Home EU adaptation policy EU sector policies Ecosystem-based approaches (GI)
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Ecosystem-based approaches

Rotterdam.jpgGreen space in Rotterdam
Image credits: Marthe Derkzen, The nature of cities, 2017

Key messages

  • Ecosystem-based approaches focus 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, extreme weather events and flooding, the urgency of adaptation measures increases.
  • Ecosystem-based approaches are recognised as multi-purpose solutions that are often more efficient than traditional technical measures. The recently updated EU Adaptation Strategy puts a strong emphasis on ecosystem-based approaches, and particularly on nature-based solutions. These are typically stakeholder-driven and tailored to regional conditions. Relevant 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 financing schemes and networking initiatives.

Impacts and vulnerabilities

Climate change affects many sectors and regions across Europe. Ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction are widely applicable and hence very varied. They encompass several related concepts, including Nature-based Solutions (NbS), Green Infrastructure (GI) and Blue Infrastructure, Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA), Natural Water Retention Measures (NWRM), and ecosystem-based approaches to Disaster Risk Reduction (eco-DRR). The EEA report on Nature-based solutions in Europe gives a detailed overview of the different concepts.

Common to these concepts is that they aim to enhance social and environmental resilience by restoring, maintaining, and improving ecosystems and thus enhancing their services to society, such as water retention and prevention of soil erosion, floods and droughts.

Ecosystem-based approaches answer to several environmental and sectoral policy objectives (e.g. regarding biodiversity, water quality or agricultural and forest management) and generate multiple socio-economic benefits that often go beyond technical solutions.


Policy framework

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 new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change identifies ecosystem-based approaches as a cross cutting priority. Their implementation is for example instrumental for integrated river basin management under the Water Framework Directive.

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 recent 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.

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.


Improving the knowledge base

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 NbSs. This has resulted in a handbook for practitioners and a corresponding appendix of methods. and an overview of studies and publications on green infrastructure funded by the European Commission.

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

  • The OPPLA platform purpose is to share practical knowledge on natural capital, ecosystem services and Nature-Based Solutions, offering a wide range of case studies, products, and tools;
  • The Nature-based Urban Innovation NATURVATION website contains information on almost 1000 examples of Nature-Based Solutions 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 Nature-Based Solutions;
  • The Natural Water Retention Measures (NWRM) platform gathers information on green infrastructure 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 EbA Solution Portal fosters the sharing of Case Studies and examples of EbA from different regions and ecosystems around the globe;
  • The Nature-based Solutions Initiative is an interdisciplinary programme focusing on the science, policy and practice of NbS and offers two associated global platforms ('Nature-based Solutions Evidence Platform' and 'Nature-based Solutions Policy Platform').


Supporting investment and funding

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. 

EU Research until 2030 is funded under Horizon Europe, with cluster 6 being most relevant for ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation  and disaster risk reduction.

The new EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 highlighted that a significant proportion of the 25% of the EU budget dedicated to climate action will be invested on biodiversity and nature-based solutions.

In general, adaptation funding can be combined from different sources, and many of them also support ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation.


Supporting the implementation

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.

To develop a sound methodology and integrated system on natural capital accounting, the EU has 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.