Countries around the world have been reeling from the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. The crisis has been a stark reminder of the vulnerability of economic systems and of people’s health to unprecedented shocks. The significant investments now being made as part of national recovery packages present a unique opportunity to build resilience against other global threats of which we are acutely aware, including climate change and biodiversity loss, which significantly undermine nature’s capacity to support life as well as future economic development.

Nature-based solutions (NbS), such as riverbed or wetland restoration to reduce flood risk or sand dune restoration to prevent coastal erosion, have come to the fore as measures that can be part of the solutions to address the multiple threats the world is facing and help build resilience to sustain life and economies in the future. Countries have already promoted NbS as part of their international commitments. In the Paris Agreement, NbS are recognised as a way to ensure the “integrity of all ecosystems”. The United Nations Convention for Biological Diversity promotes them as a way to tackle the interdependencies between biodiversity loss and climate change. The Sendai Framework supports NbS as a shift away from “grey” disaster protection measures and towards ecosystem-based adaptation.

To seize this opportunity for NbS, countries will need to address some of the obstacles that may have limited their uptake in the past. OECD work has found that NbS were often characterised as being small in scale, pilot projects adopted in ad hoc ways. The time required for their benefits to develop as well as uncertainty regarding their performance in changing environmental conditions have reduced their attractiveness as part of traditional planning and decision-making tools.

This report brings together a unique set of insights from Mexico and the United Kingdom on how we can unleash the potential of NbS to tackle climate risks. It is not enough to promote NbS as part of national biodiversity and climate change strategies and policy priorities. The case studies show that governments have made better use of NbS where the many stakeholders and institutional arrangements that can facilitate NbS were aligned to foster their implementation. Infrastructure and urban development, disaster risk management, and water and forest management are all sectors that drive the implementation of NbS. When regulatory mechanisms, such as land use or building codes, take account of NbS, their use has increased significantly. Traditional “grey” engineering approaches to land use or disaster risk management can be changed by raising awareness, investing in technical capacity and inclusively developing NbS. Regulations, including land-use planning and building codes, play a key facilitating role.

More work is needed. To further enhance the consideration and applicability of NbS in different sectors and their investment decision processes, practitioners need better tools and methodologies to quantify the many co-benefits that can be realised through NbS. The OECD will continue to contribute to these elements in order to harness the full potential of NbS to meet the sustainability challenges our societies and economies will face in the future.

Rodolfo Lacy, Director, Environment Directorate

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