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Understanding obstacles to the implementation of NbS

Woman walking, diminished by the large concrete city landscape of walls and paths
© RMIT Europe and EIT Climate-KIC, EIT Food and EIT Urban Mobility

Despite the mounting evidence of the benefits of nature based solutions, strategies built around NbS are seldom practically realised. Cities are not set up to deliver their plans for greening, and implementation has been slow, inconsistent and often limited to demonstration sites.

Barriers to urban greening

Many studies have explored the barriers to urban greening and have shown us where things can go wrong. All over the world, urban greening projects and plans run into significant challenges.

Thousands of city trees have been lost to development, when we need them more than ever, The Conversation, Erik Anderson/AAP

Many cities are losing green infrastructure, especially trees on streets. For example, in Australia, a recent report by the Australian Conservation Foundation found canopy cover in most major cities had declined in the last decade.

Berlin is one of the greenest cities lined by more than 400,000 trees thanks to the concerted reforesting effort that took place following the Second World War. However, Berlin’s tree population is now at risk from weather events and chronic drought. Learn how Berliners are acting upon this challenge and mobilising public action to preserve the city’s tree canopy.

Unfortunately, cities rarely have the full set of skills and capabilities required to successfully implement their plans. A recent study identified fifteen political, institutional and knowledge-related barriers to the uptake and implementation of NbS:

  • Lack of political will and long-term commitment
  • Lack of sense of urgency among policymakers
  • Lack of public awareness and support
  • Risk aversion and resistance to change
  • Silo mentality
  • Misalignments between short-term plans and long-term goals
  • Lack of supportive policy and legal frameworks
  • Lack of skilled knowledge brokers and training programs
  • Functionality and performance uncertainties
  • Perceived high cost
  • Lack of available financial resources
  • Lack of financial incentives
  • Property ownership complexities
  • Space constraints

Uptake and implementation of Nature-Based Solutions: An analysis of barriers using Interpretive Structural Modeling, Science Direct

In addition to these broader political, institutional and knowledge-related barriers, there are also organisational barriers to implementation. This study explores the concept of ‘institutional readiness’ (IR), and identifies issues in adoption and mainstreaming of NbS.

Organisational barriers

Barriers within the organisations responsible for implementing NbS are frequently identified as a primary reason for limited NbS delivery.

  • Practitioners effectively navigate challenges in the areas where they have significant control, including community engagement, strategy development and technical skills.
  • The greatest barriers are outside the influence of project teams: understaffing, a lack of intra-organisational processes, and risk-averse organisational cultures.

After cities embrace NbS at the strategic and political level, it is vital that executives follow through with the necessary pragmatic reforms to enable delivery. Although, changing existing regimes can be difficult.

Organisational imperatives

  • Leadership support is critical, both at the political and executive level
  • A project team with the right capacity and timeframes to implement projects is important as is a framework of internal mechanisms that facilitate the delivery of NbS, including clear approval processes, supportive policies and laws, and well-established standards for NbS design and maintenance
  • A positive, supportive organisational culture for delivering new projects is necessary, recognising that new NbS projects often have inherent (and novel) risks and trade-offs
  • Access to teams within the organisation that are both suitably skilled and supportive is vital
  • It is common for levels of government to play an important role in approving aspects of NbS projects; an absence of support or clear process from higher regulatory authorities can pose a significant barrier
  • Effective community engagement is important, recognising that many NbS need public support and/or private property owner consent to be successful.

Your Task

Thinking about the future of NbS

  • What particular organisational capabilities will need to be developed in order to lead to transformative change?
  • How does your city/organisation stack up with respect to the commitment and capability required?

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

© RMIT Europe and EIT Climate-KIC, EIT Food and EIT Urban Mobility
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Bringing Urban Nature Into the Cities of Tomorrow

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