This blog is written by Olly Watts, Senior Policy Officer at the RSPB and explores how harnessing the power of nature can help us adapt to climate change. 

There’s growing awareness that restoring nature also helps us fight climate change.  Yet, despite some great projects across the UK, how nature can help to reduce the impacts of climate change on our lives is still something of a late-to-the-ball Cinderella compared to restoring peatbogs and expanding native woodland to help contain our greenhouse gas emissions. 

So, the RSPB and WWF commissioned Oxford University’s Nature-Based Solutions Initiative to find out more. Our report, Nature Based Solutions in UK Climate Adaptation Policy, outlines the opportunities and what needs to be done to help both nature and ourselves respond to the nature and climate emergencies. 

How can harnessing nature help make places better for people?

It’s a fascinating and encouraging read, showcasing successful nature-based approaches to adapting to climate change in ways that not only help nature, but also make nicer places for people to enjoy.  For example, harnessing nature in this way could mean that we will live in urban areas that are shaded with trees, with buildings green with plantings that maintain comfortable temperatures, and with rainwater slowed and soaked away by nature-based drainage.

Isn’t it better to alleviate flooding by slowing river flows with natural river meanders and flood meadows, and protecting our coastal communities with salt marsh floodplains, all of which bring back wildlife and make these places beautiful for people to enjoy.

Our report also explores lesser-known ways that nature can help us live better with, and adapt to, climate change.  There are lots of exciting opportunities to harness the power of nature. We can develop how we manage grasslands and wetlands, we can make more of integrating hedgerows, shrubland and trees in farmland.  We can encourage coastal seagrass, kelp and, in our overseas territories, mangroves to reduce the power of the sea. We can incorporate nature-based approaches within all infrastructure development, improving sustainability and the quality of our lives.

What action do we need from UK governments?

This can all be easily achieved, with a refreshed approach to how we respond to the growing impacts of climate change and the different weather patterns with which we are becoming all too familiar. 

We need to see our governments across the UK take action to integrate nature-based solutions across their policies, regulation and legislation. This involves public funding that will encourage and develop nature-based approaches wherever they are applicable.  As well as developing standards and monitoring, and sharing knowledge and expertise, to help integrate nature-based approaches as a key part of the Governments ambitions for a green recovery.  

Importantly, these standards need to encompass benefits for nature as well as for people. Our report shows why  nature based schemes must have clear objectives and benefits for nature as well as for people and society. Integrating nature into human adaptation to climate change not only makes our lives better but also helps to tackle the nature crisis we are facing across the UK and overseas territories.      

The time to do this, is right now. The Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) recent report to government highlights that not only are our risks and impacts from climate change growing, but that the gap to developing the required adaptation measures is widening.  Next year the UK’s governments start to prepare their National Adaptation Plans, defining how they address the risks the CCC identifies.  For nature too, governments are committed to stop the widespread ongoing and overarching declines, to provide more space for nature and strive towards healthier ecosystems. 

And most tellingly, the CCC advises us to adapt now for a 2 degree world, which may be only 20 years away. This is a world of profound difference for nature and people. This report shows how using nature-based solutions to help us adapt, alongside helping nature and our ecosystems to adapt, will help us all to live better lives. 

Download the nature based solutions adaption report here.pdf