return on investment. For example, the Global Commission on Adaptation estimated that an investment of US$1.8 trillion in a range of adaptation activities, including climate-resilient infrastructure and mangrove protection, would generate US$7,100 billions of US dollars in avoided costs and environmental and social benefits.

With this potential for economic benefits, why aren’t NBS being implemented as large-scale projects and programs in most countries?

Structural barriers to widespread adoption of NBS can be classified into three broad categories (Figure 1):

· Socio-cultural barriers include constraints related to the incentives and behaviors of key groups.

· Institutional barriers include barriers related to policies, conventions and rules that collectively shape governance relevant to NBS. For example, NBS may require greater cooperation from a larger number of entities, which may be governed by different or even conflicting policy objectives. Limited ability to manage NbS and limited knowledge of NbS among planners and engineers may reduce the likelihood of them being selected as options.

· Economic obstacles understand constraints related to funding and incentive structures. Many of the various benefits of NBS can be difficult to quantify, especially environmental and social benefits, so they may not be properly integrated into decision-making processes. Furthermore, even if these other benefits could be easily quantified, mechanisms, such as markets, may not exist to link service recipients to service providers. Insufficient or misdirected funding results in limited funding for NBS while, simultaneously, large amounts of public funds are spent on subsidies that are often environmentally damaging.

In a 2o21 report, WWF proposed a framework of systemic enablers and policy levers to overcome these barriers. Overarching system enablers include: (1) inclusive governance; (2) intelligent spatial planning; and (3) progressive economic and financial regulation (Figure 1). Specific recommendations for overcoming the constraints of scaling up NbS to address water challenges fall into three main categories:

Ensure alignment of policies, financing and capacities. Although it is generally noted that NbS programs suffer from an investment gap, increasing funding without a favorable political context, or sufficient capacity among local decision-makers and managers, can drive results and investments ineffective, even harmful, which do not produce positive results. repercussions. Thus, it is important that when external donors prioritize NbS and increase their funding, their investments should be made through inclusive and collaborative programs that emphasize securing government support and capacity building at multiple levels.

Provide proof. Clear evidence of the effectiveness of NbS interventions and an articulation of specific benefits that accrue to different stakeholders can help mobilize and sustain support. Therefore, NbS investments need to encompass strong monitoring and evaluation programs so that evidence can be collected and reported. Private sector interest in NBS will increase if these benefits can be credibly demonstrated, particularly when these benefits are clearly aligned with operational risk reduction and/or corporate water management priorities.

Bridging the financing gap by tapping into various public and private sources. Funding from a variety of sources will be needed to fill the adaptation funding gap. Although precise estimates are difficult to obtain, UNEP reports that existing commitments will not fill the current funding gap and that needs will increase rapidly. Since NbS projects typically provide multiple benefits, these projects and programs should be able to draw on multiple funding sources (e.g., those for climate adaptation, climate change mitigation, and biodiversity; Figure 2). While support from international donors, companies and NGOs is helpful to kick-start SfN programs and provide initial demonstrations of benefits, ultimately the greatest impact can occur when SfN approaches are fully integrated into mainstream budgets. departments that manage rivers, coasts and other resources. . NbS will reach its full potential when it becomes standard operational practice – and major components of budgets and management – ​​of agencies that manage water supply, flood risk, urban stormwater and coastal defense. .


Everyone involved in the climate and water worlds has a responsibility to ensure that nature-based solutions and improved water resource management are at the heart of efforts to mitigate climate impacts. and adapt to it. Beyond the societal challenges that NbS can address, and beyond their environmental and social benefits, NbS projects represent a significant opportunity to boost employment, particularly relevant as countries invest in recovery funds linked to the pandemic. The most job-intensive NbS interventions include reforestation, ecosystem or watershed rehabilitation, and invasive species management.

Recommendations to increase the adoption of NbS

Policy makers should:

  • Promoting NBS alongside more sustainable and resilient “grey” infrastructure to address water challenges and reduce vulnerability to climate change as well as increasing the health and resilience of the continent’s rivers, lakes and wetlands;
  • Invest in adaptive institutional capacity and enabling frameworks for successful and sustainable implementation and management of NBS efforts;
  • Ensure that budgets include sufficient funding to implement NBS at a scale that can have a significant and lasting impact on Africa’s catchments and water resources, and increase funding for water resources management and climate adaptation in general; and
  • Call for 50% of global climate finance to be dedicated to adaptation, following the leadership of the African Development Bank, and for a greater part to finance NBS.

Private sector companies should:

  • Understand their impacts and risks on water and engage in water stewardship efforts focused on measurable impact on watershed health.
  • Promoting NBS as an essential part of the solution to shared water challenges faced by businesses, communities and economies, and integrate NBS into their water management strategies, where appropriate.
  • Use their influence and scale to catalyze collective action on NBS engaging in platforms that enable different businesses and organizations from all sectors and industries to work together at the basin or landscape scale to address water-related risks and achieve measurable impact.

Financial institutions should:

  • Develop a solid understanding of water risk and financial value, including the opportunities that exist to create value. Join existing efforts and start creating deals that fund NbS.
  • Investing in NbS as an opportunity to both create value and mitigate risk to assets and investments by engaging with existing efforts and mechanisms to finance NbS and by creating new offerings and innovative channels for financing NbS
  • Implement and support policies that lay the foundation for credible green investments since an enabling environment is essential to support the necessary expansion of NbS funding.

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