Last updated: 22 Jun 2021

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 recognized by the members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress in 2016 (WCC-2016-Res-069), and by the members of the UN Environment Assembly in 2022 (UNEP/EA.5/Res.5) as:

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.

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 with 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.

During the course of 2021, the Geneva Nature-based Solutions Dialogues – convened by the Geneva Environment Network and the International Union for Conservation of Nature – also provided 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).

The History of NbS

The importance of acting with nature rather than against it to solve global contemporary challenges is increasingly acknowledged. The concept of NbS emerged in the 2000s to promote nature as a source of solutions to address environmental and societal challenges. While the term itself may seem rather new, it has a longer history rooted in other key concepts and an understanding of the importance of ecosystems which have been recognized over the years. Find below some of the key milestones in the definition of and action for NbS, as well as recent negotiations which addressed NbS.

2009

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defines Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) as “use of biodiversity and ecosystem services into an overall adaptation strategy that takes into account the multiple social, economic and cultural co-benefits for local communities”

2010

At the 10th COP of the CBD, Parties adopt a common definition of Ecosystem-based approaches (COP 10 Decision X/33).

2013

In a guidebook published by PEDRR and CNRD, ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction (Eco-DRR) is first defined as “the sustainable management, conservation and restoration of ecosystems to reduce disaster risk, with the aim to achieve sustainable and resilient development”.

Jun. 2014

The first UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) adopts a resolution on EbA “encouraging all countries to include and improve EbA and community-based adaptation in their national policies” (UNEP/EA1/8)

Sep. 2016

The IUCN World Conservation Congress is 2016 in Hawaii marked an important step for NbS with the adoption of a definitional framework for NbS, thus establishing a common definition for NbS and a series of principles to guide effective and appropriate implementation.

Aug. 2019

The G7 Summit in Biarritz recognizes the role of NbS to achieve the SDGs and deliver multiple benefits. G7 leaders endorse the Metz Charter on Biodiversity and the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature.

Sep. 2019

The UN Climate Action Summit convened by the UN Secretary-General on 23 September 2019, brought great political attention to the power of Nature-based Solutions for climate and sustainable development, and underlined the growing movement for Nature.

Sep. 2020

The UN Summit on Biodiversity in New York, provided an opportunity to demonstrate ambition to accelerate action on biodiversity for sustainable development, and thereby give momentum to the development and eventual adoption of an effective post-2020 global biodiversity framework at the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP 15).

Jan. 2021

The One Planet Summit on Biodiversity, hosted by France sees various important commitments demonstrating high ambition for nature and people.

May 2021

The UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination endorses the ”Common approach to integrating biodiversity and nature-based solutions for sustainable development into the United Nations policy and programme planning and delivery”.

June 2021

At the G7 Leader’s Summit in Cornwall, ministers agree on the G7 Nature Compact, reiterating their mission to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 and tackle climate change. In this endeavor, governments commit to increase their finance contributions for NbS.

Sep. 2021

At the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, IUCN launches its Global Facility for NbS, which aims to promote the adoption of NbS as a proven sustainable development approach across sectors, and to encourage their delivery at the scale and quality necessary to meet global climate, conservation and development targets by 2030.

Oct. 2021

The first segment of the Fifteenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 15 CBD) in Kunming, China reviews the achievement and delivery of the CBD’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020.

Oct. 2021

Through the Rome Declaration, G20 leaders commit to “scale up and encourage the implementation of NbS or Ecosystem-based Approaches as valuable tools providing economic, social, climate and environmental benefits”.

Nov. 2021

At the 26th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26 UNFCCC) in Glasgow, 45 governments announced increasing finance for NbS to ramp up efforts to protect nature and shift to more sustainable farming.

Mar. 2022

At the second part of the Fifth Session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) in Nairobi, Member States adopted a resolution on NbS (UNEP/EA.5/Res.5), marking the first agreed definition of the concept in that arena.

Mar. 2022

The meetings of the CBD in Geneva continue negotiations toward the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, including the role that NbS could play in this context.

May 2022

The 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD COP 15) aims to improve the living conditions for people in drylands, to maintain and restore land and soil productivity, and to mitigate the effects of drought. The alignment between sustainable land management, EbA, Eco-DRR, and NbS was noted.

June 2022

The 56th Sessions of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Bodies in Bonn continues negotiations ahead of COP 27 later this year in Egypt.

NbS in Upcoming Negotiations

As NbS can address several challenges – climate change, biodiversity loss, food security, etc – and bring multiple benefits – livelihoods, human health and well-being, etc -, the role of NbS and the action needed to strengthen the work in this area are discussed in various fora. Major upcoming conferences events which are set to address the topic include:

June 2022

The UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, comes at a critical time as the world is strengthening efforts to mobilize, create and drive solutions to realize the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The Conference will propel science-based innovative solutions aimed at starting a new chapter of global ocean action.

Aug. 2022

The Fifth Session of the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction will be held in New York, USA. Convened by the General Assembly, this session is expected to finalize the text of an international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Aug. 2022

The World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden, will focus on transforming global water challenges. Among many issues, the role of NbS for water securing in the context of climate change is on the agenda.

Nov. 2022

The 14th Meeting of the COP to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (COP14), set to take place in Wuhan, China, could create an opportunity to discuss the role of wetlands as NbS.

Nov. 2022

The 27th COP to the UNFCCC in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, will continue negotiations on climate action. NbS could be discussed as part of both mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Dec. 2022

The second segment of the 15th COP of the CBD in Montreal, Canada, is expected to adopt the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which would define the goals and targets to achieve the vision of “living in harmony with nature” by 2050.

The United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030

On 1 March 2019, led by El Salvador and joined by other countries, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming the UN 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.

Geneva Dialogues

The 2021 Geneva Nature-based Solutions dialogues aimed 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. Convened by the Geneva Environment Network (GEN) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), this NbS journey brought together multiple actors from the Geneva International Community to establish a common understanding, set an open dialogue and share perspectives. The dialogues demonstrated that NbS can contribute to address the challenge of meeting our needs without further jeopardizing the health of our planet. Well-designed NbS can help address pressing societal challenges such as biodiversity loss, climate change, food and water security, disaster risk reduction, socio-economic development, and human health. Discover the outcomes of the dialogues →

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.