Nature-based Solutions: Harnessing the power of nature for society

Photo credits: Maldives’ mangroves, by Mohamed Sameeh for Unsplash, 2019

The potential of nature to solve some of societies’ most pressing challenges has long been recognized. Yet, it was only recently that this idea was shaped into the concept of “Nature-based Solutions” (NbS), first defined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the European Commission and the World Bank Group, among others. All conceptualizations agree on the fact that such solutions or actions stem from nature, addressing and solving key societal challenges in a way that enhances both human wellbeing and natural biodiversity and resilience. 

In particular, Nature-based Solutions have risen to prominence for their power to confront one of the world’s most compelling threats, namely climate change. Forests may be the most renowned example: Earth’s green lungs sequester greenhouse gas emissions, clean the air and produce oxygen. Other crucial ecosystems also act as “carbon sinks” and more. For instance, coral reefs are vital in regulating ocean temperatures and curbing acidity. Mangroves strategically mitigate the incidence of coastal erosion, flooding and other natural disasters

Even millenary practices from different cultures have long leant on nature, such as the use of ducks for pest control by Thai rice farmers. If still unpersuaded, then the International Monetary Fund discussing the potential of whales as carbon sinks boosting the blue economy may change your mind. Moreover, most of these varied Nature-based Solutions also play a priceless role in boosting income-generating activities for local communities, enhancing food and economic security.

In fact, NbS are increasingly under the spotlight as accelerators for the SDGs and the Agenda 2030. They improve water management and sanitation for SDG 6, alleviate poverty for SDG 1 with increased and more sustainable food sources for SDG 2. Also, they boost income and employment opportunities for local communities (SDG 8) while reducing the incidence for natural disasters and disease by promoting a healthier balance with nature (SDG 3). Even more, they bring stakeholders to the table and thus facilitate partnerships for sustainable development (SDGs 16 and 17).

IUCN’S NbS Concept Framework,

Photo: IUCN, 2021

The emergence of Nature-based Solutions has also resulted in the creation of coordinating mechanisms and institutional frameworks to unlock their potential for sustainable development and beyond. The UN Climate Action Summit convened in 2019 already gave birth to a Coalition for NbS, coordinated with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The IUCN recently developed a Global Standard for NbS to help in the design, implementation and verification of NbS actions.

Moreover, the Global Future Council on Nature-based Solutions is a multi-stakeholder platform cradled by the World Economic Forum. It brings together world experts across academia, business and Government to enable a nature-positive economy. The Nature-based Solutions Initiative, another interdisciplinary platform, gathers international scientists under the leadership of The University of Oxford to shape these solutions in both policy and practice through impactful research.

As climate change and other global challenges loom over the horizon, nature will continue to offer its treasured wisdom for free. At GlobalCAD, we are driven to make nature work for humans and vice versa in the projects we undertake, from designing policy indicators for climate change in Costa Rica to battling deforestation and ecosystem defradation in Guyana. In the end, it is both our call and our duty as humans to embrace this natural wealth of incalculable worth, and to ally with it to make the world a better, greener place for all.

Jorge Alarcón
Jorge Alarcón
Jorge joined GlobalCAD through the ICEX Scholarship Programme on Business Internationalisation and works as a technical and research assistant.