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Overcoming Barriers for Nature-based Solutions

Learn more about overcoming barriers for nature-based solutions for climate adaptations.
Different nature-based solutions
© University of Groningen

Nature-based solutions provide an important option for climate adaptation so in this step, we will explore possible solutions to the barriers.

Ways Forward

Solutions and ways forward to address barriers and gaps in nature-based solutions have been proposed earlier this week. These are:

Apply Landscape and Ecosystem Scale Approaches

There is a need for harmonisation between scales that apply to an ecosystem function. Operating at multiple scales at the same time is important, rather than applying a localised project approach. In some cases, landscape and watershed approaches may require transboundary collaboration at regional or country level. Nature-based solutions for adaptation need to work beyond community level. This is because engagement is required with governance processes and political systems which surpass the local scale.

The figure is an illustration of how a landscape approach can be applied. It requires a variety of interventions at different locations and involves different sectors. This type of approach is needed when effectively applying an nature-based solutions approach at different scales.

Landscape level interventions

Landscape level interventions. Source: Richard Munang

Apply a Systems-wide Approach and Longer Time Horizon

Fostering a cross-sectoral dialogue, breaking through the isolation and working with a wide range of stakeholders to promote multi-agency collaboration, is another important way forward towards more effective nature-based solution governance. Certain sectors, however, have more potential for inclusion and have also considerable experience of using nature-based solutions to address climate hazards. The majority of experience in using nature-based solutions lies in the food security and rural livelihoods sector, especially to address hazards associated with intense precipitation and drought. In cities nature-based solutions have also been extensively applied to manage the risks of intense precipitation. There is also a considerable body of experience in addressing coastal hazards, especially the risks to infrastructure.

Furthermore, nature-based solutions should not be the responsibility of the public sector alone. Private sector investment in solutions needs to be catalysed through the promotion of new public-private partnerships. In addition, local community action needs to be enhanced and scaled up through project aggregation/clustering and enhancing local access for funding nature-based solutions.

Linking nature-based solutions to policies and programmes with longer time horizons, can also provide more stability and a longer time frame for results to become measurable.

Multiple rows of trees and shrubs

Multiple rows of trees and shrubs, as well as a native grass strip, combine in a riparian buffer to protect Bear Creek in Story County, Iowa, United States. By Lynn Betts / Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service., Public Domain, via wikimedia.

Integrating Nature-based Solutions Into Broader Adaptation and Development Strategies

As already mentioned earlier, nature-based solutions should not be a stand-alone approach, but it needs to be implemented as an integrated element of a broader adaptation and socio-economic development strategy to maximise the effectiveness of its adaptation outcomes. Nature-based solutions distinguishes themselves from traditional conservation by their focus on helping people adapt to a changing climate. It differentiates from development business-as-usual by using green nature-based solutions to facilitate adaptation.

Working Towards a Complementary Grey – Green Approach and Promoting Hybrid Solutions

Built, or grey approaches to climate change adaptation use technology or engineered structures to protect people and infrastructure against climate extremes. These include creating physical structures or modifying existing infrastructure to make it more capable of withstanding extreme events, such as by building or reinforcing a sea wall, dam or irrigation system. However, engineered approaches are not infallible and may not address certain climate hazards (e.g. increased intensity of tropical storms) or they can risk increasing vulnerability in the long-term by not adequately considering future climate uncertainty or the combination of multiple hazards.

Working with ecosystems (green solutions), on the other hand, offers more flexibility in the face of climate variability and strengthens social-ecological resilience more broadly. For example, a forest restoration initiative may adapt its practices over time to respond to emerging climate trends, thereby continuing to provide services to people.

Hybrid approaches to adaptation go beyond simply putting traditional grey and green measures side-by-side. They systematically blend built solutions and nature-based measures to enhance the advantages (or reduce limitations) of using either approach alone. For example, as an alternative to constructing breakwaters for coastal defence, artificial reefs, which are manufactured underwater structures, can be used to restore coral reefs by providing the right foundation and physical conditions for corals to (re)colonise. A blended approach has also been applied to reduce the vulnerability of coastal communities in the Philippines to the impact of typhoons. Here mangrove restoration and the build of breakwaters work in conjunction to reduce the energy of incoming waves. The mangroves will provide additional livelihood benefits, and also reduce the maintenance costs of the breakwaters.

The figure below shows that while engineering solutions may have higher effectiveness, they are often more expensive and require a high technical input. Nature-based approaches are often more affordable but often have a more limited knowledge base on their exact effectiveness.

Relative effectiveness and affordability of engineered, hybrid and ecosystem based measures

Source: UNEP, Ecosystem-based Approaches (EbA) Briefing Note 4, Selecting complementary adaptation measures

Hybrid adaptation measures that deliberately blend built solutions, technology and ecosystem features can provide effective alternatives to more traditional separate uses of grey and green approaches at an intermediate cost.

Making nature-based solutions more attractive and better known

There are several approaches to make nature-based solutions better known. You will learn more about that in next step.


Conservation International (2017), Green-gray storm shelters

Global Commission on Adaptation (2019), Accelerating Adaptation: A Global Call to Action, Flagship Report

Global Commission on Adaptation (2019), Background paper on the Role of Natural Environment in Adaptation

UNEP, EbA Briefing Note 4 (2019), Selecting complementary adaptation measures

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