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Hidden in Plain Sight - Nature Based Solutions

Emma Nord explores just some of the benefits of nature based solutions in the context of the current climate and biodiversity crisis.

Working in harmony with nature is nothing new and something that humans have done for centuries. Farming and building ponds for water supply are some of these practices. Recently however,  these projects are attracting global attention as a means for combating climate change, ensuring human wellbeing, and  helping ecosystems thrive. These age-old activities have now been renamed and framed as nature based solutions, in the hope that they can prevent climate catastrophe. 

Nature based solutions (NbS) are employed as solutions to conserve, manage, protect, and restore ecosystems in a sustainable way while addressing economic, environmental and social issues through the perspective of providing benefits for biodiversity and human well-being. They are a holistic approach to the pressing issues of climate change, and allow nature to be a vital part of the solution.

Picture of an agroforestry plantation. Credit: NatureDan on Wikimedia.

Just some examples of NbS are agroforestry, green infrastructure in cities, wetlands, forest plantation and restoration of mangrove forests. These solutions can be found all over the world. For example, in India, there are urban forests keeping cities cooler while also creating green recreational spaces for the inhabitants. 

Picture showing a city from above with green spaces. Credits: Credits: Pexels at Pixels. 


We are even seeing NbS on a scale much closer to home. Near Cambridge, restoration of lowland fen has taken place to ensure proper flood management. From this project there have been many registered benefits, such as a biodiversity gain for many species whilst also enabling cycling and walking opportunities as well as increased wildlife tourism. What these examples of nature based climate solutions have in common are numerous positive co-benefits for both nature and humans in synchrony.

It has been established that NbSs are as effective as grey infrastructure, while often being more cost effective, hence gaining popularity. Currently, 92% of countries are including NbS in their climate targets to reach the Paris Agreement. To illustrate, in the United Kingdom, there is even an initiative gathering all information on how we can upscale nature based solutions in the UK. Directed to stakeholders, land managers and policymakers, it aims to guide target audiences on how to introduce nature based solutions according to the current science and lessons from relevant case studies. 

Picture showing a wetland. Photo credit: Larry D.Moore on Wikimedia

On an international level there are multilateral agreements which include nature based solutions.  In 2019,  the Climate Manifesto was released focusing on this idea. Within the manifesto, the potential of nature based solutions for emissions reductions, the need for international collaboration and the need for an upscaling of NbS are all highlighted. Furthermore, IPCC includes NbS as a way to reduce deforestation and to restore ecosystems, all to achieve the 2030 carbon target. 

The advantages for nature based solutions are many. However, there is a risk that the concept will fall victim to greenwashing when considering NbS. There is a concern that the potential for them is overstated. A narrow focus on NbS can also take the onus away from the important industrial shift to a complete disuse of carbon that is desperately required. It is also noted that nature based solutions may focus entirely on climate, and neglect the potential for positive impact on biodiversity and whole ecosystems. In order to avoid such pitfalls, there are guidelines for nature based solutions that can help ensure correct implementation.

Picture showing a woman picking flowers from a green bush. Photo credit: Sasint on Pixabay

When designing and implementing NbS, it is important to maintain a holistic approach. In most cases these solutions are implemented and experienced by local communities and indigenous people where nature is seen as a home and a cradle for life. For these people, NbS are capable of creating harmony between humans and nature. Prioritising indigenous perspectives and knowledge on nature based solutions is therefore key to ensure equity.

Nature based solutions, if implemented and regulated correctly, have the capacity to bring immense positive benefits to humans and the environment, pushing towards meeting many of the United Nations Sustainable Development goals. It can also be more than that, bringing nature and people to live together in harmony on the foundation that there is cultural and biological diversity that should be celebrated. Maybe the solutions to our climate and biodiversity crises have been there all along,..

About the Author: Emma Nord is a postgraduate student at the University of York, doing a MSc in Environmental Science and Management. Her interests are nature conservation, biological ecosystems and nature based solutions. When she is not reading or writing she enjoys going for long hikes, ballroom dancing and wild swimming.

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