Nature-based solutions to address societal challenges are effectively building resilience for businesses and economies, but their adoption is hindered by credibility issues, weak policies, and a lack of awareness, said sustainability leaders at a virtual conference titled Bringing Nature into the Great Reset, hosted by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
By protecting, sustainably managing, and restoring ecosystems, nature-based solutions can address climate change and infrastructure issues while enhancing biodiversity and creating opportunities for social development, leaders concurred.
“When you invest in nature, nature always pays you back,” Pakistan’s Minister of Climate Change, Malik Amin Aslam, declared at the conference.
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Aslam noted that Pakistan’s ‘Billion Tree Tsunami’ reforestation project had not only benefitted the local environment, but also created green jobs for rural youth and increased community engagement.
Steven Lloyd, Sustainable Investment Advisory Lead at Arup Group, was similarly optimistic: “Natural solutions can improve infrastructure service provision and can really enhance resilience to climate change. Combining natural systems such as forests and floodplains with traditional grey infrastructure, such as treatment systems and tunnels, can enhance both climate mitigation and resilience adaptation.”
“Despite the common view that natural solutions are more expensive, actually there’s lots of examples to prove that they’re more cost-effective,” he added.
The market for nature-based solutions is growing, as the climate crisis looms over economies and businesses worldwide.
Major companies such as Amazon, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, and Delta Air Lines are looking towards carbon offsets to help them achieve their ‘net-zero’ carbon emissions goals. German bank Berenberg estimates that the global carbon offset market could grow to as much as $200 billion by 2050.
“What we’re seeing is an increasing appetite for both institutional and corporate investors to find access to nature-based solutions, with the idea of offsetting residual emissions that they can’t eliminate from the supply chain or reduce in their operations,” said Zoe Knight, managing director of the HSBC Centre of Sustainable Finance.
Credibility issues, weak policies are obstacles
There are cases where nature-based solutions have been misunderstood and misapplied, according to reports by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In the worst-case scenarios, misuse can damage biodiversity and cause harm to ecosystems.
There is still no clear global framework on what defines nature-based solutions, and this makes it tough for investors to determine which projects are credible.
“There’s not a good understanding yet of the true impact of nature-based solutions,” said Knight. Credibility and trust are critical in the green investment market, and there is a need for consistent reporting principles and standards in order to compare the various projects, she added.
In the European Union, for example, frameworks to asses nature-based solutions are fragmented across different national environmental policies. According to a study led by Durham University, there is an “almost universal lack of quantitative and measurable targets” for these solutions.
Furthermore, government policy and regulation on nature-based solutions is still lacking, especially in many emerging countries where legislation is weak.
Wanjuhi Njoroge, founder of People Planet Africa, pointed out that loopholes in policy allowed for the “brutal mutilation of forests” in Kenya.
Policy formulation for climate change in Kenya is slow and ineffective, as is the case for many countries in the Global South, said Njoroge. She observed that some countries did not know how to navigate the complex issue of climate change, while others were simply unwilling to alter the status quo.
“Unless we have very strong policies in place, I doubt anything that we do today is of any use,” Njoroge added. She urged businesses to hold governments accountable for climate action, as they can exert significant influence over public policy.
Steps towards green recovery
Moderator and Eco-Business managing director Jessica Cheam stressed that there was an urgent need to “integrate nature-based solutions into recovery plans” instead of subsidising fossil fuels.
Opportunities abound in the burgeoning market for natural solutions. There are now a number of financing tools for governments and businesses to invest in nature, including green bonds and carbon credits.
Additionally, IUCN has recently launched a world-first global standard for nature-based solutions, which will help governments, investors, and stakeholders ensure that projects are effective, apt, and economically viable.
Speakers at the online forum agreed that the shift towards a nature-positive economy must be made immediately, strategically, and inclusively.
Consideration of natural capital should be embedded early on in decision making; companies must take the “full spectrum of solutions into account,” said Virginie Helias, chief sustainability officer at Procter and Gamble.
Nature-based solutions must also start with community engagement — “there is nothing for us, without us,” said Njoroge, who stressed that nature-positive solutions must also benefit the surrounding communities, instead of compromising their livelihoods.
These solutions affect a number of stakeholders, and often require collaboration across departmental and organisational lines, which means that the close cooperation of the private sector, government, and scientific experts is crucial.
Lloyd noted that with natural solutions, there is often a trade-off between short-term and long-term benefits, and many governments need to overcome this short-sightedness in their policies and investments.