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Critical discussions on Nature-based Solutions (NbS)

  • Published at 08:47 pm October 22nd, 2021
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Deciphering the missing links and counter arguments

Nature-based solutions (NbS) have drawn global attention as long-term solutions to social and environmental issues, promoting nature as a vital option for climate mitigation and adaptation. It presents a new narrative about biodiversity and ecosystem services in line with economic growth goals and the potential for transformational pathways to sustainable development. 

Recent assessment report from Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the Global Commission on Adaptation has action track on NbS, and it was one of the nine key action tracks at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit. 

Furthermore, the World Economic Forum's (WEF) Global Risks Report 2019 identified biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse as economic risks, as well as the need for nature-positive business solutions. NbS are increasingly being seen as a way to restore and enable long-term economic development with environmental stewardship.

While NbS has a strong scientific and practical discourse, the concept has also received several counter arguments. Firstly, on the legal definition, NbS is often interwoven with ecosystem related approaches such as Ecosystem-Based Adaptation (EbA), Ecosystem-based Disaster Risk Reduction (EcoDRR), Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM), etc. 

This interlinkage leads to debate whether NbS is a part of these interventions or should be considered as a separate approach. While IUCN framed it as an umbrella concept, many argues about its’ value addition to the existing ideas. Concerns also exist in terms of the ambiguity and optimality of biodiversity benefits, as articulated in the NbS definition. 

For example, if climate mitigation policies encourage NbS with low biodiversity value, such as afforestation with non-native monocultures, trade-offs may arise. This can lead to maladaptation, which is particularly dangerous in a rapidly changing world where biodiversity-based resilience and multi-functional landscapes are essential.

Secondly, about NbS's governance mechanism and contribution to societal challenges, questions arise on who prioritises the challenges and how to ensure land rights, environmental justice, equity and measure its overall benefits.  The IUCN 2020 guidelines on NbS promotes governance mechanism that are participatory, transparent and legitimate. It should also comply with national and local regulations, policies and plans. 

The World Rainforest Movement (WRM) contends in their recent bulletin that NbS can lead to ‘nature-based dispossessions’ if the approach is overtaken by profit driven polluting industries. Additionally, conventional biodiversity offsetting practices provide compensation for developing infrastructure and lead to “habitat banking” that disregards the concerns and rights of the indigenous and local communities. Such as Monoculture commodity forestry done for a speedy and financial return at the expense of native and diverse forests represent a backward step and a maladaptive practice. 

The identification of “marginal” lands for forestry projects risks displacing indigenous people and subsistence farmers. Hence, it can overlook the systematic discrimination, forced relocation of indigenous people and unresolved land conflicts with displaced communities by funding conservation of protected areas. 

Finally, on the funding and feasibility, concerns include “greenwashing” and the efficacy of nature to solve societal and natural problems. In addition to the negative socio-political implication of NbS by companies and private sectors, several practitioners and indigenous communities are dismayed with the idea of nature as 'natural capital,' where nature is made up of a number of unbundled, separable resources and services to people. 

The fear is that the ‘economically beneficial’ aspect of NbS can discard and divest the ethical, cultural, and spiritual values of nature to people. Additionally, powerful companies can manoeuvre these ‘economic benefits’ to expand private appropriation in lands and territories where communities and people live intimately with nature as well as depend for food and livelihood security. Furthermore, national intentions to deploy NbS have yet to be fully translated into evidence-based targets and ground action. 

There are few studies that compare the cost-effectiveness of interventions to alternatives and even fewer integrated assessments that consider broader social and ecological outcomes. In comparison to engineered alternatives, there are also concerns about their reliability and effectiveness.

Nonetheless, NbS opens up the possibility and opportunity to thrive for greater human-nature harmony. Challenges persist, and the approach can be debated; however, NbS attempted to encompass multiple socio-economic and political factors related to conservation and sustainable usage of nature. 

The 2020 IUCN standard for NbS also encapsulates criteria on rights, legal and regulatory provisions, in addition to its environmental, societal and economic benefits. The standards promote to the preservation of indigenous and local communities’ rights and consent which can be strengthened by developing finance mechanisms that can support community and locally-led conservation projects and activities. 

There are also scopes for developing monitoring and evaluation metrics that will enable different actors to track progress, assess NbS interventions’ efficacy, and create an iterative process that will warrant adaptive management and transformation. 

As the world continues to recover from the pandemic and economic recession, it is imperative to unite for a common ground where future investments, policies and knowledge are crafted for the benefits, health and well-being of both people, nature and the planet. 


Ali Mohammad Rezaie is working as a Research Coordinator at ICCCAD. Can be reached at [email protected]

Farah Anzum’s research interest lies in research and policy advocacy on conservation finance, conservation policy and ecosystem services and management. Can be reached at [email protected]

 


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