News | 03 December 2020

What are Nature-Based Solutions?


'Nature-Based Solutions' are increasingly emerging as a key tool in ensuring our oceans' health, but what exactly are they and how can they help us achieve this goal?

Researcher Marta Coll is specialized in marine ecosystem functioning and integrated analyses / ICM-CSIC
Researcher Marta Coll is specialized in marine ecosystem functioning and integrated analyses / ICM-CSIC

The role of the ocean in maintaining the functioning of natural systems is exceptionally relevant. Ocean life plays a crucial role in regulating the Earth’s climate and biogeochemical cycles of carbon and other essential elements, contributes to food security and coastal protection and provides many other goods and services of socio-economical and cultural value to humans. Facts such as that the ocean produces 50 to 80% of the oxygen available in the atmosphere and contains 97% of the water available on Earth show this special relevance.

Ocean benefits are essential to keep a healthy planet. Besides, ensuring a healthy and resilient ocean is a fundamental condition and insurance for a sustainable future of our planet. According to experts, Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) are key to ensuring our oceans’ health, but what are they and how can they help us? Through the following interview, we will try to delve into this question with our colleague Marta Coll, specialized in marine ecosystem functioning and integrated analyses.

1. What types of solutions have been proposed traditionally to ensure seas and oceans health and how have they evolved?

Traditionally, the management of marine resources has been done from a sectorial point of view with isolated actions towards, for example, fisheries or marine protected areas management, or litter and pollution reduction. These management initiatives have had successes to some extent, but have not allowed us to achieve the environmental objectives we wanted for 2020. For example, the “good environmental status” envisaged by the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive will not be achieved , and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets will not be met. Specifically, Target 11 (achieving a 10% of well-protected coastal and marine areas), or Target 6 (achieving sustainable fisheries and harvesting in marine and aquatic ecosystems) will be largely missed in many regions of the ocean.

In general, the management of marine resources has not been taking into account the capacity of and time needed for nature to recover. This has brought us where we are today: facing the “twin environmental crises of our time” with a clear global climate change and an unprecedented rate of biodiversity loss. According to experts in emerging infectious diseases, these crises are clearly linked to the COVID19 planetary health crisis. In this sense, they alert that habitat fragmentation and degradation, live animal markets, the global trade in wildlife and biodiversity degradation all contribute to increasing the risk of diseases spilling over from wildlife into human populations due to shortened connectivity pathways.

2. Could this scenario improve significantly by implementing Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) to protect our oceans and seas?

Yes, since they bring more, and more diverse, nature and natural features and processes into cities, landscapes and seascapes, through locally adapted, resource-efficient and systemic interventions. One of the main innovative topics about NBS is the use of nature’s capacity to recover and rebuild, ensuring resilient ecosystems that are able to better deal with acute environmental events and ensure the delivery of ecosystem services. Another essential characteristic is the need to advance towards trans-sectorial solutions, where complementary solutions are implemented in tandem (i.e. combining the protection of marine areas, the recovery of habitats and the sustainable management of fisheries).

3. What did you learn from discussing with experts from around the world the current challenges and opportunities surrounding the uptake of Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) a few weeks ago in the #EUSGDialogue on Climate Change?

The dialogue explored different ways to achieve green and blue recovery from COVID-19, the potential of NBS for carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation, as well as how sustainable finance can support the transition to a low-carbon economy. It was extremely interesting to listen and interact with scholars, experts and policy makers around the urgent need to find innovative NBS to build a green and blue sustainable future.

4. To achieve a “healthy ocean” is one of the aims of the Horizon Europe Program. How far are we from this aim?

Preserving a resilient living ocean is a fundamental condition and insurance for a healthy planet, interconnected with a healthy land, freshwater and climate systems, and is the grand marine challenge of the next decade. The sustainable use of marine life is essential for the well-being of present and future human generations, as it is clearly recognised by the UN SDG 14 “Life below water”. However, 2020 is getting to an end and we are far from meeting our objectives. Despite this bad news, it is important to be aware that this year is set for making large decisions for tackling biodiversity conservation and climate-change mitigation over the next decade, which opens a range of opportunities.

Many current discussions mention the opportunity to “Rebuild Back Better” or move towards a “Healthy Recovery” and ensure resilience and resistance of socio-ecological systems against future crises, including climate change crisis. National and international initiatives calling for a “Green recovery” are widespread and should serve to push for needed changes. The “European Green Deal” to make the EU’s economy more sustainable and the new post-2020 targets of the Biological Diversity Convention are examples of such emerging opportunities. Future policies should, for example, promote a sustainable and circular economy, push for efficient and innovative technologies, and foster human consumption patterns change. In this context, NBS are essential and can make a difference.

5. What do you expect from the ‘Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development' declared by the UN to achieve a clean, healthy, safe, transparent and sustainable harvested ocean?

This is a not-to-miss key opportunity to develop the science we need for the future we want. And the future we want requires a healthy ocean and the sustainable use of marine resources. However, the ocean is under threat from multiple interacting stressors, so we need to move towards a marine transdisciplinary science oriented to find solutions to the big challenges ahead of us.

We need a new generation of scientists trained within a sustainability vision, with a holistic view of the marine ecosystems and with the capacity to develop and apply tools and analyses taking into account the complementary views and knowledge of the different stakeholders related to the ocean. This requires great efforts towards building research capacity, promoting the cooperation between different stakeholders related to the ocean, developing technological innovation and embracing the complexity and interrelationships of marine processes and resources (European Marine Board 2019; Heymans et al. 2020).

6. What ICM projects are working towards this direction?

The research developed at ICM has been targeting important challenges in the directions mentioned in this document. And two new EU Horizon 2020 projects that just started are aiming at substantially contribute the development and implementation of NBS. These projects are FutureMares and MaCoBios with a strong participation from ICM.

Ocean benefits are essential to keep a healthy planet / FutureMARES
Ocean benefits are essential to keep a healthy planet / FutureMARES