The role of nature-based solutions (NbS) in tackling the climate and nature crises has gained the world’s attention. They were high on the agenda at the World Economic Forum and the Climate Adaptation Summit last week, and will continue to be a central topic of discussion in the wake of COVID-19 and in the run-up to the CoP26 climate summit in November. However, confusion remains as to what exactly ‘counts’ as an NbS, how to deliver them successfully and their potential to contribute to different societal goals. Such lack of clarity has permitted the misuse of NbS for greenwashing by companies that drive climate change, and overemphasis on tree planting as a ‘silver bullet’ solution.
Our review, published today in Global Change Biology, provides clarity on how to ‘get the message right’ on NbS, to help enable large-scale investment in NbS and address the issues of greenwashing and poorly-planned projects. We provide a consensus on what comprises sustainable NbS, and present key recommendations on how to enable NbS to fulfill their potential and avoid their failure and misuse.
– Understanding of what NbS comprise has evolved over the last decade; we clarify the framing as ways of working with nature that are underpinned by biodiversity and led by local communities; people and nature co-produce ecosystem services (or Nature’s Contributions to People) which in turn benefit society and also feedback to support ecosystem health.
– The NbS concept has been co-opted to excuse business-as-usual fossil fuel use, and tree planting specifically has been over-emphasised as a ‘silver bullet’ solution to climate change. We collate examples of tree planting initiatives and public and private sector pledges for use of nature for climate change mitigation, and explain the potential pitfalls of such strategies, namely: distraction from decarbonising energy systems, oversight of non-forest ecosystems, and adverse impacts on local communities and biodiversity from poorly implemented projects.
– To sustainably scale NbS to address the biodiversity and climate crises, we identify three key needs: