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Ecosystem-based approaches

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

Ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction enhance social and environmental resilience by restoring, maintaining, and improving ecosystems and ecosystem services. 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).

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.

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 promoting 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 2013 Green Infrastructure Strategy  emphasises the economic, social and other co-benefits arising from green infrastructure and ecosystem-based solutions. Guidance on implementation for decision makers is provided in the EU Guidance document on a strategic framework and the EU Guidance document on integrating ecosystems and their services in decision-making, Part1Part2Part3. These guidance documents are complemented by an overview and progress report of Natural Capital Accounting in the European Union.

At the global level, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 (SFDRR) encourages “ecosystem-based approaches … to build resilience and reduce disaster risk“.

Two of the Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi targets (10 and 15) aimed to minimize the impact of climate change on ecosystems. The results of related work are available in synthesis reports (CBD Technical Series No. 85, 2016CBD Technical Series No. 93).


Improving the knowledge base

Under the EU-funded Horizon 2020 programme, a substantial collaborative effort was made to provide practitioners with a comprehensive Nature-based Solutions (NBS) impact assessment framework, and a robust set of indicators and methodologies to assess impacts of NBS. This has resulted in a handbook for practitioners and a corresponding appendix of methods.



  • Studies, reports and factsheets on green infrastructure funded by the European Commission are here;
  • The Biodiversity Information System for Europe (BISE) contains online information on green infrastructure, including structured information on green infrastructure activities within the Member States;
  • The Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Centre (DRMKC) provides knowledge and evidence at all levels and at all stages of the Disaster Risk Management cycle (prevention, reduction, preparedness, response and recovery), including those disasters associated to climate change;
  • 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 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 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) holds a ‘Database on ecosystem-based approaches to Adaptation’ (now included 37 in the Adaptation Knowledge Portal.


EU investment and funding

Information on financing opportunities, including Structural Funds, Cohesion Fund, European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. LIFE, H2020 and others, can be found here

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.

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.

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


National initiatives

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 (BISE).

Furthermore, the important role of Ecosystem-based Adaptation to enhance local resilience is recognised in city networks concerning the European municipalities, e.g. the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and EnergyC40 Cities, the Making cities resilient campaign (UNDRR), the Resilient Cities annual conferences (Local Governments for Sustainability, ICLEI), and the100 Resilient Cities  (Rockefeller Foundation) .