Whether it’s food and water security, climate change, human health, disaster risk or economic development, nature can help us. Nature-based Solutions refer to a wide range of actions that address societal challenges through the protection, sustainable management and restoration of ecosystems and benefit both biodiversity and human well-being.
What are Nature-based Solutions ?
Nature-based Solutions (NbS) have been defined, in 2016, by the members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress (WCC-2016-Res-069) as:
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.
Through the multi-faceted benefits that they provide, NbS can effectively support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Harnessing nature to create solutions to the challenges set out in the SDGs can offers positive social, economic, governance and environmental outcomes.
The IUCN engages in NbS in order to use the tools that nature already provides to address issues resulting from poor land or resource use, climate change or societal challenges. Solutions often enhance existing natural or man-made infrastructure and spur long-term economic, social and environmental benefits. In addition, the IUCN developed various projects to solve challenges such as water security, which is critical for sustainable economic development, poverty reduction and climate change.
The UN Environment Programme engages with NbS in its activities on agroforestry, reforestation and afforestation programmes, landscape restoration intiatives, support to countries in their national plans for biodiversity and climate adaptation, and further work to promote the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of ecosystems for enhanced biodiversity, climate and social outcomes. In particular, UNEP is conducting significant work on NbS in relation to climate change.
Find more information to understand the potential of NbS in the links below.
- What are Nature-based Solutions (NbS)? | Infographic | IUCN
- Nature-based recovery | IUCN | April 2021
- Nature-based Solutions | Wednesdays for the Planet | GEN | 28 April 2021
- Ensuring effective Nature-based Solutions | IUCN | July 2020
- Nature-based Solutions to address global societal challenges | IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM), IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) | 2016
- Implementation in Nature-based Solutions | UNEP | 14 January 2021
- Nature-based Solutions in disasters and conflitcts | UNEP
- GENeva Environment Dialogue: The Nature-based Solutions Agenda | Geneva Environment Network | 4 June 2020
- Nature and the SDGs | WWF | 1 July 2019
- Nature Hires: How Nature-based Solutions can power a green jobs recovery | ILO & WWF | October 2020
- Nature-based Solutions Vital to Mitigating Conflict-linked Environmental Damage | New Security Beat | 18 February 2021
- MOOC on Nature-based Solutions for Disaster and Climate Resilience – Protect people and the planet | PEDRR
The Geneva Nature-based Solutions Dialogues – convened by the Geneva Environment Network and the International Union for Conservation of Nature – also provide an opportunity to learn more about NbS and their relevance to various debates ongoing in Geneva.
Nature-based Solutions Standard
The IUCN has developed a standard to facilitate the design, verification and scaling up of NbS, called the Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions. This standard aims to fill the gaps in expertise to ensure NbS projects are effectively design and implemented and do not result in unintended negative consequences. The use and promote of this standard is a core element of IUCN and its members, following a World Conservation Congress resolution adopted in September 2020 (WCC-2020-Res-060).
- IUCN Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions : first edition | IUCN | 2020
- IUCN Standard to boost impact of Nature-based Solutions to global challenges | IUCN | 23 July 2020
- IUCN launches first-ever global Nature-based Solutions standard | Nature4Climate | 2020
The NbS Agenda
2021 will be an important year to strengthen the work on NbS at the global level, through the several major conferences set to address the topic. The fifth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) – the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment – gathered in February 2021 and is set to reconvene in February 2022 under the theme “Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”. The theme calls for strengthened action to protect and restore nature and the nature-based solutions to achieve the SDGs in its three complementary dimensions (social, economic and environmental).
Additional major upcoming negotiations that will address NbS include: the G7 Leaders’ Summit in June 2021, the G20 Environment, Climate and Energy Ministerial Meeting in July 2021, the IUCN World Congress in September 2021, the UN Biodiversity Conference in October 2021, and the UN Climate Change Conference in November 2021. Discover the major past and upcoming milestones in the NbS agenda:
The United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030
The Decade aims to massively scale up restoration efforts to bring new life into degraded ecosystems. Indeed, degraded ecosystem, for example agricultural areas or wetlands, once restored with NbS, can permit to achieve local and national priorities such as food and water security or climate change mitigation, ultimately contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals.
The UN Decade, to be officially launched at World Environment Day, on 5 June 2021, runs from 2021 through 2030, which is also the deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals and the timeline scientists have identified as the last chance to prevent catastrophic climate change.
Led by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, The UN Decade is building a strong, broad-based global movement to ramp up restoration and put the world on track for a sustainable future, with contribution of numerous actors, including IUCN.
NbS in global fora
This section provides further information on discussions on NbS in international fora and existing initiatives.
- Joining the User Group for the IUCN Global Standard for NbS | August 2021
- NbS contributions platform
- Common approach to integrating biodiversity and nature-based solutions for sustainable development into the United Nations policy and programme planning and delivery | UN CEB | May 2021
- Promoting Nature-based Solutions in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework | PEDRR & FEBA | 13 October 2020
- UNEP and nature-based solutions | UNEP | September 2020
- Platform to Accelerate Nature-based Solutions – InTent Express Interview with Nicole Schwab | WEF | 27 August 2020
- New Initiative Supports Nature-based Infrastructure for Climate Adaptation | IISD | 31 July 2020
- G20 governance of climate change through Nature-based Solutions | Global Solutions | April 2020
- Agenda Item 2 : Synergies between the 2020 “super year for nature” and UNEA-5 | UNEP | 10 March 2020
- One trillion trees – World Economic Forum launches plan to help nature and the climate | WEF | 22 January 2020
- Why 2020 is the year to reset humanity’s relationship with nature | WEF & WWF | 19 January 2020
- G7 Environment Ministers Commit to Fight Biodiversity Loss, Tackle Climate Change, Inequalities | IISD | 4 June 2019
NbS for Climate
Although NbS are a powerful ally to address a wide variety of societal and environmental challenges, it has received particular interest in the context of climate change. Indeed, NbS could provide around 30% of the cost-effective mitigation that is needed by 2030 to stabilize warming to below 2°C (IUCN, 2019). They also provide a powerful defense against the impacts and long-term hazards of climate change.
Specific approaches to address climate change through NbS include ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA), ecosystem-based mitigation (EbM), and ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction (Eco-DRR). As defined by the CBD, EbA refers to “the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy to help people to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change”. Healthy and well-managed ecosystems can indeed increase the resilience and reduce the vulnerability of people to the impacts of climate change, such as extreme weather event and heat stress. Meanwhile, EbM encompasses strategies to mitigate climate change through the sustainable management, conservation, and restoration of ecosystems; for example, through the sequestration and storage of carbon in healthy forests, wetlands, and coastal ecosystems.
Within the Paris Agreement, countries have engaged themselves in preparing, communicating and maintaining Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), aiming to embody their efforts to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. More than 130 countries have already included NbS actions – such as reforestation, green infrastructure, sustainable agriculture and aquaculture, or coastal protection – in their national climate plans. However, the global potential of NbS is far from being fully realized.
The UN Climate Action Summit convened by the UN Secretary-General on 23 September 2019, brought great political attention to the power of NbS for climate and sustainable development. The NbS Coalition co-led by China and New Zealand launched the NbS for Climate Manifesto, a plan to unlock the full potential of nature for climate action, with the support of more than 70 governments, private sector, civil society and international organizations, accompanied by nearly 200 initiatives and best practices from around the world.
In line with this ambition, UNEP has been continuing the work to promote NbS as a fundamental part of any action for climate and biodiversity, and an essential component for recovery plans from the pandemic. Nature-based solutions are also central to the negotiations that will take place at the UNFCCC COP26 in November 2021 in Glasgow. The UK presidency has highlighted nature and NbS as one of five areas that needs particular attention.
This section provides additional resources on the potential of NbS in relation to climate change and existing initiatives at the global level.
- Nature-based Solutions for Climate | UNEP
- Coastal and Marine Ecosystems as Nature-based Solutions in New or Updated Nationally Determined Contributions | Ocean Climate, Conservation International, Rare, IUCN, WWF, GIZ & the Nature Conservancy | June 2021
- Natural climate change solutions highly effective in the long term | University of Oxford | 13 May 2021
- New fund leverages nature to adapt to climate change | UNEP | 25 March 2021
- UNEP’s Adaptation Gap Report Focuses on Nature-based Solutions | IISD | 25 January 2021
- What are Nature-based Solutions and how can they help us address the climate crisis? | WWF | 10 November 2020
- Nature-based Solutions for climate change | WWF | July 2020
- Building resilience through nature-based solutions | UNEP WCMC | 21 May 2021
- Understanding the value and limits of Nature-based Solutions to climate change and other global challenges | Nathalie Seddon et al. | Oxford University | 27 January 2020
- Nature-based Solutions in Nationally Determined Contributions | IUCN & University of Oxford | 2019
- Nature ‘one of most effective ways’ of combatting climate change | UN News | 19 September 2019
- The Nature-based Solutions for Climate Manifesto | United Nations | 14 August 2019
- Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit: Nature-based Solutions | United Nations | 31 May 2019
- Ecosystem-based Adaptation – Issue Brief | IUCN | November 2017
- Managing Ecosystems in the Context of Climate Change Mitigation | CBD | October 2016
- Designing nature-based mitigation to promote multiple benefits | Jonah Busch et al. | University of Oxford | 10 April 2014
- Nature-Based Solutions to Address Climate Change | UN Global Compact
- Ecosystem-based Adaptation | Briefing note series | UNEP
- Ecosystem-based Adaptation and Mitigation | UNDP
NbS and Health
Nature protects our health in many ways. As the COVID-19 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. Learn more about the health benefits of NbS through the resources below.
- Nature-based Solutions and Health | Geneva Nature-based Solutions Dialogues | GEN & IUCN | 26 April 2021
- Preventing pandemics with global nature protection | The #Connect2Earth Global Health Talks | WWF | 7 April 2021
- New WHO-IUCN Expert Working Group on Biodiversity, Climate, One Health and Nature-based Solutions | WHO | 30 April 2021
- Nature-based Solution for Food and Human Health | UNFCCC
- On the impact of nature-based solutions on citizens’ health & well being | Dionyssia Kolokotsa et al. | Energy and Buildings | 15 December 2020
- COVID-19 response and recovery: Nature-Based Solutions for People, Planet and Prosperity | Global Goal for Nature Group | 9 November 2020
- Ecosystem restoration: a public health intervention | Martin Breed et al. | EcoHealth | 23 June 2020
- Nature-based solutions, health and wellbeing | Norwegian Institute for Air Research | 25 May 2020
- Nature-Based Solutions and Protected Areas to Improve Urban Biodiversity and Health | Kathy MacKinnon | 12 June 2019
- The health benefits of nature-based solutions to urbanization challenges for children and the elderly — A systematic review | Nadja Kabisch et al. | November 2017
- Conservation of biodiversity as a strategy for improving human health and well-being | A. Marm Kilpatrick et al. | The Royal Society | 24 April 2017
- Restoring ecosystem health to improve human health and well-being: physicians and restoration ecologists unite in a common cause | James C. Aronson et al. | Ecology and Society | December 2016
NbS and Food
Food production has a massive impact on our planet. With more than half of Earth’s habitable lands currently used for agriculture, farmers and food producers play an important role in maintaining and conserving biodiversity. The loss of healthy soils reduces agricultural yields and could result in a food production shortfall of 25% by 2050. It is estimated that increasing soil biodiversity could contribute up to 2.3 billion tonnes of additional crop production per year, valued at US$1.4 trillion (IUCN, 2020). NbS are designed to improve the ecosystem services provided by nature. When deployed properly, NbS can deliver multiple benefits, including supporting agricultural production and resilience, to mitigating climate change, enhancing nature and biodiversity, and providing hydrological services. Thus, they represent a key pathway to meet the increasing demand on the food system while halting further land degradation. Discover why adopting NbS approaches to better our food systems is essential to meeting the fundamental human right to food through the links below.
- Nature-based Solution for Food and Human Health | UNFCCC
- Forest restoration solutions to transform food systems | UN-REDD Programme | 27 August 2021
- Agroecology comes into focus at the UN Food Systems Summit | Biovision | 4 August 2021
- Nature-based solutions in agriculture: The case and pathway for adoption | FAO & The Nature Conservancy | February 2021
- Nature-based solutions in agriculture: Sustainable management and conservation of land, water and biodiversity | FAO & The Nature Conservancy | February 2021
- Nature-based solutions in agriculture: Project design for securing investment | FAO & The Nature Conservancy | February 2021
- Approaches to sustainable agriculture | IUCN | 2020
- Common Ground Report | IUCN | September 2020
- Conserving healthy soils | IUCN | May 2019
- Nature-Based Solutions for agricultural water management and food security | FAO | February 2019
- Soil biodiversity and soil organic carbon | IUCN & Global Drylands Initiative | 2018
- Ecological approaches and organic farming | European Commission
NbS for Disaster Risk Reduction
Healthy ecosystems can act as a buffer against hazards and the impacts of climate change, while building resilience, sustaining livelihoods and supporting coping as well as recovery actions from disasters. Vegetation cover can stabilise slopes, thus reducing the risk of landslides. Wetlands can help regulate floods. Coastal vegetation, sand dunes and mangroves can provide protection from storm surges, strong winds and cyclones. Healthy coral reefs can reduce wave energy during coastal storms. Therefore, the protection, sustainable management, and restoration of these ecosystems strengthen disaster and climate risk management. Here lies the immense potential of NbS to build resilience for communities across the globe. Nature-based solutions are increasingly being recognized as an effective and cost-efficient way of reducing disaster risks, helping people adapt to climate change and building community resilience. Find out more through the resources below.
- Words into Action: Nature-based solutions for disaster risk reduction | UNDDR | 2021
- Eco-DRR: What are IUCN’s solutions? | IUCN
- Nature-based Solutions for Disaster and Climate Resilience | UN SDG Learn
- Nature-based solutions for flood risk reduction: A probabilistic modeling framework | David Lallemant et al. | One Earth | 8 September 2021
- Nature-based Solutions for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in humanitarian context | FEBA, PEDRR & EHAN | May 2021
- Ecosystem-Based Disaster Risk Reduction: Implementing Nature-based Solutions for Resilience | UNDDR | 2020
- Protecting and Enabling Nature-Based Solutions | Swiss Re | 2020
- Nature-based Solutions vital for risk governance | Statement by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Mami Mizutori, at the launch of IUCN’s Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions | UNDDR | 23 June 2020
- Nature-based solutions to disasters (Issue Brief) | IUCN | November 2017
- Nature Based Solutions for Human Resilience: A Mapping Analysis of IUCN’s Ecosystem Based Adaptation Projects | IUCN | March 2014
- Building resilience to climate change : ecosystem-based adaptation and lessons from the field | IUCN | 2010
NbS in Cities
NbS are a powerful tool to enhance resilience, support sustainable development, improve the quality of life of urban citizens and safeguard biodiversity. They also provide cost-effective approaches to urban sustainability challenges. Indeed, the co-benefits they provide in terms of public health, social cohesion, or climate change mitigation, are likely to exceed the cost of implementation and maintenance. Thus, implementing NbS in cities can create win-win solutions for society, the environment and the economy. Tree-covered areas along streets or parks and wetlands, can reduce the urban heat island effect and cooling needs through natural shading, manage run-off water with fewer flooding events, and improve health and well-being, both directly and through recreational opportunities. NbS interventions around cities can also help with watershed management, recreational space, managing wildfires, improving drinking water quality, reducing, and capturing CO2 emissions, and reducing the impact of sand and dust storms. Discover the potential of NbS for urban areas through the links below.
- Smart, Sustainable and Resilient cities: the Power of Nature-based Solutions | UNEP | 23 July 2021
- Smart, Resilient and Sustainable Cities Action Plan | Joint G20 Energy-Climate Ministerial Communiqué | 23 July 2021
- Cities with Nature | A unique initiative to enhance the value of nature in and around cities across the world.
- IUCN Urban Alliance | A coalition of IUCN members concerned about urban issues
- The Nature of Cities | An international platform for transdisciplinary dialogue and urban solutions
- Nature Within Cities and Cities Within Nature | UNEP | 30 June 2021
- UN-Habitat launches #ClimateAction4Cities Campaign | UN-Habitat | 12 April 2021
- United for nature on World Cities Day | ICLEI | 30 October 2020
- Nature-based Solutions to Climate Change Feature Urban Forests | IISD | 26 September 2019
- How cities are using nature for sustainable urban development | ICLEI | 5 June 2017
- Nature-based solutions for sustainable urban development – Briefing sheet | ICLEI | March 2017
Investments in NbS
The State of Finance of Nature, released by UNEP, WEF, ELD and Vivid Economics in May 2021, tracks global trends in public and private investment in NbS, aiming to improve data quality and identify opportunities for governments, businesses and financiers. The current investments in NbS amount to USD 133 billion (about 0.10 per cent of global GDP), most of which comes from public sources. The report calls for investments in NbS to triple by 2030 and to increase four-fold by 2050 from the current level. If the world is to meet the climate change, biodiversity, and land degradation targets, it needs to close a USD 4.1 trillion financing gap in nature by 2050. While an increase in public funding would help plug some of the gap, there needs to be a significant increase in private sector investment in NbS.
The IUCN promotes NbS tools and advances nature as a solution in its different projects, for example, for water infrastructure development and for the protection of communities from disasters and impacts of climate change. Moreover, the IUCN has set the global standard for NbS.
UNEP shares inputs of initiatives and best practices from around the world, received following the global call for contributions to the NbS workstream at the Climate Action Summit.
United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD Programme)
The UN-REDD Programme supports nationally led REDD+ processes and involvement of all stakeholders, promoting NbS for climate change through the conservation, the sustainable management and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
PEDRR is the global thematic platform of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). It seeks to promote and scale-up implementation of NbS for Disaster Risk Reduction, and ensure it is mainstreamed in development planning at global, national and local level.
WWF works globally on promoting NbS and prioritizing actions that could have climate benefits. WWF provides practical guidance for countries to include NbS in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and develops science-based guidance for synergistic interventions, among other things.
The MAVA Foundation supports nature conservation. It promotes NbS indirectly by underlining the value of ecosystems and biodiversity. For example, it highlights that conserving seagrass beds in West Africa, contributes to water quality, store carbon, produce oxygen, and help regulate climate and protect the coastline.
The WBCSD is actively involved in Natural Climate Solutions (NCS), raising awareness and being part of Natural Climate Solutions Alliance and Nature4Climate. Nature4Climate is the world’s first coordinated effort to address the totality of NCS across forests, farms, grasslands and wetlands, by promoting increase policy action and investment.
IISD launched a new global initiative with the MAVA Foundation, the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. It aims to establish the business case for investing in nature and make it easier for investors and government officials to assign a value to NbS.
The World Economic Forum, in partnership with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), have launched the Natural Climate Solutions Alliance. It aims to scale up affordable natural climate mitigation solutions by bringing together public and private stakeholders to identify opportunities and barriers to investment into carbon credits to increase financing for natural climate solutions.
The joint UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section supports support member States and regional economic integration organizations in their efforts to sustainably manage forests so that they provide forest goods and services to benefit society.