01 Feb 2018 Story Green economy

Nature-based solutions offer local benefits through local action

International partnerships, social innovation and private sector involvement are vital for the development of nature-based solutions for greener cities.

The European Commission's Directorate-General for Research and Innovation and UN Environment’s Science Division co-organized a session on “nature-based solutions for greener cities” aimed at providing local communities with the means of creating a healthy environment.

The session took place at the third UN Environment Assembly’s Science-Policy-Business Forum on 3 December 2017. The panelists were: Paul Mahony, Creative Director at Oppla; Carlo Calfapietra, senior researcher at the Institute of Agro-Environmental and Forest Biology, National Research Council in Italy; and Erica Key, Executive Director of the Belmont Forum secretariat.

Nature-based solutions are solutions that are inspired and supported by nature. They are an efficient and cost-effective way of providing environmental, social and economic benefits and building resilience. These solutions offer great opportunities for addressing the Sustainable Development Goals. They address local challenges, such as air, water and soil pollution. Through a systemic approach to problems, they offer several benefits at the same time. To allow for community ownership, we should design nature-based solutions to support social inclusion and help create local jobs.

The Belgian city of Genk faces a decrease in industrial jobs and, at the same time, lingering environmental problems from industry. In response, the city launched a five-year plan (2014-19) that makes use of nature-based solutions. The plan’s main objective has been to use Genk’s natural and human capital for sustainable value creation. The city has seen 69 gardens constructed in old industrial areas. These provide citizens with the opportunity to grow organic food, while in turn also providing nature-based recreation. Genk is also home to a project aimed at providing bees with enough pollen. The project encourages citizens to keep flower gardens for the bees.

International partnerships, social innovation and private sector involvement form an essential part of the development of nature-based solutions. Oppla, the result of two EU funded projects under Framework Programme 7 (2007-2014), is a marketplace for nature-based solutions and Ecosystem Services. It provides the key platform for businesses to interact and share information about their different approaches. This in turn helps private sector aid the development and spread of nature-based solutions. Making use of the new investment opportunities these create, offers private sector profits and green jobs. Oppla is also the EU evidence base repository for nature-based solutions. It seeks to present case studies from all over the world.

The current EU programme Horizon 2020 provides opportunities for international research and innovation cooperation on nature-based solutions and climate adaptation. Potential partners for projects include China, India, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or the African Union. These projects will cast light on local variations when translating nature-based solutions beyond the EU. In this respect, not only could different nature-based solutions be developed. Greater attention should also be given to the role of social innovation, given its ability to mobilize citizen initiatives and the broader civil sector, the informal sector, indigenous knowledge, as well as the necessary capacity building.