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Everything (or Almost Everything) to Know About Nature-Based Solutions

Climate change is one of the biggest threats to all living things. Today, the fight to limit its effects represents a crucial societal challenge for both socio-economic human activity and the protection of biodiversity.

Nature plays a fundamental role for humanity by providing ecosystemic services that enable our survival and well-being. Moreover, by ecological and evolutionary processes, nature also regulates the climate in which our societies have developed. In effect, marine and terrestrial ecosystems participate in changes in the flow between the biosphere and atmosphere, and thus are essential actors in the carbon, water, and nitrogen cycles. They are also the main carbon sinks in the face of anthropogenic emissions, allowing for a gross sequestration of 5.6 gigatons of carbon per year. In particular, marine ecosystems, including the oceans, have a very efficient heat storage capacity (93%), which is much greater than that of the continents (3%) and the atmosphere (1%). This excess of carbon absorbed by the oceans presents grave consequences to the dynamic properties of the oceans, its exchanges with the atmosphere, and all marine ecosystems. Thus, retroactions between the climate and biodiversity are at the origin of the environment and its dynamics.

Source: French Development Agency

However, scientists agree, biodiversity and the climate are significantly altered by multiple human factors. According to the International Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the 5 major causes that have been identified in the erosion of biodiversity are:

  • The destruction, fragmentation, and artificialization of natural environments,

  • overexploitation or unsustainable natural resource management practices,

  • Climate change,

  • Ocean, freshwater, soil, and air pollution,

  • And the introduction and spread of invasive exotic species.

Today, a large majority of ecosystem and biodiversity indicators are in rapid decline across the globe. Varieties of plants and animals continue to disappear and the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) raises alerts on the global conservation status of flora and fauna. This major loss of diversity, including genetic diversity, combined with increasing pressures, is creating retroactive effects on the climate and severe consequences for our livelihoods, quality of life, and economy.

While most adaptation research is related to the energy transition, why not seek solutions based on those offered by ecosystems?

The concept of Nature-Based Solutions emerged during the conference of Parties of the United Nations - Climate Change Conference in 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark. In this regard, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defined these solutions as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems to directly address societal challenges in an efficient and adaptive manner, while ensuring human well-being and producing benefits for biodiversity.” The mitigation of climate change thanks to Nature-Based Solutions is thus linked to the capacity of ecosystems to capture and store carbon.

Source: French Committee of the IUCN

They are divided into three types of action…

  • The preservation of functional ecosystems in a good ecological condition,

  • Improving the management of ecosystems for sustainable use by human activities,

  • Restoration of degraded ecosystems or the creation of ecosystems..

...And they must satisfy two existing principles:

  • Directly contributing to an identified societal challenge, other than the conservation of biodiversity,

  • Build on ecosystems and provide benefits for biodiversity.

The concept has grown over time. It was after COP21, and then in 2016 at the World Conservation Congress, that the place of Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) in achieving Sustainable Development Goals, and in particular in climate action, was truly recognized at the international level, both in the Paris Agreement, but also through the adoption of the motion to define Nature-Based Solutions. In France, the new National Climate Change Adaptation Plan (PNACC 2) and the new Biodiversity Plan (2018) promote the use of Nature-Based Solutions. The integrated project, Increasing the Resilience of Territories to Climate Change by Encouraging Nature-Based Adaptation Solutions (ARTISAN), developed by the French Office of Biodiversity (OFB), was launched to support the implementation of these plans. In addition, Nature-Based Solutions were also very present in the recent international manifestations at COP26 where Lord Goldsmith, British Minister of the Environment, announced, “Nature-Based Solutions represent about one third of the solution for the Paris Agreement. This is why the United Kingdom has chosen to place nature at the center of the campaign for COP26”, and at the World Conservation Congress in Marseille last September, where the IUCN Members’ Assembly adopted three motions on NBS, reiterating the importance of prioritizing them for investment.

In 2020, the IUCN launched the Premier World Standard, offering a premier referential on Nature-Based Solutions in order to encourage the deployment of solutions to achieve world goals in terms of the climate, conservation, and development. This standard includes 8 criteria and associated indicators which allow for evaluators to note the relevance, scale, and then environmental and social economic viability of a project; to become aware of the stakes; to assure transparency and management of the project; and to explore possible links with international goals and commitments.

What are the benefits?

  • For biodiversity, NBS offer protection, restoration, and sustainable management of ecosystems in order to support their resistance and their capacity to return services.

  • For the climate, NBS have an effective role in the adaptation to climate change and the reduction of natural risks.

  • For territories, NBS translate into actions at different levels that reduce their sensitivity to climate change, thus making them attractive. In effect, these solutions are primarily designed to preserve natural capital and support the resilience of territories in securing economic sectors.

  • For human societies, NBS can generate co-benefits by supporting adaptation to climate change, while meeting health challenges, protection against natural disasters, food security, and access to water.

Source: IUCN

What are the experiences in territories?

Nature-Based Solutions have the advantage of being cross-cutting since they address climate issues and/or natural risks and biodiversity within the same projects. These solutions therefore require territorial planning with a large association of local actors and the implementation of a process of governance that allows the sharing and reconciliation of project goals.

In order to be effective and produce significant results, NBS should be implemented on a long-term scale, as highlighted by the French Committee of the IUCN. In effect, the benefits generated by the protection, sustainable management, or restoration of natural environments are not always immediately perceptible and the actions implemented should take into account an area that allows for optimal ecosystem functioning.

Numerous projects have already been launched in metropolitan France and overseas French territories. These include the preservation of dunes on the Aquitaine coast, the restoration of peat bogs in the Jura, the preservation of flooded hay meadows in the Oise valley, and the creation of fresh islands in Orléans. Concerning the latter, the city of Orléans’ objective was to maximize the presence of vegetation in the city to reduce urban heat. To do this, they used the various policies that the city has adopted, such as the biodiversity plan, the territorial climate energy plan, the ecological management of green spaces, a local urbanization plan, and introduced elements that made it possible to protect existing green spaces or to create new ones. This initiative has made it possible to improve the quality of life of the city’s inhabitants with nature areas in the city, to protect water resources, and to improve local climate regulation and air quality.

In order to continue promoting and deploying these solutions, the French Committee of the IUCN continues to identify and promote initiatives underway in the territories.

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