In a world grappling with pressing environmental challenges, the need for innovative and sustainable solutions has never been greater. In this quest for solutions, a beacon of hope emerges: Nature-based solutions (NBS). But what precisely are NBS and how can they pave the way for a transformative impact on our planet?
NBS looks to nature to address societal challenges while benefiting human well-being and biodiversity. Also known as ecosystem-based approaches, they embrace the notion that when ecosystems are healthy and well-managed, they provide many essential services and benefits for people.
While there are many formal definitions, the most commonly cited is from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which defines NBS as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously benefiting people and nature”.
Types of Nature-based Solutions
To guide users in the design and implementation of NBS, IUCN created the “Global Standard”, a framework to ensure that there is common understanding and interpretation, proper deployment, quality control, tools, and approaches in their execution. Therein lies five umbrella categories: Protection, Issue-specific, Infrastructure, Management, and Restoration, as well as seven societal challenges (Figures 1 & 2):
Additionally, the European network BiodivERsA initiated a collaboration between scientists, research donors, and stakeholders to propose another typology that categorises NBS based on two criteria: Level and type of engineering of biodiversity and ecosystems within the NBS and Number of services and stakeholder groups addressed by the NBS.
Three types of NBS are identified in this typology:
Type 1: Minimal intervention in ecosystems: Type 1 NBS involves little to no intervention in ecosystems. Its objective is to maintain or enhance the delivery of a range of ecosystem services both within and outside these conserved ecosystems. For example, protecting mangroves in coastal areas to mitigate risks associated with extreme weather and provide benefits to local communities, or establishing marine protected areas to conserve biodiversity within specific zones while exporting biomass to fishing grounds.
Type 2: Some interventions in ecosystems and landscapes: Type 2 NBS focuses on management approaches that develop sustainable and multifunctional ecosystems and landscapes, whether extensively or intensively managed. These interventions enhance the delivery of selected ecosystem services compared to more conventional approaches. Examples include innovative planning of agricultural landscapes to increase their multifunctionality, utilizing existing agrobiodiversity to enhance biodiversity, connectivity, and resilience in landscapes, and employing approaches that enhance tree species and genetic diversity to bolster forest resilience against extreme events.
Type 3: Managing ecosystems extensively or creating new ecosystems: Type 3 NBS involves extensive management of ecosystems or even the creation of new ecosystems, such as artificial ecosystems with specific organism assemblages for green roofs and walls to mitigate urban heat and air pollution.
Types 1 and 2 are commonly associated with the IUCN framework for NBS, while Types 2 and 3 exemplify the European network’s perspective on leveraging natural capital for green growth and sustainable development. While we cannot determine which is the most appropriate typology, one thing is certain: NBS possesses substantial yet largely untapped potential to effectively tackle global challenges.
Advancing Nature-based Solutions for People and the Environment
In view of this, GWS Living Art’s mission is to promote and advance the use of nature-based solutions in creating sustainable and livable communities. We believe that nature provides us with the answers to many of the challenges faced by our cities, and our commitment lies in harnessing this potential to create livable, healthy and thriving environments through developing NBS for decarbonisation, encompassing Types 1, 2 and 3.
Incorporating NBS into the built environment, we seek to support Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. This involves serving as a catalyst for greater efficiency in urban planning and management practices that address ongoing air, water and soil pollution as well as meeting the needs of the community through health benefits and programmes organised by our sister company, City Sprouts.
Through these commitments, we constantly strive to work towards sustainability, addressing the multi-faceted issues that face our planet today.
Nature-based solutions take many forms; From protecting mangroves to building green roofs and reforesting native tree species, NBS are a means of investing in natural and social capital. And by doing so, we hope that GWS Living Art restores balance, enhances resilience, and ensures a more sustainable future for generations to come.