What are Nature-based Solutions (NbS) for adaptation?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (Source IUCN) defines Nature-based Solutions as “actions aimed at protecting, managing and sustainably restoring natural or modified ecosystems, which help society to cope with the adverse effects of climate change in an effective and adaptable way, simultaneously providing human well-being and benefits to biodiversity ”.

NBS encompass a wide range of climate change mitigation and adaptation measures by conserving the environment, creating habitats for endangered species and reducing carbon emissions. They include a number of innovative approaches such as Ecosystem-Based Adaptation (EbA), on which the CityAdapt project is founded.

What qualifies as NbS?

3 elements and 5 criteria help to answer Is this approach NbS or not?


Help people adapt to climate change


1. Reduces social and environmental vulnerabilities
It explicitly addresses climate change and the assessment of climate vulnerability, as well as the benefits of adaptation.

2. Generates social benefits in the context of adaptation to climate change
It reduces the vulnerabilities of people through the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

through active use of biodiversity and ecosystem services

3. Restores, maintains or improves ecosystem health
It supports, encourages connectivity and the multiple roles of ecosystems.

in the context of an overall adaptation strategy.

4. Receive multi-level policy support
It operates at different levels (local, national, regional).

5. Supports equitable governance and enhances capacities
A community-centered approach, with a gender perspective and requires active participation.

NbS in cities

Ecosystems play an important role in maintaining the natural features that make urban landscapes safe and livable environments. Cities depend on local ecosystems and they provide a variety of services that directly benefit urban inhabitants, for example:

  • The provision of quality water for human consumption (thanks to the regulatory capacity of forests)
  • Water drainage (through permeable areas that infiltrate precipitation)
  • The provision of shade and heat absorption by the foliage
  • Or the control of erosion and prevention of landslides due to vegetation on slopes and in riparian areas.

Peri-urban ecosystems provide provisioning and regulation services in a more indirect way, such as watersheds that maintain water quality and quantity, as well as wetlands, mangroves or forests, which can help mitigate the impacts of storm surges on the coastal areas or prevent soil erosion on the banks and riverbeds.

Nature-based Solutions (NbS) can play an important role in reducing vulnerability and risks related to increased temperatures, floods and water scarcity. They can reduce soil compaction, mitigate the heat island effect, and improve water storage capacity in urban watersheds.

In practice, NbS for adaptation include approaches based on the design and improvement of green and blue infrastructures such as urban parks, green roofs and facades, tree planting, river conservation, ponds, as well as other types of interventions. that use the functions of ecosystems to provide some form of adaptation to climate risks.

Schematic representation of NbS in a Sustainable Development Framework

In addition to practical measures, NbS require an important change of approach in the decision-making process at the institutional and planning level, which is summarized in three main aspects:

  • Facilitate intersectoral cooperation (for example: public works with environment and water management agencies)
  • Increase the spatial planning framework to design development plans considering the basin where the cities are located
  • Facilitate citizen participation in decision-making processes

NbS and the 2030 Agenda aspects:

The achievement of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a priority for States and the international community. Through NBS, CityAdapt has a comprehensive approach that enables it to contribute to the goals of the following SDGs:

SDG 5: Gender equality. The vulnerability studies integrate gender-sensitive indicators in a way that helps to make the approach visible within the prioritization of activities. In this way, activities are developed where the women of the communities are involved in the processes as beneficiaries and implementers of the NbS.
SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation. The restoration of ecosystem services in urban watersheds and the implementation of rainwater harvesting systems contribute to the provision of clean water and sanitation, while making the gray infrastructure of cities more resilient, helping to manage storm peaks.
SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities. The reconnection of cities and nature in harmony favors sustainability. It focuses on inclusive and sustainable urbanization by increasing capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable planning and management of human settlements. It seeks to safeguard the natural heritage, present alternative economic activities and provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible green areas and public spaces.
SDG 13: Climate action. Recognizing that climate change has and will have a negative impact on the economy, the lives of people and communities, the project presents solutions that seek to mitigate its effects and provide adaptation tools for vulnerable communities.
SDG 15: Life of Terrestrial Ecosystems. Ecosystem restoration is the spearhead of CityAdapt. This approach is concretized among others through the restoration of the riparian vegetation of San Salvador using species of plants resistant to floods, restoring the Hope basin that surrounds Kingston with species of native trees resistant to drought such as Talipariti elatum (Blue mahoe) and developing alternative economic activities such as the sustainable production of edible mushrooms in Xalapa.
SDG 17: Partnership to achieve the goals. CityAdapt activities are carried out in conjunction with the participation of municipal actors through citizen consultation processes and work with local institutions. States, the private sector, civil society, NGOs and academic entities are strategic partners to achieve the goal of CityAdapt.