Nature‐based solutions (NbS) are a relatively new concept and consist of a range of measures that address various societal challenges, including climate change, natural disasters, food security, human health, water security, and economic and social development, by bringing together human well‐being and biodiversity benefits.
The increasing importance of NbS has been recognized under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). In addition, NbS are a key element in strategies for green recovery from the COVID‐19 pandemic.
Living under the shadow of impending inevitable climate change has led to an increased interest in NbS that are environmentally sustainable, cost-effective solutions that address societal and economic challenges effectively and flexibly.
But NbS can only be applied if they are backed by strong research and policy. This is especially true in Asia, where research on NbS is scarce. A new study Governance Challenges for Implementing Nature‐Based Solutions in the Asian Region published in ‘Politics and Governance’ identifies the governance issues.
NbS include a variety of elements, starting from ecosystem-based climate change mitigation to ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction measures. While the techniques behind NbS may not be new, incorporating them into national and international governance frameworks for their effective implementation is.
Most studies on NbS focus on Europe. The European Union was an early adopter of NbS and has ensured its promotion by linking NbS with the European Green Deal and COVID-19 pandemic recovery. The region has firmly established links between NbS and various actors (governments, institutions, businesses, etc.). But the same cannot be said of Asia.
There remains a lack of cohesive regional strategy for implementing NbS in Asia, as well as limited cross-sectoral local and national governance to promote NbS and green recovery strategies. A large number of developing countries in Asia also presents a problem for the promotion and realization of NbS.
“Implementing NbS governance in countries at different stages of economic development is tricky, as is developing measures for NbS with different institutions and actors,” the study states.
NbS for mitigation are quite well established in national strategies and policies, as well as in the international financial mechanisms and among donors. In contrast, recognition of and funding for NbS for adaptation are more sporadic and less well established in the national strategies and policies and financial mechanisms, as per the study.
In terms of NbS for adaptation, at the international level, India along with the other Asian countries in the G20—Japan, South Korea and China has already indicated the importance of implementing ecosystem based adaptation (EbA) as well as disaster risk reduction (DRR).
The most prominent support provided by donors in developed countries to Asian developing countries for NbS is through REDD+. Among all the REDD+ recipient countries, Indonesia, India, and China received the second, third, and fifth largest amounts of funding, respectively, from the total REDD+ funds between 2006 and 2015 (total funds received by all recipients [excluding funds received by donors from other donors] were 9.69 billion USD; Do‐hun Kim et al., 2019).
The findings indicate that climate change mitigation, disaster risk reduction, and infrastructure are three areas where NbS have been widely implemented in Asian countries. These areas are also linked to climate security issues, including ecological security. However, there is scope for further work, particularly to ensure uniformity in implementing NbS across diverse regions.
“Current discussions on NbS governance focus on urban areas, but NbS are essential across a wide range of landscapes and seascapes and across jurisdictional boundaries. In developing countries particularly, there is a need for international cooperation in NbS governance,” the study says.
The researchers found that NbS have links to international frameworks related to the UNFCCC and CBD in the area of climate change (climate change mitigation), with clear national strategies, policies, and international financial mechanisms. The Paris Agreement is one of the main drivers behind this development. Unfortunately, however, discussion on cross-sectoral strategies, such as application of NbS to post-pandemic green recovery, has not been extensive in Asian countries so far.
In the field of DRR, NbS are linked to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). Japan in particular is heavily invested in the promotion of ecosystem-based DRR (Eco-DRR). But the same cannot be said about other Asian countries. While some countries have incorporated Eco-DRR in their national strategies, the domestic governance and measures for implementation remain poor. The financial mechanisms for incorporating NbS in Eco-DRR need to be elaborated and clarified. Moreover, developing countries in particular need both financial and technical support to properly implement NbS for Eco-DRR.
There are few studies that comprehensively examine Eco‐DRR implementation in developing countries (UNDRR, 2020). The UNDRR (2020) examined various case studies in the Asia‐Pacific, including Eco‐DRR measures in river/flood plains (India), ecologically friendly alternatives to traditional flood defences and drainage systems in cities (China), and participatory approaches to hydraulic engineering challenges that use and create ecosystem services to benefit society (Indonesia).
The case studies show that there are good examples of integrating NbS into DRR strategies. For example, the National Disaster Management Plan of India in 2019 included the implementation of ecosystem‐based approaches for river basins, mountainous regions, and coastlines (UNDRR, 2020). This indicates that in some developing countries in Asia, the Eco‐DRR is integrated to national strategies on DRR. However, because Eco‐DRR is not fully integrated into international cooperation, one challenge for developing countries is the lack of a link between Eco‐DRR implementation and financial and technical support.
Finally, the researchers found no official links between NbS and international frameworks in the infrastructure field. “There is no consensus on what NbS for infrastructure entails. This makes it very difficult to establish national policies or frameworks, and, more importantly, financial mechanisms for the implementation of NbS,” says the study.
In India, green infrastructure is not clearly integrated into the national strategies and policies, although the Centre for Science and Environment, supported by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs of India, published Green Infrastructure: A Practitioner’s Guide in 2017, which introduced methods and strategies for water sensitive urban design and planning (Rohilla et al., 2017). In addition, green infrastructure initiatives are seen in city level, such as Blue‐Green Masterplans in Delhi and Bhopal (Udas‐Mankikar & Driver, 2021).
Although the green infrastructure concept is not widely used in developing countries in Asia, the ADB (2016) has developed principles for applying green infrastructure to build resilience in urban planning. It has also developed 10 strategies for green infrastructure and NbS for Mekong town development, such as greening of core urban areas, and greening of towns on rivers and coasts. The GEF has published a study on good practice for green infrastructure such as NbS for erosion control in a GEF‐supported climate resilient rural infrastructure project (Vietnam), which was implemented by the ADB and UNDP (GEF, 2020).
Taken together, the study highlights the fragmentation of institutions and actors in Asia, and the unique challenges this poses for the different types of NbS. The study also emphasizes the need for cooperation among local, national, and international actors including governments, and institutions.
“Our analysis recognizes the need for a cross-sectoral framework to match the need for NbS with relevant actors and institutions at various scales. We also recommend creating guidelines to incorporate and promote NbS into local and national policy, as well as international cooperation,” conclude the authors.
Implementing these suggestions will surely help address the tragedy of the commons staring us all in the face—that is climate change—as well as achieve benefits for biodiversity and humans, both in the short-term, post pandemic, and with regards to long-term sustainable development.
The study can be accessed here