Traditionally, social issues related to safety and food security are resolved using ‘hard’ resources: concrete, machines and chemical substances. For example, river dikes to prevent flooding and pesticides to protect crops from pests. Since the waning years of the 20th century, it has become increasingly obvious that these technological interventions involve major disadvantages: dikes are expensive and require a lot of maintenance, pesticides not only kill pests but also soil life.

Nature-based solutions (NBS)

Nature-based solutions (NBS) reverse this rationale: it is often more effective to work with nature rather than against it. The force of nature is used as an ally in solving diverse environmental issues such as subsidence, coastal erosion, weakened agricultural land, drought, flooding and pests. Nature-based solutions often go hand-in-hand with tackling the causes and consequences of climate change (ecosystem-based adaptation). IUCN NL is highly committed to this approach on several levels, in the Netherlands as well as in the Southern Hemisphere.

Examples of nature-based solutions (NBS)

  • In Ghana the government wants to allow bauxite mining in the unique Atewa Forest. The study supported by IUCN NL shows that these mining activities are not profitable because they would affect important ecosystem services provided by the Atewa Forest for five million people.
  • Sustainable soil management in the Onder het Maaiveld project that provides a biodiverse and resilient soil as the basis for healthy nature and a healthy society.
  • As of 2020, the Philippine port city Cagayan de Oro, at the estuary of the river with the same name, will help pay for upstream forestry management as a nature-based solution for resilience against the effects of climate change.
  • In 2019, IUCN NL supported the first environmental flow assessment of the Ouémé River in the densely populated Benin delta (West Africa). The results of this study underline the importance of river ecosystem services with figures, and reveal the benefits of working with nature. The study makes it possible to compare the socio-economic costs and benefits of nature-based solutions with those of the proposed development of non-nature-friendly, large-scale irrigation systems and hydropower plants in the upstream part of the Ouémé catchment area.
  • Forests are also one of the most important solutions to addressing the effects of climate change. Approximately 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, one-third of the CO2 released from burning fossil fuels, is absorbed by forests every year. That is why IUCN NL is committed to sustainable and inclusive forest management. In addition, forests provide protection against the consequences of climate change, such as extreme weather conditions, floods and droughts.

Ecosystem services

The nature-based solutions approach is based on the concept of ecosystem services: the services nature provides to society. Examples include trees that produce oxygen, bees that pollinate crops and dunes that provide clean drinking water. The value of these services is often overlooked because they are not priced on the financial markets (considered to be ‘free’) but in fact they make a significant contribution to our quality of life and the economy.

Landscape approach

A landscape approach is applied in all nature-based solutions projects that IUCN NL supports. The landscape approach involves bringing together various stakeholders in a certain region to collectively promote sustainable social and economic regional development. By uniting their interests and devising natural solutions we work on improving management of that landscape. In doing so we contribute to a society in which there is sufficient biodiversity, also in the future, to provide important ecosystem services.

Drafting alternative scenarios

Nature-based solutions involve devising scenarios to compare the social costs and benefits of nature-based solutions with ‘hard’ solutions for a certain region. The outcome serves as a building block for balanced decision-making aimed at a sustainable future for the area concerned.

Future of nature-based solutions

IUCN NL advocates for nature-based solutions at the institutional level and finds that they are increasingly accepted. This approach is viewed as a catalyst for achieving, among other things, the UN SDGs, the climate targets of the Paris Agreement and the EU’s Green Deal. The aim is to consider a green, nature-based scenario as an equivalent policy option to a hard industrial scenario at all decision-making levels. This is particularly relevant in the approach to climate effects and integral landscape management.

Learn more?

Maxime Eiselin
Senior Expert Nature-based Solutions