Working on the boundaries — How do science use and interpret the nature-based solutions concept?
Hanson et al. 2020
Over the last decade, ‘nature-based solutions’ (NbS) has emerged as a key concept in environmental science. This article assesses a range of factors to better understand how the concept works at the interface of science and policy.
The authors conducted a structured, qualitative review of 112 scientific peer-reviewed publications using the term NbS. They found that the most common sustainability goal approached in papers relating to NbS was flood mitigation, followed by ecosystems & biodiversity. Whilst tree planting has received a lot of press relating to climate change mitigation, the authors found relatively few studies that used the term NbS in relation to climate mitigation. Social justice & equity was the sustainability goal with the fewest NbS papers; this is perhaps concerning given that social justice is central to the successful implementation of NbS.
Similarly, the review elucidated that the environmental benefits of NbS were mentioned far more often than the social and economic benefits. Stakeholder engagement and generation of multiple benefits from a single NbS intervention (co-benefits), which are core aspects of the NbS concept, were weakly incorporated into the publications.
The paper finds that the broadness of the NbS concept makes it usable, although it risks being reduced to a buzzword that is used in articles to draw attention, but is not translated effectively into research. The authors call for the science community to use the term with care, taking note for example of how different types of NbS align with and differentiate from previous concepts, and helping to prevent NbS being used as an ‘empty buzzword’.