Nature-Based Solutions & Re-Naturing Cities

naturebased solutions

‘Towards an EU Research and Innovation policy agenda for Nature-Based Solutions & Re-Naturing Cities’ – the Final Report of the Horizon 2020 Expert Group on ‘Nature-Based Solutions and Re-Naturing Cities’ published by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, Climate Action, Environment, Resource Efficiency and Raw Materials.

  • Nature-based solutions – what are they?

Nature-based solutions aim to help societies address a variety of environmental, social and economic challenges in sustainable ways. They are actions which are inspired by, supported by or copied from nature. Some involve using and enhancing existing natural solutions to challenges, while others are exploring more novel solutions, for example mimicking how non-human organisms and communities cope with environmental extremes. Nature-based solutions use the features and complex system processes of nature, such as its ability to store carbon and regulate water flow, in order to achieve desired outcomes, such as reduced disaster risk, improved human well-being and socially inclusive green growth. Maintaining and enhancing natural capital, therefore, is of crucial importance, as it forms the basis for implementing solutions. These nature-based solutions ideally are energy and resource-efficient, and resilient to change, but to be successful they must be adapted to local conditions.

  • Key opportunities for research and innovation policy on nature-based solutions.  The expert group identified four goals:
  1. Enhance sustainable urbanisation – Currently, 73% of Europe’s population live in cities and this is projected to increase to 82% by 2050, resulting in over 36 million new urban citizens . This will pose a range of challenges for cities, including resource availability and equitable economic growth. The quality of urban environments is also at risk, necessitating their sustainable development and regeneration in order to provide citizens with healthy and liveable conditions.
  2. Restore degraded ecosystems – In Europe, significant areas of ecosystems are being lost or degraded as a result of human activities. For example, between 60% and 70% of European wetlands have been completely destroyed.The drivers of loss and degradation vary according to the ecosystem and location, but the key pressures include agricultural intensification, grey infrastructure expansion, pollution of brownfield sites, hydrological modifications to water bodies, the intensification of forestry practices and, generally speaking, climate change
  3. Develop climate change adaptation and mitigation – Addressing climate change is a challenge as its impacts on Europe are likely to increase and it affects all aspects of the environment, economy and society. For example, the annual damage of climate change to the EU economy, measured as GDP loss from today’s conditions, could be between €20 billion for a 2.5°C scenario and €65 billion for a 5.4°C scenario with high sea level rise.
  4. Improve risk management and resilience – Europe is exposed to a range of natural and technological hazards, including drought, extreme temperatures, floods, industrial and transport accidents, landslides and avalanches, storms, volcanoes and wildfires. In the EU, between 2002 and 2012, numerous such events generated 80,000 fatalities and €95 billion in economic losses.

depoldering NL

The restoration of the floodplain of the Noordwaard polder, the Netherlands, will provide climate change-related flood protection, improve the environmental quality for people and nature, increase recreational facilities and boost the economy. Both photos show the situation after depoldering, which has left more room for the river.

  • Seven priority nature-based research and innovation actions to meet societal challenges in the above four goals have been identified:
  1. Urban regeneration through nature-based solutions – Changes in land use, neglected land and abandoned areas are challenges for many cities. Urban regeneration through nature-based solutions offers a context for innovative interventions for green growth.
  2. Nature-based solutions for improving well-being in urban areas – With millions more people needing housing, services, workplaces, infrastructure and institutions by 205020, the potential impacts of development decisions are unparalleled. By integrating nature based solutions into urban design and planning, increasingly large and dense cities can improve human health and well-being, while offering ecological and economic co-benefits.
  3. Establish nature-based solutions for coastal resilience – Coastal habitats are iconic and of considerable economic and social importance across the EU, protecting against floods and erosion, while providing livelihoods for many individuals through tourism and fishing.
  4. Multi-functional nature-based watershed management and ecosystem restoration – Watershed management and restoration using nature-based solutions can help to reduce the risk of floods and droughts, while improving water quality and quantity.
  5. Nature-based solutions for increasing the sustainable use of matter and energy – Nature-based solutions can decrease resource demand through energy and matter-efficient processes. In cities, green spaces and green roofs provide natural cooling or insulation.
  6. Nature-based solutions and the insurance value of ecosystems – The insurance value of ecosystems has to date been largely overlooked in research and practice and mostly discussed in relation to its role as a metaphor for the value of resilience.
  7. Increase carbon sequestration through nature-based solutions – Over the last 30 years, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems have stored about a quarter of human generated CO2 emissions.
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