More Nature-based Solutions Needed To Accelerate Adaptation To Water-related Climate Change Impacts

21 Jan 2021 by The Water Diplomat

The United Nations Envrionment Programme (UNEP) has called on the international community to step up its work in nature-based solutions (NbS) to facilitate adaptation to climate change and water hazards in developing countries.

The UNEP Adaptation Gap Report 2020 acknowledges that NbS are increasingly recognised as particularly useful in the face of water-based climate hazards such as coastal and inland flooding and erosion as well as drought.

Although pointing to positive progress in the use of NbS in specific local programmes, the report identifies an urgent need for “system-scale approaches to achieve the full potential of their benefits”, and that this will involve “planning and coordination across national or jurisdictional boundaries”.

The report finds that, while adaptation financing is rising, it continues to be outpaced by rapidly increasing costs. This is particularly striking in developing countries likely to bear the brunt of climate change.

It also bemoans the fact that the potential for NbS for reducing specific climate risks is rarely explicitly recognised and that only a small proportion of climate finance is targeted towards NbS for adaptation.

Cumulative investment in climate change mitigation and adaptation projects by the four major climate and development funds stands at $94 billion. However, only $12 billion has been spent to-date on nature-based solutions, marking a tiny fraction of total adaptation and conservation finance.

Successful examples of NbS programmes in developed countries include the restoration of flood plains, wetlands and mangroves to regulate water flows and prevent coastal flooding, according to an environment policy paper published last year by the OECD.

As well as noting positive impacts on biodiversity, the paper also points to the additional economic benefits of such measures derived from recreation and tourism. However, it acknowledges that the timescales, spatial considerations, dynamic uncertainties and diffused benefits “can lead to NbS being a bad fit for decision making within institutional, regulatory and financial processes that have all been developed with grey infrastructure in mind”.

The latter point is echoed by the UNEP report. Although stressing that NbS for adaptation can cost less than hard engineering approaches, and deliver more substantial co-benefits, it outlines a number of challenges in their successful implementation. In addition to timescale and space considerations, it cites the need for “extensive and sustained engagement of a wide range of stakeholders”.