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Nature-based Solutions: Inspiring Sustainable Innovation in Ecosystem Conservation

Nature-based solutions - ecosystem-based approaches to societal challenges and development goals.

Faced with the catastrophic consequences of the Industrial Revolution on Earth’s environment since the late 1800’s, and being aware of nature’s success in keeping the balance when left undisturbed, human society has begun to consciously emulate nature’s time-tested ecosystem forms, processes, systems, and organisms to solve problems. It’s by no means a new idea (e.g. Inuit peoples learned how to build Igloos by looking at polar bear dens and dams were inspired by beaver dams), but could have enormous social, environmental and economic potential when taken up at a global scale. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines all “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” as Nature-based Solutions (NbS).

As an umbrella term, Nature-based Solutions (NbS) seeks to explicitly link positive, “no regret” outcomes for society (‘solutions’) with a notion of ‘nature’ as a helpful agent for these aims. Moreover, it serves as a framework designed to efficiently classify all ideas based on and supported by nature in categories according to whether or not they fit IUCN´s NbS definition, as well as their strengths, approach, applications and the established NbS principles. As strategic interventions, Nature-based Solutions are capable of addressing a broad range of ecosystem services and societal challenges. This usually occurs through scenario development, baseline creation, stakeholder involvement, consistent monitoring and the promotion of green infrastructures that can substitute, augment or work in parallel with traditional, human-built (i.e. grey) infrastructure in a cost-effective manner.

The goal is to create products, processes, and policies better adapted to life on earth that can function both for the short and long term. An endeavor made possible thanks to modern technology, the 3.8 billion years of research and development provided by nature’s designs, and a growing collaboration among experts. Fostering integrated, interdisciplinary, cross-sectoral approaches is required for many Nature-based Solutions to be successful. For instance, the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems (RLE) tool can be used as a baseline to identify the conservation status of the ecosystems before implementing any NbS intervention, as well as to monitor and measure the effectiveness and efficiency of said NbS interventions. Furthermore, RLE can help to design the NbS initiatives and shape these according to the intervention’s scale.

Ecosystem risk assessments combined with ecosystem-based approaches promote high levels of adaptiveness towards local conditions, maintaining society’s ability to respond to changes over time. Thereby NbS add to the restoration and sustainable management through the use of natural resources for the benefit of people without eroding, and where possible enhancing, existing natural values. IUCNs Coastal Resilience to Climate Change project (CRCC), which focuses on NbS for building resilience in vulnerable and poor coastal communities in Mozambique, is an example of how NbS and RLE could work hand in hand.

Finally, as NbS are further embedded in the existing policy mix, they will need to evolve to enable the necessary shifts to take place; NbS approaches must not just be efficient in getting inspired by nature or managing ecosystems to address particular problems, but equally must be compatible with cultural and jurisdictional norms and practices. Like most complex initiatives, and given the multiple factors interventions must deal with, uncertainty will be a prevailing characteristic when designing Nature-based Solutions. Through work rooted in solid case studies, and by unifying NbS interventions under a single operational framework, IUCN seeks to remedy this situation as much as possible. These efforts also contribute to the possibility of scaling the implementation of these interventions and strengthening their impact in mitigating the world’s most pressing societal challenges.



Written by: Clara Gómez and Mira Franzen

Style and format: Lila García, Ariany García, Clara Gómez and Nima  Raghunathan

Provita Sep 07, 2018


IUCN Red List of Ecosystems


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