United Nations Environment Programme
Photo by UNEP/ Lisa Murray

Nature-based solutions

2020 was meant to be the ‘super year for nature’ but UNEP research shows that despite the dip in carbon dioxide emissions caused by COVID-19, the world is still heading for a temperature rise over 3°C this century. This, coupled with accelerating biodiversity loss and pollution, has created an urgency to prevent further disasters and achieve sustainable development by rebuilding better after COVID-19.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2020, the top five global risks are environmental and climate related. In 2019 the Global Commission on Adaptation estimated that a US$1.8 trillion investment in climate adaptation could generate US$7.1 trillion in avoided costs and net benefits. Climate adaptation and mitigation efforts include nature-based solutions.

Nature-based solutions are locally appropriate actions that address challenges such as climate change and provide human well-being and biodiversity benefits by protecting, sustainably managing and restoring ecosystems.

They are an umbrella term that includes approaches such as Ecosystem-based Adaptation and Ecosystem-based Disaster Risk Reduction. Nature-based solutions are a fundamental part of any action for climate and biodiversity, and are an essential component of the overall global effort to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Some countries have already taken clear steps and initiatives to include nature-based solutions to tackle the climate emergency, for example, the European Green Deal, which is a multi-billion Euro action plan to boost green energy investments, create green jobs while promoting ecosystem restoration. At the 2019 Climate Summit, the Nature-based Solutions for Climate Manifesto was supported by 70 governments. Nature-based solutions are also central to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) climate talks taking place this November 2021 in Glasgow. The UK presidency has highlighted nature and nature-based solutions as one of five areas that needs particular attention.

However, UNEP’s Adaptation Gap Report 2020 found that while countries have tabled adaptation projects that include nature-based solutions into their policy plans, investment and implementation of these projects needs to be urgently ramped up. The report also finds that increasing financing for and scaling up nature-based solutions will be particularly critical to help meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

COVID-19 recovery packages as sustainability accelerators

Governments have a rare opportunity to link their COVID-19 economic recovery to environmental sustainability. A green pandemic recovery could cut up to 25 per cent off predicted 2030 greenhouse gas emissions and bring the world closer to meeting the 2°C goal of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Measures to prioritize green fiscal recovery include direct support for zero-emissions technologies and infrastructure, divesting from fossil fuel subsidies, and promoting nature-based solutions – including large-scale landscape restoration and reforestation.

A green and resilient recovery plan will reduce the vulnerability of communities to pandemics, while boosting long term economic activity that enhances the environment and improves the well-being of communities around the world.

In January 2021, UNEP launched a new open online course on Nature-based Solutions for Disaster and Climate Resilience. This course shows how people around the world are already building resilience to disasters and climate change impacts through nature-based solutions. The course is open to everyone who would like to deepen their knowledge of the application of nature-based solutions. Governments, civil society and the private sector are also invited to share best practice on how to apply and manage nature-based solutions to restore or protect our ecosystems and biodiversity.