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Nature-based Solutions


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

Key messages

  • Nature-based adaptation focuses on ecosystem restoration and enhancement of ecosystem services to protect society against negative impacts of climate change. As climate change makes itself increasingly felt through, e.g., droughts, flooding or extreme temperatures, the urgency of adaptation measures increases.
  • Nature-based solutions are recognised as multi-purpose solutions that are often having larger co-benefits than traditional technical measures. The recently updated EU Adaptation Strategy 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.
  • The reliance on regional stakeholder initiatives underlines the importance of 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

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. Nature-based Solutions are typically stakeholder-driven and tailored to regional conditions (6th IPCC report; EU 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 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-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 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. The European Commission is developing  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-scle 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 (GI) Strategy emphasises the economic, social and other co-benefits arising from GI and ecosystem-based solutions. Two guidance documents on ecosystem services and GI 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 IPCC Special Report on global warming of 1.5 °C states that Ecosystem based Adaptation (EbA) is recognized internationally under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD14/5). Nature-based Solutions (NbS) are a related concept -but not universally used in the scientific literature- that includes a broader range of approaches with safeguards and contributes to climate adaptation and mitigation. The IPCC AR6 WG II report Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability mentions that effective EbA reduces a range of climate change risks to people, biodiversity and ecosystem services with multiple co-benefits. Above 1.5°C global warming level, some EbA measures will lose their effectiveness in providing benefits to people as these ecosystems will reach hard adaptation limits.

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 GI. EU Member States have developed a wide range of GI-related activities regarding the national policy framework, mainstreaming GI 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.

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 purpose is to share practical knowledge on natural capital, ecosystem services and NbS, offering a wide range of case studies, products, and tools;
  • The Nature-based Urban Innovation NATURVATION website contains information on almost 1000 examples of NbS from across 100 European cities that contribute to adapt the urban system to climate change;
  • The platform ThinkNature is a case study and resources hub dedicated to NbS;
  • 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 Portal fosters 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 practitioners and a State of Finance for Nature.
  • The BiodivERsA database includes 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.
  • A source of data and information on ecosystem services and GIs in Europe can be found on the BISE website.
  • Network Nature supports systemic knowledge transfer with its resource library and case study finder. Both include information on NbS for climate change adaptation.


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 provides specific funding for ‘Testing and demonstrating transformative solutions on climate resilience, mainstreaming NbS in the systemic transformation’. It includes a funding with an indicative budget of almost € 90 million.


Supporting the implementation

The European Commission supports the implementation of  through the  providing a Handbook on the impact of NbS for practitioners, the Handbook for the implementation of NbS for water security and the Handbook for practitioners to evaluate the impact of NbS.

The participation of Member States, regions and cities will be crucial in achieving the EU’s resilience to climate change 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 directly support the implementation of adaptation on the ground in EU Member states. The Mission supports the implementation of the European Green Deal and the EU Climate Adaptation Strategy. NbS are promoted as an important element 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 commit to reaching 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.