26 Apr 2021

Venue: Online | Webex

The Geneva Nature-based Solutions dialogues aim to facilitate further engagement and discussion among the stakeholders in International Geneva and beyond, in the lead-up to a critical year for nature and society. The dialogues are convened by the Geneva Environment Network and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

About the Dialogues

We are facing a triple planetary crisis – climate change, nature loss and pollution. In this context, Nature-based Solutions (NbS) are a powerful ally to address a societal and environmental challenges. As per IUCN definition, NbS are 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.

NbS are a powerful tool to facilitate and catalyse the engagement of cross-sectoral stakeholders to join forces towards the implementation of an ambitious Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) and move towards achieving the CBD 2050 Vision of ‘Living in harmony with nature’.  NbS also offer a pathway for synergies among several multilateral environmental agreements, including for biological diversity (CBD), climate change (UNFCCC), disaster risk reduction (Sendai Framework), desertification (UNCCD) and the wider Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – and for mainstreaming nature conservation into sectoral decision-making processes.

In the lead-up to a critical year for nature and society, NbS offer an opportunity to address a wide range of urgent societal challenges. The year 2021 and the major upcoming negotiations should indeed mark a turning point towards a resilient world for future generations.

Join the Geneva Environment Network (GEN) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in a one-year journey, where experts from all over the world and different sectors will discuss throughout the year  how NbS are relevant to various debates ongoing in Geneva.

Health Session

The Nature-based Solutions and Health Dialogue is critical as the first stage of this journey convened in the run-up to various international negotiations, as the world is still coping with the challenges of addressing the origins and consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nature protects our health in many ways. As the current pandemic has shown, the increasing negative impact of human activities on the environment severely threatens human and ecosystem health. Land use changes, expansion and intensification of agriculture, together with unsustainable trade, production and consumption disrupt nature while increasing contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people. Therefore, protecting, resorting and sustainably managing ecosystems is a critical step to prevent future pandemics and safeguard our health.

Similarly, NbS also support the health of city dwellers. Greening cities is an efficient way to reduce air pollution and to adapt to the increasing heat stress in cities. Urban forests and green spaces can further improve physical health, promote mental well-being and reduce stress.

At the fifth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.1), UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized that 2021 is “a critical year to reset our relationship with nature”. In face of the triple planetary crisis – climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution –, adopting plans and policies to foster environmental health are crucial for safeguarding our own health and that of our future generations. Such efforts are in line with the “One Health” approach, which emphasizes the need to work across sectors for better public health outcomes.

In 2016, at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, it was stated the importance of “strengthening cross-sector partnerships to recognize the contributions of nature to health, well-being and quality of life” (WCC 2016 Resolution 064). IUCN Members recognized that nature-based solutions can play an important role in reducing the global increase in noncommunicable diseases, climate-sensitive disease and the risks of disease transmission between wildlife and people. The upcoming IUCN World Conservation Congress represents a key opportunity to advance this line of work.

The increasing recognition of the interdependency of human, animal and environmental health is a robust foundation to raise ambition and take action to improve ecosystem and society health, in the lead up to the forthcoming international negotiations on biodiversity and climate change.

Other Sessions


By order of intervention


Europe Director, UNEP

Radhika MURTI

Director, Global Ecosystem Management Programme, IUCN


Programme officer, Biodiversity, Climate Change and Health, WHO


Chief for Wildlife, UNEP


Permanent Representative of the Republic of Costa Rica to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva


Associate Vice President for Conservation and Health, EcoHealth Alliance


Senior scientist, Section of epidemiology, University of Zurich | Network for Ecohealth and One Health – European Chapter of Ecohealth International


Executive Director, Indigenous Peoples’ Foundation for Education and Environment

Nature-based Solutions Champion


Isha Foundation


Welcome and Introduction

2021 a Critical Year for Nature and Society | Bruno POZZI, UNEP

Today, we are launching a series of events based on a mutual endeavor and understanding that we must beat the drums on Nature-based Solutions. These solutions are at the heart of multilateral action in 2021, 2022 and beyond. CBD COP15 and UNFCCC COP26, among the major events coming up this year, both have an incredible NbS component.

When we look holistically at all dimensions of the SDGs, we have to bring the message that NbS are at the heart of the answer. Therefore, this series comes at a very timely moment, as we try to further sustainable development by making peace with nature and by tackling the triple planetary crisis that we have imposed on ourselves. Pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change are human-made crises. While they require human-made solutions, we also need NbS because nature will be our best ally in addressing these challenges.

This series will be a great journey, and UNEP is pleased to support the effort, because every agency has a role to play in these multilateral discussions. Today, we start with a session on health, and this discussion is particularly important to UNEP, as we are part of the One Health Initiative. Additionally, this event comes at the right moment as COVID-19 was a wake-up call, which demonstrated clearly what side-effect our mismanaged relationship with nature can have. UNEP is thankful to be involved in this timely event and will work together to make the best of NbS.

Setting the Stage of the Nature-based Solutions Journey | Radhika MURTI, IUCN

The Geneva Nature-based Solutions Dialogues are an opportunity to bridge gaps, develop narratives and showcase ongoing work on NbS in order to create momentum for linking nature and health. IUCN wants to work together with its Member States, many of which are also represented in the missions in Geneva.

Currently, the biggest challenge to NbS is making sure that all actors are moving on the same path. This means that we need to move forward in understanding the definition and owning the only global standard that exist as a benchmark. While professionals often use the term NbS, many of them have not connected with the actors driving the standardization process, such as IUCN and the EU Commission. Having one kind of accountability against a benchmark is critical.

While it is easy to think that NbS can be misused by companies for green washing purpose, experts and leaders in conservation, development and health can also compromise its potential. Therefore, it is important to bring the issue to the Geneva community and make sure that we all move together on this journey.

The science and approaches in conservation have evolved over time. As we understand nature and its limits better, the way we think should be adjusted. NbS is that next step in how we further refine our approach in order to find a better balance between our needs and the limits of this planet. Simply put, NbS are actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore ecosystems, that can in deliberate ways derive needs for society, simultaneously proving benefits for human well-being and biodiversity. NbS is a solution to the challenge of meeting our needs without further jeopardizing biodiversity and the health of our planet.

NbS are a solution to climate change mitigation and adaptation, disaster risk reduction, economic and social development, human health, food security, water security, and biodiversity loss. As identified by IUCN in the definition of NbS in 2016, these are not only the most pressing societal challenges, but also the most promising needs that nature can respond to. These challenges overlap with the most important long-term risks, as identified in the Global Risk Report 2020. This is no coincidence.

NbS include all actions that rely on healthy ecosystems to bring a solution to a problem, while at the same time making the ecosystem healthier. In that sense, they differ from nature-derived solutions and nature-inspired solutions, which are not giving back to nature nor necessarily ensuring that we are not jeopardizing the future of the solution. Realistically speaking, NbS is not the panacea, and we have to consider how it is going to work in the very infrastructured world we live in. We need to consider how natural and grey infrastructure can complement each other.

In order to achieve both development and conservation, we need to look at the overlap of people, nature and economy. Nature is the foundation of the society and economy. We need to rethink development and how we can use nature as an economic development strategy, rather that seeing nature as a red tape that gets in the way of our needs and aspirations.

The scene is set, and we now have an common approach that we can all lobby around and move forward together: the IUCN Global Standard for NbS. More than 800 people from 100 countries have worked on this cross-cutting and interdisciplinary standard over the past two years. The standard is a way we can all move in the same direction with the same level of accountability. Through eight criteria, the standard helps design NbS to respond to a societal challenge while considering the three pillars of sustainability, ensuring trade-offs are addressed and management remains adaptive. Finally, mainstreaming and sustainability is crucial to go beyond time-bound project and ensure NbS is embedded systematically in the economics, society and environment we live in.

Nature-based Solutions Supporting Human Health

Global Governance and the Biodiversity-Health Nexus towards a Healthy Recovery | Cristina ROMANELLI, WHO

The COVID pandemic has been a wake-up call. This zoonotic disease has brought into sharper focus our interconnectedness with nature, consequently revitalizing the urgency and imperative for more integrated and coordinated cross-sectoral action for biodiversity conservation and restoration, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and Eco-Disaster Risk Reduction through inclusive approaches such as One Health. This approach focused on the ecosystems on which we collectively rely for our health and well-being to implement robust, transformative and evidence-based measures to avert and prevent future health threats.

One of the crucial lessons from COVID-19 pandemic and others that have preceded is that we live in a deeply interconnected complex system. As such, we absolutely need to break down the persistent silos in decision-making. We must also recognize that the decisions taken today on the way we recover can lock-in damaging economic patterns that perpetuate ecosystem destruction, climate change and biodiversity loss. Alternatively, we can invest in healthier, greener and more equitable world by strengthening our capacity for prevention, detection and response through a complex systems approach.

The WHO Manifesto for Healthy Recovery from COVID-19 is one of the initiatives from WHO in line with this goal. Launched last year, this manifesto calls on the international community to prioritize a healthy recovery while putting biodiversity, climate protection and equity at the center in order to reduce our vulnerability to future health emergencies.

The manifesto highlights six key prescriptions to strengthen not only health system resilience, but also social and ecological resilience more broadly by investing in essential services, such as water and sanitation, strong health care systems, and green energy facilities. The opportunity exists to do so through complementary green and blue infrastructure such as NbS.

Promoting sustainable food system is also a critical area of work, as the largely dysfunctional global food system lays at the heart of a multitude of health risks. This includes challenges of land use changes, deforestation, overfishing, loss of genetic diversity, unhealthy diets and more. The WHO manifesto also lays out recommendations with regards to energy transition, healthy cities, achieving net zero, and acknowledging the connections across health threats.

Finally, the manifesto points out that we can and must first begin by protecting the source of all human health: nature. When this COVID pandemic will recede, we will still be left with all the risks posed by climate change and biodiversity loss, unless there is concerted, aligned and decisive transformative change moving forward. While the breath of the challenge can be daunting, the opportunity to adopt holistic and include approaches has never been greater.

Fostering Synergies Between Ecosystem Health and Human Wellbeing | Doreen ROBINSON, UNEP

Humanity’s destruction of nature is driving up numerous risks to our well-being and health. 7 million people die annually from polluted air, and other half a million from contaminated water. Zoonotic infectious diseases are emerging at a faster rate than ever before, due to destruction of habitat, land use change, and consumption of meat proteins. In fact, 25% of all emerging infectious diseases since 1940 are associated with intensified agriculture. The way we live with, use and consume nature is jeopardizing our prosperity, our health and our very ability to exist on this plant.

At UNEP, we believe the solution lies in working with nature, not against it. We believe NbS are a complement to technological solutions that allow us to support sustainable development options and achieve co-benefits across the full range of the SDGs. To highlight the links between nature and health, I would like to touch upon three NbS:

  1. Green and blue spaces in urban areas support mental health by lowering stress and promoting faster recovery from psychological events, improve air quality, increase physical activity, and decrease urban overheating.
  2. Wetland rehabilitation is critical as 30% of wetlands have been lost since 1970 and 40% of species rely on these ecosystems. They provide flood mitigation, protection from storm surge, spawning grounds for fish and food species, water storage and filtering, and carbon absorption. Wetland restoration can be done differently depending on the objective. While some water-focused solutions may exacerbate health risks, well-managed solutions can enhance disease regulation while providing clean water.
  3. Forest management and restoration play a key role in carbon sequestration, provision of clean air and healthy soils, and water regulation. Intact forest also helps mitigating infectious disease risks, particularly for disease which spread with rodent and mosquito vectors. Fragmented habitat stimulates the spread and diversification of diseases through complex environmental factors. The protection of intact and well-connected forests has clear benefits for human health and for mitigating biodiversity loss and climate change. True NbS require that all stakeholders work together to develop options for rehabilitating and restoring ecosystem services, while meeting social and economic development needs.

We all know the saying “good things don’t come easy”. That is the case for NbS, which are not necessarily simple. However, there can be win-win. NbS can be cost-effective: WRI reported that every dollar invested in degraded land gives 7-30 dollars in economic benefits. A study estimated the mental health benefits of protected areas around the world to 6 trillion USD annually.

NbS have to be carefully deployed. They need clear goals and monitoring, as well as explicit definition of co-benefits and trade-offs, and have to involve science and expertise across a wide range of disciplines using system-based approach. They also must be part of inclusive processes, where trade-offs can be negotiated with all key stakeholders. Well-deployed NbS offer pathways to truly sustainable development and a future of living in harmony with nature.

Nature at the Heart of National Recovery Plans for Healthy Planet & People

Costa Rica Investing in Nature for a Healthy and Sustainable Future | H.E. Amb. Catalina DEVANDAS AGUILAR,  Republic of Costa Rica

2021 is very an important year. Not only are we facing the challenges of the pandemic, but we are also getting ready for crucial international negotiations processes at the UNFCC and the CBD. These discussions will set the pathway for the upcoming 10 years. We are living in a time where multiple crises are interacting – health, biodiversity, climate. We are now aware of these connections more than ever and it is time to take action.

The pandemic provided us with unprecedented and powerful proof that nature and people share the same fate and are far more closely linked than most of us had realized. Therefore, we need to find green solutions to recover and build back better in a way that is beneficial for the environment and all species – plants, animals and humans.

Costa Rica has been engaging in multiple processes in this area. Together with France and the UK, Costa Rica is co-chairing the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People which aims to protect 30% of the world biodiversity by 2030. This science-based global coalition recognizes that protecting ecosystems and promoting NbS is key to reverse biodiversity loss, mitigate climate change and boost our economies.

The business case for NbS has been made. Conserving biodiversity will not only create jobs, but it will also be less costly than non-action. We cannot afford to avoid action. By protecting 30% of our nature, our economies will grow by 4-6%, by supporting 30 million jobs in ecotourism and sustainable fisheries and 600 jobs in conservation management. This will result in a 500 million increase in GDP.

A few days ago, Costa Rica took a bold decision to reverse forest loss. As a middle-income country, we do not have many resources to invest and we need to come up with creative solutions to promote conservation. This includes innovation financing mechanisms, taxes on fuel and cars, payments for ecosystem-services, and a biodiversity act.

The positive results of these measures are outstanding. Costa Rica was one of the most deforested countries in the 1970s, and now the trend has been reversed in about four years. Costa Rica has also been a sort of environment lab, proving that nature-minded pathways are profitable. Protected areas and national parks have provided financial benefits of over 1.9 billion USD in 2018.

Despite the complications we faced as a middle-income country, we have seen that NbS is a good investment and is beneficial for our development. Thus, we believe that it is possible to have an economic model that has NbS as the cornerstone of economic and social policy. We will not be able to reverse the crises we are facing unless we act forcibly and promptly to implement NbS. Protecting 30% of our planet will undoubtedly improve the quality of life our citizens and help us fulfill the 2030 Agenda.

Civil Society and the Nature-based Solutions & Health Global Agendas

Upcoming Negotiations | Carlos ZAMBRANA-TORRELIO, EcoHealth Alliance

COVID-19 has shattered the lives millions who are deeply affected, while revealing our deep connections with nature. The pandemic has renewed the discussions on deforestation, expansion of the agricultural frontiers, global demand of meat, and their links to human health. Thus, it gave us a rare insight into what could happen if we change the way we live toward sustainability.

In the upcoming month, health will be central to the discussions on biodiversity and climate change. The question of how we can prevent future pandemics is important concern. COVID-19 is one among the many infectious diseases that millions of people are facing every year. All these diseases relate to the way we use natural resources.

Human health depends on nature, and so do our society and economy. These vital connections will be central to the negotiations that will take place this year. Land-use planning for instance needs to play an important role in upcoming negotiations. We need to think forward and ask ourselves what kind of world we are leaving to our children.

NbS will be an essential component of these discussions. Well-designed restoration action – for instance improving the configuration of the landscape and increasing connectivity – can be particularly useful to reduce the risks of emerging infectious diseases. Indigenous territories also play an important role, and lessons can be drawn from the relationship these communities have established with nature for centuries.

One Health, as a multisectoral approach recognizing the links between human, animal and environment health, plays a key role in developing sustainable and resilient pathways for the future. However, the existing silos remain a challenge. Fostering communication and a common language around the issues at hand is essential, so that stakeholders from all fields and boards of society can work together.

Finally, we need to think about our economies. Financing biodiversity conservation pays off in the long run, especially if the benefits to human health are accounted for. It is immensely cheaper to prevent the next pandemic through conservation and actions to reverse biodiversity loss than to face its consequences. Hopefully, in the upcoming months, these key elements and the role that society can play in reducing the risk of pandemic will be further discussed.

The Role of Science in the Nature-based Solutions and Health Dialogue | Simon RUEGG, University of Zurich | Network for Ecohealth and One Health – European Chapter of Ecohealth International

Among other challenges of integrating the health of people, animals and ecosystems at different scales, the nexus of NbS and health is challenged by two main opposing narratives around nature. One places emphasis on risks arising from nature such as infectious diseases, predators and pests, and is dominated by disciplines such as medicine, epidemiology and other health sciences. The other stream is concerned with the benefits of nature such as nature-based solutions against depression and allergies or ecosystem services, and is dominated by ecologists, sociologists, pedagogues or psychologists (Rüegg & Häsler, 2020). The lack of reflection by scientists about the framing of nature under which they operate appears as a major factor of misunderstanding between disciplines (Antoine-Moussiaux et al., 2019). An effective policy process to address health risks and benefits should facilitate thus this reflection not only among scientists but beyond.

In the realm of integrated approaches to health, research is conceived as a socially mediated process of problem solving based on experimentation, learning and context specificity. It acknowledges that knowledge is not value neutral. This contrasts to the prevailing paradigm of Evidence-Based Policy Making (EBPM), which gives exceptional importance to scientific knowledge (Ansell & Geyer, 2016). Due to the nature of the current scientific practice, EBPM favours those worldviews which endorse a Cartesian reductionist paradigm and have the means to produce such evidence in large volumes. Consequently, apart from more fundamental critique, EBPM poses a threat to equitable policy making and disenfranchises stakeholders who (1) cannot afford to conduct research for their cause, and/or (2) have a different framing of evidence than the predominant Cartesian/Newtonian paradigm.

While the importance and legitimacy of knowledge in setting and implementing policy is not contested, EBPM neglects the importance of the foundational conversation about what evidence is. Many challenges addressed with integrated approaches to health are characterized by uncertainty, uniqueness and value conflict, and don’t fit the model of technical-instrumental rationality. Consequently, knowledge becomes of transient value, while the scientific method remains essential for effective policymaking. In line with these observations, the OECD Global Science Forum advocates transdisciplinary research to help address complex societal challenges and to integrate knowledge from different scientific and non-scientific stakeholder communities (OECD, 2020).

Transmitting Knowledge over Generations, a Keystone for a Resilient Future | Kittisak RATTANAKRAJANGSRI, Indigenous Peoples’ Foundation for Education and Environment

NbS is not a new concept for indigenous people, rather something they have been practicing for a long time. For instance, the Mani people – a hunter-gatherer group living in southern Thailand – have deep knowledge about food sources in forests, edible and medicinal plants, trees and animals. They know how to sustainably use these resources, by collecting enough for their daily consumption and moving regularly to allow food sources to regenerate. Such practices are still maintained by many people and keep ecosystems intact.

Agriculture-based indigenous groups have also been working with nature for centuries. practice rotational farming for paddy fields. Each agriculture practice they carry out – such as terrace paddy fields and rotational farming – require specific knowledge and skills about soil, landscape, water and irrigation systems, and more. These communities have also developed land use management practices, using each plot of land only for one or two years before leaving it its soil to restore for up to ten years. They know that using land repeatedly will deplete the nutrients, leading to more weed and smaller harvests. Indigenous people have many other skills such as fire control techniques.

From the said examples, it is clear that each indigenous group has specific knowledge on plants, animals, trees, and the environment surrounding them. They know which species are edible, how to use nature sustainably, and how to harvest these resources without degrading the environment and ensuring there will be enough for future generations.

Those practices have been passed down from generation to generation through informal beliefs, rituals, teaching and customary laws. Our traditional governance and institutions play a key role in maintaining a balanced relationship between community members and nature. This contributes to the communities’ livelihood, well-being and resilience. Therefore, the transmission of traditional knowledge is crucial to ensure the continued survival of indigenous people. This has been particularly visible during the COVID-19 pandemic, as locked-down communities did not face food shortage problems.


Q: Choosing NbS is a good idea for the long term. But how do we pursuade leaders to take decisions for future gains rather than short-term benefits?

H.E. Amb Catalina Devandas Aguilar: In the long run, we will start seeing the benefits of NbS and we need to start considering NbS as part of our public policy responses to environmental crises and human rights. In that regard, Costa Rica is defending the right to a healthy, safe, sustainable and clean environment. NbS is a good business with benefits for our people and future generations. In Costa Rica, the decarbonization plan is already showing many positive results. The more countries will join these efforts, the easier it will be to see these benefits.

Q: The public health implications of implementation of the Nagoya Protocol (access and benefit sharing) will be one of the agenda items for the World Health Assembly (WHA) next month. How can it influence or build on the COP15/Biodiversity and COP26/Climate this year, and become part of an integrated transition across all environmental dimensions and the SDGs?

Cristina Romanelli: It is essential to find a common narrative and to break sectoral silos. Adopting holistic integrated approaches to One Health, which really examines the health of people alongside ecosystem and wildlife health, is an essential entry point­. NbS really is one of the key entry points to developing One Health approaches. We already have very powerful arguments for moving toward One Health approaches. One of them is simply that investing in prevention is infinitely less costly than pandemic response.

Carlos Zambrana-Torrelio: In order to break silos, all involved actors – ecologists, economists, public health experts, policy makers, etc – need  to speak the same language. One example is to use the language of economics, which most people can grasp. Well-being is also a key concept to talk about the benefits that cannot be monetized.

Doreen Robinson: Part of building of building that common language around economics requires us to roll out system of true cost accounting, in which the environment is not left behind. Policy coherence can often be negotiated at the global level, but it is also an area to improve at the national level, and that should not be left unaddressed.

Q: What are the fora you would identify where exchanges among all concerned scientific and political constituencies meet openly ? It seems that everyone complains in their own silo that the others remain in their box.

Kittisak Rattanakrajangsri: Discussions on scientific knowledge and indigenous knowledge have been taking place in various fora, including IPBES, IPCC, and CBD. At the global level, these discussions are quite open, however, implementation on the ground remains a challenge. Indeed, implementation highly depends on policies at the country level and government may be unwilling to engage in this area.

Simon Ruegg: First, the structure of academia, which is strongly hierarchically organized, is a challenge. As people have to be proven worthy to engage in academic exchange, this structure puts many barriers to young innovative scientists with different ideas. Therefore, we need to find ways to bypass hierarchy and reach out to these people. Another challenge is the strong Cartesian thinking which conceptualizes our minds as separated from our bodies. That thinking is deeply entrenched in the scientific community and our way of negotiating and organizing ourselves, and we need to reconnect.


The journey prepared by IUCN and the Geneva Environment Network has started, bringing the debate to Geneva, the capital of multilateralism. The organizers will work in order to reply to the needs expressed and involve the numerous actors and fora that can push policy and action to live in harmony with nature and support a sustainable economy driven by nature-based solutions. We have so much to build on.


In addition to the live WebEx and Facebook transmissions, the video will be available on this webpage.

Video Message from NbS Champion



The update on Nature-based Solutions provides relevant information and the most recent resources, news and articles from the various organizations in international Geneva and other institutions around the world.