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Nature-based Solutions

Munich_Isar

Isar River, Munich
Image credits: Daniela Schaufuß; Source: City of Munich

Key messages

  • The European Commission defines nature-based solutions as “Solutions that are inspired and supported by nature, which are cost-effective, simultaneously provide environmental, social and economic benefits and help build resilience. Such solutions bring more, and more diverse, nature and natural features and processes into cities, landscapes and seascapes, through locally adapted, resource-efficient and systemic interventions.” Nature-based solutions must benefit biodiversity and support the delivery of a range of ecosystem services.
  • The United Nations agreed in March 2022 at the fifth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA 5)agreed on a resolution on nature-based solutions that presents many similarities with the European Commission definition.
  • Nature-based solutions are recognised as multi-purpose solutions that are often having larger co-benefits than traditional technical measures. The EU Adaptation Strategy, updated in 2021, puts a strong emphasis on ecosystem-based approaches, and particularly on nature-based solutions. Relevant EU policy frameworks are thus not only the EU Adaptation Strategy, but also the Green Infrastructure Strategy and the Biodiversity Strategy. The targets regarding ecosystem restoration are particularly relevant in this respect.
  • Empowering regional and local authorities and stakeholder communities to identify and implement nature based solutions calls for capacity building and knowledge sharing. At EU level, several relevant information platforms have been created for this purpose. The regional initiatives are further supported through dedicated EU funding schemes and networking initiatives including the EU Mission on adaptation to climate change.
Potential of nature-based solutions for adaptation policies and actions under a changing climate

Ecosystem-based adaptation focuses on ecosystem restoration and enhancement of ecosystem services to protect society against negative impacts of climate change. As climate change impacts become more obvious, e.g., droughts, flooding or extreme temperatures, the urgency of adaptation measures increases. Climate change affects many sectors and regions across Europe. Nature-based solutions (NbS) encompass a range of ecosystem-based approaches that aim to increase resilience to climate change. NbS are typically stakeholder-driven and tailored to regional conditions (6th IPCC reportEU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change). The EEA report on NbS in Europe gives a detailed overview of different NbS concepts and their application in policy sectors.  NbS are one of the five key type measures for adaptation in Member States’ voluntary reporting on adaptation measures.

NbS typically entail coastal zone protection, wetland restoration, river/floodplain restoration, agroforestry, close-to-nature forestry, (peri)urban greening and soil protection. NbS can thus deliver services such as erosion control, drought and flood prevention, carbon sequestration, cooling, and wildfire prevention. Scientific evidence for these multiple benefits and practical know-how are rapidly expanding in Europe, supported by EU Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe -funded research projects.

The effectiveness of NbS is highly dependent on the local context. Technical standards, collaborative governance, knowledge transfer, capacity building and sufficient funding will enhance their implementation. Involving local stakeholders is crucial.

Restored ecosystems such as peatlands and forests may themselves be affected by climate change, which potentially renders the NbS less effective in the long term. Therefore, the design of NbS projects should build on forward-looking studies of projected climate change impacts.

 

Policy framework

At the global level, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity has explicitly supported ecosystem-based approaches setting associated targets and recently adopting voluntary guidelines for their design and effective implementation. Also the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 encourages ecosystem-based approaches to build resilience and reduce disaster risk.

As part of the European Green Deal, the European Commission adopted the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030, which acknowledges nature restoration as a key contribution to both climate change mitigation and adaptation, and also promotes its integration into urban planning. On 22 June 2022, the European Commission made  a proposal for legally binding EU nature restoration targets, aiming to increase biodiversity, mitigate and adapt to climate change, and prevent and reduce the impacts of natural disasters .

The recently updated EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change puts a strong emphasis on NbS as a cross cutting priority. Their implementation is for example instrumental for integrated river basin management under the Water Framework Directive.

Large-scale NbS play an important role in promoting the solidarity principle mentioned in the Floods Directive, since they require strategies that address land management across transboundary landscapes or jurisdictions, involving a great variety of actors and stakeholders.

The 2019 review of the Green Infrastructure  Strategy emphasises the economic, social and other co-benefits arising from Green Infrastructure and ecosystem-based solutions. Two guidance documents on ecosystem services and Green Infrastructure focus on the implementation for decision makers of EU-level green and blue infrastructure: the  EU Guidance document on a strategic framework and the EU Guidance document on integrating ecosystems and their services in decision-making.

 

Improvement of the knowledge base

The NbS solutions in Europe report by the EEA explores how NbS can help prevent the worst impacts of climate change, and biodiversity and ecosystem loss. This publication provides a current and timely analysis on NbS, while identifying knowledge gaps and the remaining challenges preventing a wider implementation at the local level. Also, the IUCN developed a global standard for NbS and provides NbS tools to address climate change.

Under the umbrella of NbS falls the concept of Green Infrastructure. EU Member States have developed a wide range of activities regarding the national policy framework, mainstreaming Green Infrastructure into the sectoral policies, enhancing the knowledge base and implementing specific GI projects.  This information can be found in the Biodiversity Information System for Europe, BISE.

Under the EU-funded Horizon 2020 programme, a substantial collaborative effort was made to provide practitioners with a comprehensive NbS impact assessment framework, and a robust set of indicators and methodologies to evaluate the impact of NbS. This has resulted in a handbook for practitioners and a corresponding appendix of methods and an overview of studies and publications on GI funded by the European Commission.

Several portals and webpages provide examples and background information on NbS:

  • The OPPLA platform shares practical knowledge on natural capital, ecosystem services and NbS, offering a wide range of case studies, products, and tools;
  • The Nature-based Urban Innovation H2020 NATURVATION project developed key resources on NbS for climate, including an urban nature atlas with almost 1,000 examples of NbS from across 100 European cities that contribute to adapt the urban system to climate change and European assessment maps of benefits of NbS for reducing Urban Heat island for the 775 urban areas across EU;
  • The H2020 Network Nature project supports systemic knowledge transfer with its resource libraryand case study finder. Both include information on NbS for climate;
  • The Natural Water Retention Measures (NWRM) platform gathered information on GI applied to the water sector, with a large catalogue of actions and case studies;
  • The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) holds a ‘Database on ecosystem-based approaches to Adaptation’ within the Adaptation Knowledge Portal;
  • The NbS Initiative is an interdisciplinary programme focusing on the science, policy and practice of NbS and offers two associated global platforms ('NbS Evidence Platform'and 'NbS Policy Platform');
  • The EbA Solution Portalfosters the sharing of Case Studies and examples of Ecosystem-based Adaptation from different regions and ecosystems around the globe;
  • Knowledge4Policy (K4P) is the EU Commission's platform for evidence-based policymaking. This platform links to amongst others a handbook on the impact of NbS for practitionersand a State of Finance for Nature;
  • The BiodivERsA databaseincludes the current state of research on biodiversity and associated ecosystem services in Europe in terms of projects, programmes and funding. The BiodivERsA is having ongoing projects as the result of an explicit call on biodiversity and climate change. NbS/Ecosystem-based adaptation was one of the four topics of the call.

 

Supporting funding and investment

The Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) establishes EU’s budget. For the 2021-2027 spending period, a minimum of 30% of the total EU budget is allocated to climate objectives. The new EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 highlighted that a significant proportion of the EU budget dedicated to climate action will be invested on biodiversity and NbS. In general, adaptation funding can be combined from different sources, and many of them also support NbS to adaptation.

EU Research until 2030, relevant for NbS, is funded under:

Financial support to NbS can also be provided under the EU cohesion policy or the EU common agricultural policy.

The EU Mission on Adaptation to Climate Change supports regions, cities and local authorities in their efforts to build resilience against the impacts of climate change, providing funding as part of Horizon Europe, the EU Framework Programmes for research and innovation. Regions and local authorities in countries associated with Horizon Europe or in countries negotiating association to Horizon Europe can be involved in the Mission actions. Companies may also be eligible to participate, for instance as innovators providing innovative solutions or climate services. Funding opportunities may be found on the Funding and Tenders Portal, in particular under the Horizon Europe Work Programme 2023-2024.

A comprehensive overview can be found on the EU funding of adaptation measures page.

 

Supporting the implementation

The European Commission has provided guidance in the Handbook for the implementation of NbS for water security, a Handbook for practitioners to evaluate the impact of NbS and many other resources related to spatial planning, public procurement, finance, business and governance of NbS regrouped on Network Nature EU platform on NbS.

The participation of Member States, regions and cities will be crucial for  the EU to become climate resilient as they are key agents of change in deploying new technologies, experimenting innovative solutions that address local needs, and in leading different stakeholders towards the green transition. Therefore, the European Commission is using this new instrument of the EU Mission on adaptation to accelerate adaptation efforts  on the ground in EU Member states. The Mission is a delivery mechanism of  the European Green Deal and the EU Climate Adaptation Strategy. NbS are considered as a central component of the innovative solutions towards a systemic transition.

The Covenant of Mayors is an EU initiative to that aims to engage and support cities and towns  to reach the EU climate mitigation and adaptation targets. Under the new Policy Support Facility of the Covenant of Mayors, the European Commission is assisting local and regional authorities implement adaptation strategies for 12 selected countries. The use of NbS is one of the activities to be supported.

 

MRE of progress on using Nature-based adaptation

Many Member States consider climate impacts in their Flood Risk Management Plans. The fitness check of the EU Water Legislation 2019 showed that all 26 Schengen countries included NbS (i.e. natural water retention measures) in their Flood Risk Management Plans to deal with climate change. The 6th Water Framework Directive and Floods Directive Implementation Report includes national progress assessments of natural water retention measures per country.

To develop a sound methodology and integrated system on natural capital accounting, the EU has initiated the INCA project, closely aligned with its overall work on “mapping and assessing the state of ecosystems and their services” (MAES). INCA-MAES published  an overview and progress report of Natural Capital Accounting in the European Union.

In April 2022, the European Commission published the report “The vital role of nature-based solutions in a nature positive economy”. addressing knowledge gaps in the potential economic benefits of NbS and the challenges facing Nature Based Enterprises (e.g. generating new jobs and skills, innovations, and wider economic impacts through a nature-based approach that respects the needs of the environment and communities). The report examines some of the key issues confronting stakeholders, including ‘greenwashing’.