Introduction

A new report on Nature-based Solutions in Climate Adaptation Policy for RSPB and WWF, by the Nature-based Solutions Initiative at the University of Oxford, summarises the evidence on the ways Nature-based Solutions (NbS) can address climate impacts.  The report also explores the barriers and enabling factors that influence their wider uptake. This work shows how NbS can help to address 33 of the 34 risks identified in the third UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA3) and how they can be better integrated into UK and Welsh Government policy.


The role of Nature-based Solutions

Nature-based solutions (NbS) to climate change are increasingly seen as an important strand of governmental approaches to the climate crisis. In Wales, the government is focusing on tree planting and peatland restoration as important ways to help mitigate or reduce Welsh greenhouse gas emissions through land use. There is, however, much less recognition and support for the role of NbS in climate change adaptation.

This new report highlights examples all around us of nature protecting us from rising sea levels, flooding, heatwaves and other extreme weather caused by a changing climate. For example:

  • Woodlands, hedgerows, heathlands and semi-natural grasslands intercept rainwater, prevent soil erosion and reduce flood risk to communities and infrastructure downstream.

  • Restoring rivers, floodplains and wetlands to their natural functions is slowing the flow of floodwater and encouraging infiltration to recharge depleted aquifers.

  • Ecological farming methods are restoring degraded soils, protecting food security and rural livelihoods from the impacts of unpredictable rainfall patterns.

  • Agro-forestry (trees on pasture or among crops) helps to protect and replenish soils while providing shade and shelter for crops and livestock.

  • In urban areas, trees, parks, green roofs and walls, and sustainable drainage systems help to cool cities during heatwaves, as well as reducing stormwater runoff and urban flooding.

The report also highlights other important considerations in the utilisation of NbS:

  • NbS are often cheaper to implement and maintain than alternative climate adaptation options such as hard flood defences, and when all their multiple benefits are taken into account, they usually have higher cost:benefit ratios[1].

  • To maximise benefits and address any trade-offs, NbS need to be well-designed and managed at the landscape scale by stakeholder partnerships that include local communities. This will ensure the right interventions are used in the right place to protect, restore, connect and enhance the natural assets that underpin the resilience of our economies, health and well-being, providing benefits for both people and nature.

The Welsh Government does have a Climate Change Adaptation Plan[2] which sets out the policies and proposals to prepare Wales for the challenges ahead as the climate continues to change. However, now is the time for even greater visionary leadership. Building on the momentum generated by COP 26, the stark messages of CCRA3, the ground-breaking Dasgupta review  of the economics of biodiversity, and the start of the UN Decade of Restoration, it is time to make new commitments for the benefit of people, nature and climate.


Recommendations

The Nature-based Solutions in Climate Adaptation Policy report makes the following recommendations to help to transform the role of NbS in Welsh policy, to simultaneously contribute to climate resilience, net zero goals and nature recovery while also strengthening our economy, creating green jobs, improving health and well-being and reducing social inequality.

  1. Integrate a wider range of NbS into the next Adaptation Programme.

We believe there are opportunities for a wider range of NbS to play a greater role in the third Adaptation Programme including:

  • Seagrass meadows, kelp beds and coldwater reefs for reducing coastal flood and erosion risk.

  • Natural regeneration of woodland, which can be cheaper than tree-planting, avoids the need for plastic tree guards, and results in a more biologically diverse structure and composition which can be more resilient and provide greater benefits (e.g. for flood protection) in the long term.

  • Agroforestry receives some support in Wales but much more could be achieved. Key barriers are lack of long-term funding and lack of information and advice for farmers.

  • Nature-based agriculture to protect and regenerate soils and provide climate resilience should be built into the post-Brexit farm support regime.

  • Green roofs and walls can play a vital role in flood reduction and urban cooling if supported through planning policy.

  • In addition, several NbS still require more policy support and funding to scale up deployment on the ground, including managed realignment, natural flood management and peatland restoration.

  1. Mainstream NbS by developing coherent policies across all sectors.

Government departments at national and local levels need to talk more to each other about NbS, to break down silos, overcome barriers, identify common goals and harmonise policy support.

  • The Welsh Government should set up cross-departmental working groups to promote the delivery of high quality NbS by developing shared visions, targets and action plans.

  • Integrate NbS delivery into Local Development Plans and national planning policy as well as supporting documents such as  Area Statements. This can be done through a participatory landscape approach, to deliver a diverse portfolio of the right NbS in the right places while balancing multiple objectives.

  • Build on the inclusion of natural assets in the definition of ‘Infrastructure’ and strengthen recognition of NbS as essential climate adaptation infrastructure in future revisions of the Welsh Adaptation Plan, by including more explicit support and funding for a broader range of NbS including urban green infrastructure and coastal habitat restoration.

  • Planning policy must provide stronger protection for existing semi-natural habitats. Reforms to the planning system as now established in Future Wales need to ensure that the focus on protecting all natural assets, not just those with formal designations, is achieved. It is hoped that these overarching national policies are reflected through all statutory policy documents in due course.

  • Ensure that regulations and legislation support and encourage scaling up of good quality NbS schemes by negotiating affordable and streamlined licensing systems for seagrass restoration, beneficial use of dredging material, leaky dams and flood storage ponds in pre-approved locations, provided they comply with good practice guidelines.

  • Promote synergies between NbS for adaptation and mitigation. Net Zero policies should support protection, restoration and connection of a wide range of habitats (beyond trees and peat), including grassland, heathland, wetlands and coastal habitats, to provide climate adaptation services as well as carbon sequestration. Carbon storage and sequestration metrics are needed for these habitats.

  • Promote synergies between food security and other objectives through supporting agroecology and agroforestry, which deliver adaptation services on farmland without compromising food production.

  • Integrate NbS for adaptation into national nature recovery plans and set strong environmental policies to support healthy, resilient and well-connected ecosystems.

  1. Fund high quality NbS for climate adaptation.

More finance for NbS is needed, including novel mechanisms that recognise their multiple market and non-market benefits. There are opportunities to channel private sector funding to a wider range of high quality NbS with benefits for climate adaptation, rather than just tree-planting for carbon sequestration.

  • Reform funding and procurement mechanisms so that they recognise the wider benefits of NbS. It should be mandatory to consider NbS alongside conventional engineered options, and to take into account their wider benefits, when allocating funding such as for flood risk management projects.
  • Increase funding for research, demonstration, and long-term monitoring. This is needed to build the evidence base on NbS costs and effectiveness, and will help to unlock more funding from both the public and private sectors by providing consistent performance metrics that can justify investment.
  • Fund knowledge exchange networks, professional advisory services and information hubs. This is particularly important for agroforestry and agroecology where lack of information for farmers is a major barrier.
  • Provide enough funding to enable delivery and regulatory bodies to oversee the scaling up of high quality NbS.
  • Encourage the Development Bank for Wales to support NbS, such as by funding up-front costs until grants come through.
  • Develop blended finance options that use public funding to leverage private funding. Ensure that different funding sources can work together (such as agri-environment schemes, woodland creation grants, biodiversity net benefit, Net Zero funds and the Emissions Trading Scheme), and develop mechanisms for stacking and bundling benefits such as carbon sequestration, flood reduction, water quality, and biodiversity gain.

  1. Set standards for high quality and resilient NbS.
  • Apply the four NbS guidelines[3] and the more detailed IUCN Standard to ensure that NbS deliver real long-term benefits for both people and nature, including through participatory design and delivery.

  • Include an agroforestry standard in agri-environment schemes to help farmers understand what constitutes good practice.

  • Design NbS to be compatible with a 2oC increase in average global temperatures and related climate impacts, by selecting appropriate sites, using a diverse mix of suitable species, and planning to enhance ecosystem connectivity. Use adaptive management to respond to change and address the increasing variability in weather and climate.

  • Plan NbS to deliver measurable benefits for biodiversity through enhancing the health, diversity and connectivity of ecosystems and their habitats and species, rather than through simplistic standalone targets such as the area or number of trees planted. Encourage use of diverse native species and explore options for natural regeneration if appropriate, to enhance benefits for biodiversity.

  • Set safeguards for NbS involving tree-planting. There is a prevailing assumption that planting trees always has benefits for biodiversity and climate, which needs to be corrected through raising awareness that this depends on the tree species, woodland management, soil type and previous land cover.

  • Support practitioner and researcher knowledge-sharing networks to spread good practice and provide solid evidence of efficacy and benefits of NbS.

  1. Measuring and monitoring NbS delivery: targets, indicators and metrics.

National adaptation policies should set well-defined, ambitious and time-bound objectives for scaling up high quality NbS and establish monitoring and evaluation processes to evaluate progress towards these objectives.

  • Define suitable indicators and metrics for assessing the deployment, quality and outcomes of NbS for adaptation, along with co-benefits.

  • Improve the monitoring of biodiversity impacts, which are rarely measured.

  • Strengthen technical, financial and institutional capacity to ensure that NbS are well-designed, financed, implemented, monitored, evaluated, and mainstreamed.


[1]
Economic cost and benefit of Nature-based Solutions to mitigate climate change.  Cambridge Econometrics, 2020

[2] Prosperity for All: A Climate Conscious Wales 2020-2025

[3] The four guidelines for Nature-based Solutions | Nature-based Solutions to Climate Change | Key messages for decision makers in 2020 and beyond (nbsguidelines.info)

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