SDC Water Blog

Dec 02
Exploring the Potential of Nature-based Solutions for Sustainable Development

Everyone is talking about Nature-based solutions, but what are they exactly and do they really have the potential to foster sustainable development? Those were the questions at the core of the event organized by the Global Programme Climate Change & Environment and the Global Programme Water, on November 21st in Bern.

A common understanding

Nature-based solutions (NbS) are not about mainstreaming nature or conservation as such, but about looking at where nature can or cannot be used as a solution. According to IUCN, NbS are "actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits". James Dalton, Director of the Global Water Programme at IUCN, declared that despite being referred to as 'the new kid on the block', NbS are nothing but new; however there is a momentum and growing (business) interest for them. Janine Kuriger, Head of the Global Programme Climate Change & Environment at SDC, and Patrick Sieber, the new focal point of Climate Change & Environment, both mentioned that while, the term is currently all over the place nowadays, there are different understandings of what NbS solutions encompass and of the role they could play in fostering sustainable development. Adopting the perspective of climate change, environment and water, the event provided a space to unpack this term to reach a shared understanding. Daniel Maselli, the new focal point of SDC's Water Network RésEAU, encouraged participants to have an open mind during this learning journey, while reflecting on how we could change the rationale of our business models, from "business for profit" to "business for the benefits of people and nature".

Setting the scene

For James Dalton, social acceptance of NbS is difficult, as those solutions require time and people that are concerned with their immediate local benefits. Making use of today's technologies, David Nabarro, Strategic Director of 4SD, stated through a recorded video message that more emphasis should be put on the local and national level rather than on the international one at which we are currently working. Elise Buckle from SDG Lab, declared that the question is not to know if the solutions work, as they do, but if there is political will and available funding to scale up these solutions. Participants from the public said that the fact that the tools are not sophisticated enough is problematic for financial valuing and the quantification of benefits. A question was if there is a need to reach international consensus and to come to a new international agreement on NbS. The answer was that there is no need for this as we should make the best out of one we already have: the Paris Agreement.

Break-out sessions - project deep dive

Participants were invited to split into four groups and to join interactive break-out sessions. One session was on 'Learning watersheds in Ethiopia – solving the degradation problem', by Isabelle Providoli from CDE. The second one was on 'MiParamo – mobilising investments to preserve high Andes wetlands', by Erika Zarate from Good Stuff International. The thrird was on 'Meeting the degradation challenge in Tajikistan – letting the vegetation return', by Boris Orlowsky from Caritas. The fourth was on 'Sempre Viva – flower picker communities become first Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System in Brazil', by Judith Macchi from HEKS. The photos from the session on Sempre Viva testify that the group sessions were fruitful for thinking out of the box. Some of the elements discussed were the needs to factor in external costs and to recognize communities as custodians of healthy ecosystems, whose services should be socially valued and paid for.

The Sempre Viva project from HEKS

Group discussion on the Sempre Viva project from HEKS

Financing NbS and accelerating the uptake

Alexandra Frank, from South Pole, explained how today NbS' source of financing is a combination of public sector and philanthropy, while there is an urgent need for private funding. Nina Saalismaa, from ZOï Environment Network, declared that we should focus on three elements to upscale NbS: 1) ensuring multi-stakeholder participation; 2) addressing knowledge gaps on the implementation (need for guidelines and standards) and the evaluation sides (quantification of benefits and measurement of effectiveness) and 3) bringing funding into NbS.

Break-out sessions

Participants were again invited to choose between four different break-out sessions. Two session were on financing, one on the 'Global Fund for Forests and Nature', by Preeti Sinha from FFD Ventures; the other one was on 'Land-Use Impact Funds' by Urs Dieterich from South Pole. The two other sessions were on the topic of upscaling, one was on 'Scaling up implementation of NbS' by Radhika Murti from IUCN; the other session was on 'Policy influence and relevance of upscaling NbS' by Sandeep Sengupta from IUCN. Some elements discussed during the session on policy influence were the link between the Paris Agreement and NbS: while 60% of countries incorporated them in their national determined contributions, there is little recognition of other NbS apart from forest ecosystems (e.g. mangroves). Also despite their contribution to 30% of the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, NbS receive only 3% of the budget. The role of cities and local governments in complementing national governments was also discussed.

A new narrative

We are used to have ecosystems services for free, which results in public opinion, governments and private sector resisting against the recognition of their value and their pricing. For Johan Gély, Head of the Global Programme Water at SDC, the impact of NbS goes beyond environmental considerations: NbS are bringing additional security to the population. It would thus be interesting to mobilize a peace narrative when promoting NbS.


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