What are nature-based solutions?

What are nature-based solutions?

Marsh Mark Hamblin 2020VISION

The decline of nature and the climate crisis are linked - but so are their solutions. 

Nature feeds us, provides us shelter, regulates our weather patterns, fuels our economy, protects us from disasters and, as we have learned the hard way, is the foundation of human health. 

As we look to a world of greater risk and greater uncertainty with climate change, it is nature that offers some important solutions to the climate crisis. But while we know that nature is vital, we also know that we are losing nature at a rate unprecedented in human history. Investing in nature-based solutions to the crises we are facing will help us secure a healthier, more sustainable and wilder future. 


What are nature-based solutions and how can they help tackle the climate crisis? 


IUCN diagram of nature-based solutions



According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), nature-based solutions are “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.1

At the heart of nature-based solution approach is the idea that we should be working with nature rather than against it. They are win-win solutions that involve protecting and restoring nature to address many of society's challenges and promote human wellbeing. 

Nature-based solutions to the climate crisis harness the power of healthy natural habitats which can store huge amounts of carbon, taking it out of the atmosphere and locking it away in soil and plant matter. But many of our wild places are damaged, fragmented and threatened with further destruction and as these habitats are lost or degraded, carbon is released.  

Forests are probably the most well-known nature-based solution to the climate crisis, but there are many more - including the peatlands, seagrass meadows, wetlands and grasslands. 

Nature can also help us adapt to the impacts of climate change, forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems can act as buffers against extreme weather such as flooding or droughts, saving lives and protecting houses, crops, water supplies and vital infrastructure.  

Why do we need nature-based solutions? 

Our planet is facing a dual climate and biodiversity crisis. 15% of the UK’s species are now at risk of extinction now threatened with extinction2 and 48% of Hampshire’s 50 most notable species are in decline3 - more than ever before in human history. At the same time, in the UK our people, nature, and infrastructure are already vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis, including floods, draughts and sea level rise, which will only increase in the coming years as the climate continues to change4

Alongside transformation in our energy, land, urban and industrial systems, nature-based solutions can play a key role in addressing these two connected crises. Yet, the potential of nature-based solutions for climate change has yet to be fully unleashed. 

One study in 2017, led by The Nature Conservancy and 15 other institutions, suggested nature-based solutions could provide up to 37% of the emission reductions needed by 2030 to keep global temperature increases under 2°C - but only if we act now. 5 

It’s important to remember that nature-based solutions aren’t a substitute for the rapid phase out of fossil fuels, we need to continue to push our national and local governments to ensure that they reach their net-zero targets by 2030. But nature-based solutions can help cool our planet and make habitats and communities more resilient to the climate crisis, while contributing to nature’s recovery and the prosperity of our health, society and economy.  

How do we put nature-based solutions into action? 

Promoting the role of nature-based solutions has already been highlighted as a key goal for COP26, the United Nations climate change conference that will be held in Glasgow this November6.  

“As there is no pathway to net zero without protecting and restoring nature, we are encouraging countries to include nature-based solutions in their climate plans.” - UK COP26 website 6 

COP26 is an opportunity to mainstream the role of nature in tackling the crises we are facing. We must see nature-based solutions included in countries’ climate plans (known as Nationally Determined Contributions) and investment in nature driven by governments around the world. 

2021 marks the start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, with a vision to halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems around the globe by the end of the decade - but this is only possible if governments invest in nature’s recovery and take urgent action to tackle the climate and nature crises. This has never been more important. 

  1. IUCN, 2021, Nature-based solutions, https://www.iucn.org/theme/nature-based-solutions  

  1. State of Nature, 2019, State of Nature Partnership, https://nbn.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/State-of-Nature-2019-UK-full-report.pdf  

  1. Hampshire County Council, 2020, State of Hampshire’s Natural Environment Report, https://documents.hants.gov.uk/hampshire2050/StateofNaturalEnvironmentReport.pdf  

  1. The Climate Change Committee, 2021, The Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk (CCRA3), https://www.theccc.org.uk/2021/06/16/uk-struggling-to-keep-pace-with-climate-change-impacts/  

  1. Griscom et al., 2017, Proceedings of the National Academies of the Sciences, Natural climate solutions, https://www.pnas.org/content/114/44/11645  

  1. UN Climate Change Conference UK, 2021, https://ukcop26.org/nature/