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Research Headlines - Nature has the solutions, but still needs help

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World leaders now generally accept that climate change is happening. This is why they adopted, during a high-level United Nations conference in 2015 (Paris Agreement COP21), the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal to limit global warming to below 2° C.

Nature-based solutions (NBS), which use the natural properties of ecosystems, are an example of the sort of actions called for in COP21. Typical examples of NBS are green roofs and city parks that limit heat stress, city lagoons that store water, and permeable surfaces, vegetation and rain gardens to intercept storm water.

The approach can help local and national governments better respond to climate change, enhance biodiversity and improve environmental quality while contributing to economic regeneration and social well-being.

Yet there is a substantial gap between the promise of NBS and their uptake. The EU-funded project NATURVATION aims to bridge the gap, and is calling for a step-change in how NBS are used for sustainable urbanisation, in particular.

“We need better ways to assess existing practice, identify barriers to uptake, understand the multiple impacts of NBS, and assess how these are all valued by a range of stakeholders and communities,” says NATURVATION’s coordinator Harriet Bulkeley of Durham University. Indeed, a whole new way thinking is needed to harness this complex subject, she suggests.

For this, the project is consulting with the main stakeholders in urban development, insurance, finance and governments to achieve a better understanding of NBS, and to propose a more coordinated approach. One of the project outputs will be a handbook for citizen participation, identifying policy approaches and governance arrangements that promote NBS, as well as assessing the potential for new kinds of finance to support these developments.

Overcoming a lack of coordination

Today, knowledge and experience of NBS is fragmented between different disciplines, sectors, authorities and private-sector organisations. And there limited documentation on the innovations that have led to the use of NBS and the governance, forms of participation, business and financial models supporting their success or limiting their use.

NATURVATION’s first and key step is to get a helicopter view of current initiatives, to better map the landscape. The project is conducting a detailed survey of up to 1000 NBS projects in some 100 European cities, with special consideration given to an additional six international benchmarks outside Europe. These are:

  • Boston (US), where NBS is used to address economic regeneration and social inequalities
  • Cape Town (South Africa), where the challenge of preserving and enhancing biodiversity goes hand-in-hand with addressing social inclusion
  • Tianjin (China), where the use of NBS is focused on smart eco-city development
  • Sao Paulo (Brazil), where NBS is used for water management and climate adaptation
  • Winnipeg (Canada), where NBS is integrated into urban planning
  • Melbourne (Australia), where local authorities have developed an urban forest strategy and actively work with NBS in relation to climate impacts.
Partnering for sustained innovation

Members of the NATURVATION consortium are involved in a number of existing international projects, which provide strong foundations and cross-links. Together, they have extensive experience of leading and conducting research across all regions of Europe as well as Asia, Australia, Africa, North and South America.

“Our project task force contains associate partners with extensive international experience of developing and implementing NBS, including ARUP, White Architects and Ramboll, as well as UN-Habitat which is providing a critical overview of the ways in which municipalities are responding to sustainability,” says Bulkeley.

Special platforms, called ‘stakeholder urban-regional innovation partnerships’, or URIPs, are being set up to put the new knowledge and tools created in NATURVATION through its paces in selected cities. These are Newcastle, Malmo, Utrecht, Gyor, Barcelona and Leipzig.

The project’s international, holistic approach seeks to forge a new understanding of the ways in which strategic intervention in urban development boosts innovative and long-term action to support a variety of nature-based solutions that deliver ecological, economic and social benefits.

“An important legacy from the project will be to create the momentum that means that effective nature-based solutions can be used in multiple urban contexts and that their benefits can be spread across different communities,” says Bulkeley.

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