Revised climate pledges show enhanced ambition for nature-based solutions

Global map of NbS in NDCs
The NbS Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) Policy Platform makes information about climate change adaptation planning across the globe openly available, easy and interesting to explore.

A total of 122 new NDCs were submitted last year, representing 148 signatories to the Paris Agreement. Our analysis of these new NDCs reveal enhanced ambition for nature-based solutions to climate change, with 84% of revised NDCs including the protection or restoration of ecosystems, or agroforestry, in their mitigation and/or adaptation plans, up from 78% in the first round. Furthermore, while the first round of NDCs did not include the term “nature-based solutions”, 41% of the new NDCs, representing 50 countries, did so. However, it is essential that an increase in ambition for NbS does not come at the cost of efforts to ensure fossil fuels are kept in the ground.

We have updated our Policy Platform with the new data and key findings from our systematic analysis of the second round of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the national climate plans and pledges for climate mitigation and adaptation that signatories of the Paris Agreement are required to submit to the UNFCCC. Nature-based Solutions (NbS) continue to increase in prominence in national climate policy, featuring in the majority of the newly submitted NDCs, and being favoured over engineered actions.

The Paris Agreement has 197 Parties, of which 195 submitted a first NDC in 2016 (Libya and Nicaragua did not), including one NDC submitted for the European Union on behalf of all member states. This meant a total of 168 NDCs were available for our first round of analysis (167 from Parties plus one from Taiwan). Parties were subsequently asked to submit an updated version of their NDCs by the end of 2020 and, as of December 2021, there were 122 revised NDCs available for our second round of analysis, including a single submission from the EU and a separate, additional NDC from France. The content of NDCs show high-level national intent and are critical policy documents where progress towards targets set out in the NDCs must be reported on and monitored.

The Glasgow Climate Pact, signed by almost 200 nations at COP26, highlights the importance of nature-based solutions for addressing climate change in all but name, recognizing “the interlinked global crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, and the critical role of protecting, conserving and restoring nature and ecosystems in delivering benefits for climate adaptation and mitigation, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards.”

To build on our previous analysis on the extent to which the first round of NDCs included NbS and how, the new NDCs were analyzed, and the results compared to the first round of submissions in 2016.

We found that a total of 102 nations – or 84% of all updated NDCs – commit to restoring or protecting ecosystems or implementing nature-based agriculture such as agroforestry. Of these, 96 include NbS in their adaptation plans, 45 in both adaptation and mitigation components, 3 in just their mitigation plans and 3 elsewhere in the NDC. This is an increase from 78% of the first round NDCs. Moreover, 41% of all revised NDCs (50 countries) explicitly used the term ‘Nature-based Solutions’, and an additional two mentioned ‘nature-based’ actions or interventions. No country in the first round of NDCs used the term. The use of the term is particularly welcomed, as NbS are clearly defined, with a Global Standard and clear guidelines on their integrity.

Protecting biodiversity is among the top four reasons given for adaptation planning in the NDCs. The top reasons given for adaptation planning are to increase resilience to climate change (highlighted in 90% of the revised 110 NDCs which address adaptation), followed by the need for water security and protection against extreme events (both 84%) and to protect biodiversity and/or ecosystems from climate change (83%). Meanwhile, sustainable development (81%) and food security (79%) are also highly mentioned reasons.

Of the nations with revised NDCs that refer to NbS in their adaptation components, half (50%) refer to the protection or restoration of three or more types of ecosystem. The ecosystems most commonly referred to in the adaptation components of the updated NDCs were terrestrial forests and woodland habitats (mentioned by 81% of NDCs addressing adaptation), as well as coastal and marine habitats (57%), while references to grasslands or rangelands (26%) or montane habitats (11%) were less common. This continued bias shows that more efforts must be made in elevating the importance of other ecosystems asides from forests.

The world’s poorest nations include NbS the most in the adaptation components of their NDCs. Specifically, NbS are referred to in all of the 17 nations classified as ‘low income’ by the World Bank, and all but four of the 40 nations classified as ‘lower-middle income’.

As was the case with the first round of NDCs, NbS appear more regularly than engineered interventions, both in general and across all income groups. Engineered actions are included in 69% of the 110 NDCs that address adaptation. Engineered actions are explicitly included in the adaptation aspect of 76 NDCs, of which all but two (Montenegro and Oman) refer to Nature-based Solutions and/or hybrid measures. 93% of nations that address adaptation refer to hybrid actions, combining NbS and engineered approaches. The most popular of these are resilient water infrastructure and management (67%) and climate-smart agriculture (CSA) (63%). Hybrid approaches were particularly prevalent in lower-income nations. All of the NDCs that address adaptation from low-income nations included at least one type of hybrid action, 97% of those from lower-middle-income countries did the same.

However, the mere mention of NbS does not guarantee successful implementation of NbS – for plans to be credible they must include actions and measurable targets. Fortunately, of those 77 nations that articulated a broadly ‘nature-based’ vision for adaptation in their NDCs, most nations (86%) go on to propose a range of actions to achieve their vision. Nevertheless, a small number of nations (10) have nature-based visions but no associated tangible actions.

Lastly, of the 71 NDCs that include nature-based adaptation actions, 41 provide measurable (i.e., time-bound and quantitative) targets. This is an increase from 30 in the first round of NDCs. Measurable targets generally involve the protection or restoration of specific areas of habitat within given timeframes. For example, Belize states that it will “strengthen resilience of local coastal communities and enhance the ecosystem services provided by mangroves through the restoration of at least 2,000 hectares of mangroves including within local communities by 2025, with an additional 2,000 hectares by 2030”. Other NDCs have targets that are more difficult to measure. For example, Cabo Verde aims to “design and develop its ocean-based economy in a low-carbon way […by] enhancing nature-based solutions (NbS), conserving and restoring natural habitats by 2030”.

In addition to including measurable targets, best-practice for integration of NbS into NDCs involves specific actions and the acknowledgement of biodiversity, native species and local people. For example, in its NDC Chile states that it is committed to the expansion of nature-based solutions and inclusion of indigenous and local knowledge in biodiversity restoration projects. Moreover, Chile commits to the sustainable management and recovery of 200,000 hectares of native forests by 2030, with at least 100,000 hectares compromising permanent forest cover and at least 70,000 hectares of native species. Chile’s NDC submission also demonstrates the country’s recognition that the incorporation of cultural, social and natural diversity in decision making is essential to building a resilient country. Incorporation and integration of NDC targets into other national planning and policy documents is also key. For instance, Moldova is committed to incorporating nature-based solutions into adaptation planning and policy development, with a focus on biodiversity conservation, management of ecosystem services and disaster risk reduction and the country’s nature-based vision is evidenced by its 2014-2023 Environmental Strategy.

As nature-based solutions are being increasingly referred to in policy documents for climate mitigation and adaptation, it is crucial that the definition of NbS remains clear, particularly that such solutions must support biodiversity and be implemented with local communities and indigenous peoples, enhancing human well-being. Nations must be held accountable to the pledges made in these policy documents and their plans to scale up NbS. Our Policy Platform is aimed at facilitating the global stocktake of the Paris Agreement and providing a baseline against which changes in ambition for NbS to climate change adaptation, in particular, can be monitored and increased.

Visit the Nature-based Solutions Policy Platform to explore more of our key findings and results of our latest analysis and discover how nature-based solutions are featured in your country’s NDC.

For recommendations on how to further enhance ambition for Nature-based Solutions in the NDCs, read our NbS guidelines.

We thank Rosanna Basset and Darinka Szigecsan for all their hard work in analysing the new NDCs. Rosanna recently graduated from The University of Exeter with a Bachelor’s degree in Mandarin and Spanish. Since then, she has investigated the climate crisis with a particular interest in China; its role, approaches, and potential to expand its implementation of NbS. Darinka is an undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge, reading Natural Sciences. She specialises in ecology and ecological politics, exploring how knowledge about the natural world can be translated into practical solutions used to mitigate the climate crisis.