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Shifting adaptation towards nature-based solutions

  • Published at 07:22 am February 16th, 2020
Photo: Annabelle Avril

At COP 25, everyone was talking about a new approach to climate action: Nature-based solutions (NbS). Nature-based solutions (NbS) was endorsed in both recent IPCC Reports and is one of several keys “action portfolios” at UN Climate Summit in New York in September 2019. At least ten side events - where researchers, civil society members, and policymakers come together to discuss pressing issues and innovate solutions – included NbS in their titles.

This included: “Nature-based solutions and Global Climate Action - strengthening synergies beyond 2020”, “Ocean Frontiers: Addressing Global Climate Challenges through Nature-based Solutions”, “Nature-Based Solutions for Negative Emissions, Global Tree Potential and Landscape Restoration” and many more. 

But what does NbS actually mean?

NbS recognizes explicitly the risks posed by biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse and the need for nature-positive business solutions. It is emerging as an integrated approach that can reduce trade-offs and promote synergies among the Sustainable Development Goals. The new term NbS encompasses previously used term such as – Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EBA), eco-disaster risk reduction (Eco-DRR), and Green Infrastructure (GI). However, the new thing about NBS is that it involves working with and enhancing nature to help address societal challenges while also providing conservation and biodiversity benefits. 

NbS involves a wide range of actions, such as the protection and management of the natural environment, the incorporation of green and blue infrastructure in urban areas, and the application of ecosystem-based principles to agricultural systems. Hence, on the one hand, it is considering the spheres of development in the changing climate, while keeping natural conservation at the heart of it. This concept is grounded in the knowledge that natural and carefully managed ecosystems produce a diverse range of goods and services on which the well-being of the human depends. 

Looking to nature for solutions is a decisive turn in our approach to building resilience. Many of the impacts of climate change stem from a conflict between the organization of human societies and emerging natural hazards. While in the past, we have attempted to overcome nature through technology to build our societies, now we must learn to utilize nature to make our communities sustainable. 

Technologies can only get us so far. In fact, technological solutions that attempt to control the impacts of climate change potentially have new and unforeseen environmental impacts and maladaptive effects. Unstable human activities from farming and mining to infrastructure and industry are undermining the productivity of extensive farmlands, forests and other ecosystems and protected areas – for which we are facing a planetary emergency for nature, climate and humanity. This degradation is threatening food security, water supplies and the biodiversity upon which human development depends. Instead, by following nature’s lead, we can develop long-term solutions that do no further harm to the environment.

NbS in Bangladesh

NbS is, therefore, a welcome change in how we think about climate action, but like many trends in the climate arena, it risks being reduced to a buzzword. Fortunately, there are already numerous examples of NbS in Bangladesh that can help guide future work. 

The “Governance for Climate Resilience” (G4CR) project was presented at the Bangladesh Pavilion at COP 25. Led by the Center for Natural Resource Studies and the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, the project began by conducting a problem census with local community members in Satkhira to identify the challenges they were facing. Based on this census, they decided to restore a canal that had been encroached upon, allowing the community to use the canal for fishing. Also, utilizing saline-tolerant rice varieties and innovative planting methods, they worked to rebuild agriculture in desalinized lands. Working with the natural context, rather than against it, the G4CR project managed to enhance the lives and livelihoods of villagers. 

We need to follow nature’s examples and learn from natural processes, imagining nature as a solution rather than a hindrance to development and resilience. For which, the development decision-makers in public and private sectors need to understand this much broader concept. Capacity building of policymakers and practitioners has to be enhanced in order to widespread recognition of the NbS. Massive investment efforts to conserve and restore the ecosystems and biodiversity is required to unlock its full potential. Hence, both public and private sectors should recognise the necessity of protecting the ecosystem and biodiversity, and encourage themselves to incorporate low-cost and low-risk NbS tools into their interventions rather than expensive high engineering approaches. Therefore, in other words, we need to explore and invest in what nature does best: self-healing – which we can call the nature-based solutions (NbS).

Danielle Falzon is a PhD student at Brown University in the United States and a Visiting Researcher at ICCCAD. Her work focuses on climate change adaptation planning and project implementation.

Tasfia Tasnim works at ICCCAD. Her working domains are climate finance, climate services, livelihood resilience and natural resource management connected to socio-cultural dynamics.

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