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Using ecosystem services to measure the degree to which a solution is nature-based

August 6, 2021
News item image The study demonstrate the utility of the framework using a case study and identify an NbS to water pollution.

White et al. 2021

A recent study in Ecosystem Services highlights the need to better define the relative contribution of nature to Nature-based Solutions (NbS), which varies widely given that the concept covers the intersection of ecology, engineering, sociology and economics.

NbS can play a role in resilience and adaption to many aspects of current global climate and biodiversity change, such as reducing flood risk and air pollution, and improving cohesion and resilience in communities. However, the authors highlight that the practical meaning of NbS remains unstructured and vaguely defined.

To address the issues of how to measure ‘Nature-based’ and how to agree a ‘Solution’ has been achieved, the authors propose an integrated conceptual framework. The framework extends the service-benefit relationship to include solutions, while acknowledging that multiple types of service exist (ecosystem services, technological services and labour). To identify a solution as Nature-based, two criteria must be reached: 1) a solution to a well-defined problem is achieved; and 2) ecosystem services make the largest contribution to the solution.

The developed framework was then applied to case studies of water pollution, demonstrating the applicability and how the proposed framework improves understanding of the relationship between ecosystem services, benefits and solutions. In the context of water treatment, it was found that constructed wetland is more self-sustainable than a wastewater treatment plant, but the treatment plant produces much more benefit per unit area. As such NbS will be more self-sustainable, resulting in lower operating costs, while Technology-based Solutions may produce more benefit per unit area but will have high operating costs due to the proximate technological services and labour. Therefore, the context of a given problem will determine whether the characteristics of the different solution types (Nature-based, Technology-based or Labour-based) are suitable to creating a solution.

By understanding more rigorously how a solution is created, the proposed framework can then guide environmental managers in identifying scale, context and problems for scenarios where NbS can be applied. With such a framework to identify NbS, research can begin to explore how scale and context impact the ability to solve problems through NbS.

Find out more in the full Ecosystems Services journal article.