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.

What are nature-based solutions?

Nature-based solutions (NbS) reverse this rationale: it is often more effective to work with nature rather than against it. The power 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 [1]Ecosystem-based adaptation focuses specifically on climate adaptation. Ecosystem-based adaptation deploys nature-based solutions to reduce the negative impacts of climate change – storms, … Continue reading)). IUCN NL is highly committed to this approach on several levels, in the Netherlands as well as in the Southern Hemisphere.

Here, we focus on healthy ecosystems for climate mitigation and adaptation. In this approach, the rights of indigenous people and local communities are a priority.

Nature-based solutions are actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously benefiting people and nature.

Definition of nature-based solutions. Source: IUCN

Examples of nature-based solutions

  • Forests are 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.
  • Wetlands retain a lot of CO2 and water, making them a nature-based solution in the fight against climate change. With our REWET project partners, we study the potential of wetlands for the sustainable restoration and conservation of these important ecosystems in Europe.
  • In Ghana, the government wants to allow bauxite mining in the unique Atewa Forest. However, this forest is crucial for the water supply of at least 5 million people. Protecting the forest not only protects the species that live there but also preserves water as an important ecosystem service.
  • 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. 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.

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 and absorb CO2, 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.

Ecosystem-based adaptation

Ecosystem-based adaptation specifically focuses on climate adaptation. Ecosystem-based adaptation adopts nature-based solutions to reduce the negative effects of climate change – storms, drought, flooding and forest fires.

IUCN NL supports organisations and communities in Africa, South America and Asia with the implementation of Ecosystem-based adaptation measures.

Read more about Ecosystem-based Adaptation.

The 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.

Landscape approach

A landscape approach is applied in most 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 with sufficient biodiversity to provide important ecosystem services. Respecting human rights is an important condition for this.

Learn more?

Maxime Eiselin
Senior Expert Nature-based Solutions


1 Ecosystem-based adaptation focuses specifically on climate adaptation. Ecosystem-based adaptation deploys nature-based solutions to reduce the negative impacts of climate change – storms, drought, floods and forest fires