Last updated: 30 Oct 2023

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.


The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defined 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”


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


In a guidebook published by PEDRR and CNRD, ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction (Eco-DRR) was 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) adopted 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 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 recognized 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 endorsed 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 agreed 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 launched its Global Facility for NbS, which aimed 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 reviewed the achievement and delivery of the CBD’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020.

Oct. 2021

Through the Rome Declaration, G20 leaders committed 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 continued 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) aimed 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 continued negotiations ahead of COP 27 later this year in Egypt.

June 2022

The UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, addressed among other themes, the need to manage, protect, conserve, and restore marine and coastal ecosystems, including through NbS.

Aug. 2022

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

Nov. 2022

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

Nov. 2022

The 27th COP to the UNFCCC in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, saw a clear recognition of the key role that NbS can play in addressing climate change. This provides Parties with a robust framework for effectively harnessing nature’s role in addressing climate adaptation and mitigation

Dec. 2022

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

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:

Jun. 2023

The further resumed Fifth Session of the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction discuss the adoption of the text of an international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Feb. 2024

Preparations for the sixth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-6) in Nairobi, Kenya from 26 February to 1 March 2024, include the zero draft ministerial declaration on promoting and strengthening ecosystem-based approaches and nature-based solutions.

Global Consultations on Nature-based Solutions

Following the adoption of resolution 5/5, “Nature based-Solutions for supporting sustainable development” at the UN Environment Assembly in March 2022, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has been requested to convene the intergovernmental consultations on Nature-based Solutions. The consultations will:

  • Compile examples of best practice in nature-based solutions, based on the best available science;
  • Assess existing and discuss potential new proposals, criteria, standards and guidelines to address divergences, with a view to achieving a common understanding among Member States for the implementation of nature-based solutions; and
  • Identify options for supporting sustainable investment in nature-based solutions and share information on bilateral and multilateral sources of finance to enable developing countries to develop and deploy nature-based solutions.

More information on the mandate of the consultations can be found on the background paper prepared by UNEP.

The first global consultation meeting in the series of intergovernmental consultations on NbS was a virtual meeting to take place online from 16 to 17 May 2023. The Final Intergovernmental Consultations on Nature-based Solutions will take place in Nairobi from 9 to 13 October 2023.

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.

NbS and Decent Jobs

Financing NbS

The Role of Geneva

Organizations are listed in alphabetical order.

CARE International

CARE International is a global leader dedicated to saving lives and ending poverty. Together with WWF, CARE established A People-First Approach to Nature-based Solutions. The alliance offers lessons and tools that respond to the urgent need to integrate nature-based and community-based approaches to climate change adaptation. Only by working inclusively and collaboratively with diverse stakeholders across landscapes will the global community succeed in building the community and ecosystem resilience needed to adapt and thrive under climate change.

Convention on Biological Diversity

Since 2004, the CBD has recognized the important role of ecosystem approaches, defined as “strategies for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way” (CBD, 2004). Through voluntary guidelines, the CBD has provided further support for ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) and ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction (Eco-DRR). In the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework adopted in 2022, NbS and ecosystems-based approach are mentioned as a tool to minimize the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on biodiversity and increase its resilience
through mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk reduction actions (Target 8) and to restore, maintain and enhance nature’s contributions to people, including ecosystem functions and services, such as the regulation of air, water and climate, soil health, pollination and reduction of disease risk, as well as protection from natural hazards and.  disasters

Food and Agriculture Organization (Geneva Office)

FAO’s work on NbS implies technical inputs, quality information and public–private sector engagement to enhance the performance of policies and activities on the ground and reduce the perceived risks associated with NbS investments. FAO also has developed an NbS framework in the design of GEF-7 projects in Asia. As part of the Green Agriculture Platform, FAO will implement a web-based training program on NbS.

FAO defines Agriculture Nature-Based Solutions (Ag-NBS) as an effective, long-term, cost efficient approach to tackling sustainable land and water resources management and climate change that can help improve water availability and quality as well as restore ecosystems and soils worldwide, while offering substantial health co-benefits and achieving global food security. These strategies can contribute to the attainment of multiple goals of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

International Labour Organization (ILO)

ILO is engaged in investigating work and employment in the emerging nature conservation and restoration economy and in ensuring the application of decent work principles in NbS-generated employment. In 2020, in the framework of the post-pandemic recovery, ILO and WWF authered a report Nature Hires: How Nature-based Solutions can power a green jobs recovery. In 2022, ILO, UNEP and IUCN launched a  joint global biennial report series that aims to fill knowledge and advocacy gaps on how transitions to a green economy will affect the world of work, and of the role that NbS can and do play in creating employment, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable people. The first report Decent Work in Nature-based Solutions (2022) was launched at the UN’s Biodiversity Conference, COP15, in Montreal.

International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)

IISD is promoting and building the NbS evidence base as a practical approach to addressing a variety of challenges, including water resource management, infrastructure, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and biodiversity conservation. IISD services thematic centers such as the Nature-based Infrastructure Global Resources Centre, which aims to bring together key partners to establish a business case for Nature-Based Infrastructure (NBI); the Nature for Climate Adaptation Initiative (NCAI) aims to enhance the implementation of socially inclusive and gender-responsive nature-based climate solutions for adaptation in the most vulnerable regions of the world among others.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) pioneered the concept of Nature-based Solutions 20 years ago, first developing a formal definition and then the Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions as a safeguard for their use. IUCN provides tools and on-the-ground support to help governments, communities, business and NGOs implement effective Nature-based Solutions that are ambitious, safe, sustainable, and that benefit people and the planet. Building on the IUCN Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions and its early applications, IUCN also offers stakeholders from all sectors the opportunity to earn a Professional Certificate on NbS through the IUCN Academy.

IUCN CEM Nature-based Solutions Thematic Group (NbS TG) was established in January 2017  and works on developing and improving the knowledge base on NbS, better integrate NbS in planning and decision making, and developing practical tools to be implemented on the ground, to addressing global societal challenges. CEM and the IUCN Secretariat resulted in developing the operational framework for NbS, with the Global Standard for NbS that was launched in July 2021.

Platform for Ecosystem Disaster Risk-Reduction and Adpation (PEDDR)

PEDRR, as the clearinghouse for knowledge, training, advocacy, and practice on Ecosystem-based Disaster Risk Reduction (Eco-DRR). Eco-DRR forsters the sustainable management, conservation and restoration of ecosystems to reduce disaster risk, with the aim to achieve sustainable and resilient development, to which NbS are instrumental in building resilience to disasters and climate change impacts.  Besides publications on the role of nature or ecosystem-based solutions to climate change and disasters, PEDRR developed MOOC  Nature-based Solutions for Disaster and Climate Resilience.

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR)

UNDRR sees NbS as a tool to address the growing challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, increased frequency of extreme weather and natural hazards as well as other human-made environmental disasters.  The Words into Action: Nature-based Solutions for Disaster Risk Reduction guide. It offers practical, expert-informed guidance on setting up and implementing NbS, especially for disaster risk reduction (DRR), but also for climate change adaptation. Designed to help implement the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, this Words into Action guide assists countries in advancing their national disaster risk reduction and climate strategies with ample evidence and practical examples of Nature-based Solutions that are already benefiting billions of people.

United Nations Environment Programme  (UNEP)

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) works with a range of stakeholders – from small communities on the ground to the highest levels of government – to shift humanity’s relationship with nature and provide sustainable solutions to our unfolding climate crisis. UNEP, along with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), leads the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which targets expanded use of agro-ecological farming practices, reforestation and afforestation, and more. UNEP also contributes to tree-planting initiatives and climate-smart agriculture. These programs reduce land degradation while soaking up carbon and help raise awareness about supporting biodiversity.

UNEP works with the FAO and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in implementing the UN-REDD Programme on reducing emissions from forest degradation. UNEP also helps countries define, implement and monitor their national biodiversity action plans and plan ecosystem-based adaptation to the climate crisis.

UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC)

UNEP-WCMC works to ensure that the benefits of nature-based solutions for addressing climate change and other societal challenges are widely understood and valued across the public and private sectors and that nature-based solutions are used effectively, with positive impacts for both people and nature. It develops and makes readily available high-quality, appropriate, and effective tools, data, and knowledge that are well-used across all sectors of society.

UN-REDD Programme

UN-REDD Programme provides technical assistance and knowledge to 65 partner countries to protect their forests, access finance, and achieve their economic and climate goals through REDD+. Among the four outcomes it pursues, Outcome 4 Connecting actors and knowledge for forest solutions addresses transformative Nature-based Solutions (NbS) as a key tool to accelerate climate action.