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Nature-Based Solutions and Natural Climate Solutions

The terms NBS (Nature-Based Solutions) and Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) are often but mistakenly used interchangeably. NCS focuses primarily on carbon dioxide mitigation and maximising its co-benefits. NBS is a far more comprehensive term. As defined by the European Commission, NBS is “inspired and supported by nature, which is cost-effective, simultaneously provides environmental, social, and economic benefits and helps build resilience.”  It encompasses broader challenges including issues such as climate change, water scarcity, water pollution, food security, human health, biodiversity loss and disaster risk management. It refers to the sustainable management and use of natural features and processes to tackle socio-environmental challenges.  In other words, NBS treats the problem holistically and is both mitigation and adaptation and at once material and inspirational, physical and intellectual, backed by moral and popular participation. The inter-connections and inter-relations among all factors that affect the environment is a key principle.

Green Roofs, Rain Gardens, and Constructed Wetlands can minimise damaging runoff by absorbing stormwater, reducing flood risks, and safeguarding the freshwater ecosystem. This is one example of an NBS as opposed to engineering solutions that focus on the construction of concrete walls to protect habitations from the ravages of floods.

Adaptation versus Mitigation

Adaptation and mitigation serve different purposes. Adaptation is long-term, its impact is almost permanent, and it addresses the root cause of the crisis. Mitigation is short-term, cost-intensive and temporary; as the term suggests, it mitigates the problem and does not offer a lasting solution. The emphasis so far has been mostly on mitigation, or at least the flow of resources indicates that. Instead, it is important to bring adaptation to centre stage as the core of the strategy. If environmental protection is to become a people’s movement, it has to place adaptation on top of our priority pedestal.

With billions of people potentially in harm’s way as climate change negatively accelerates, the stakes for making a success of nature-based adaptation and mitigation are immense. Following the Glasgow promises to ramp up funding for adaptation, I wish to argue for a preference for these solutions as opposed to engineering solutions involving mostly constructions and the creation of structures.

NBS can help people adapt to the effects of change and disasters while slowing warming and protecting biodiversity, with many positive consequences, fewer risks and lower costs than engineering-based solutions. So, nature-based initiatives such as planting mangroves and revitalizing wetlands have not only succeeded in tackling flood and water scarcity but have also proven effective in making communities more resilient to climate change.

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Regrettably, international funding has short-changed such solutions in favour of costlier and less efficient engineering projects. Engineering-based solutions requiring mostly construction have dominated our thinking and action. If floods are ravaging an area, the solution is building up embankments of concrete. While their role cannot be written off or diminished, the plea is to prefer and accord NBSs higher priority.

Studies reveal that less than 10 per cent of funding for climate adaptation in the least-developed nations — which are usually the most vulnerable — went into projects that harnessed nature. The remaining 90 per cent only “poured concrete”. The reason for this preference is not far to seek. Most funding for climate mitigation is received from developed nations. And it is substantially ploughed back to the funder by way of expert consultancies, and specialised construction workers whose expertise lies with the donor countries. So, there is a hidden purpose behind the assistance that is forthcoming. A farce everyone knows but a bluff few are able to call.

A pointer to this flawed orientation of evaluating efforts on environmental protection is the recently released Environment Protection Index (EPI). India ranks the last among the 180 countries ranked. Brought out by Columbia and Yale Universities, the assumptions that form the basis of such ranking reflect the bias that researchers have toward measures that suit the interest of developed nations.

Another factor behind such an approach is over-obsession with perpetuating and sustaining, even enhancing the prevailing levels of affluence and comfort that developed nations enjoy, unwilling to forego or reduce their craving for more. Ironically, they succeed in clothing their interest in a manner that seems to be helping the world at large. In essence, they will like to continue enjoying a safe and salubrious slice of the environment while the sacrifices must come from the poorer nations.

One thing though is evident. We behave as if we are the last generation living on this planet, not wanting to leave behind anything for the future. The concern for the benefits of development to continue for generations requires in the least, measured exploitation of resources leaving enough for the future. This eminently obvious fact often gets obfuscated by human greed, unwillingness to give up anything and the hunger for more comfort. Regrettably, any mention of economising on the resources by reducing demand is deemed anti-development. The continuation of this mindless exploitation will ensure a perdition few will survive to rue.

Need to bring NBSs Centre-Stage

Clearly NBS offer long-term but lasting solutions. And most importantly they involve people. Each one of them requires massive participation of the populations affected.

It indeed is the solution that we want. We want environmental protection to become a mass movement, not esoteric domains where only experts and specialists, whether from sciences, economics, or politics or in a lighter vein the polluticians deliberate and decide. Once the nature-based solution becomes our priority, the save planet mission becomes universal and ubiquitous. It becomes a movement for the people, of the people and by the people.

The spin-off effects are multiple and immense. Take, for example, its effect on employment. All countries, to varying degrees, face this problem. All nature-based adaptation and mitigation strategies evidently become a massive employment generation programme.

Lastly, nature-based mediation inheres the concern for the environment in our thinking and growth process. Every action, individual or collective, local or national, will lead to better development as it will automatically incorporate the impact on air, water, humidity, and temperature of our environment as necessary outcomes. This will be a far superior, balanced and saner approach while formulating our development strategies.

Yes, it will be slow and will require time, patience, involvement, wisdom and also sacrifice. These are the most intractable intangibles for impatient people in a particularly difficult time. As entrenched interests dig their heels, the hope lies in the leadership- non-partisan, visionary, courageous and committed.

Regrettably, this is one thing that is sorely missing. On the contrary, there is a concerted and more intense and serious effort to let the status quo continue. Who then will lead the charge to rewrite the rules of engagement?

There are no answers! At least for the present!

Post Script

World Environment Day was celebrated with much fanfare and ostensible concern earlier this month while creating awareness about the precariousness and perniciousness of the problem must also make us examine the global strategies to meet this formidable challenge. Dominated by thinking and advocacy that seems to favour the continuing advantage that
developed nations enjoy; one that accords primacy to mitigation as compared to adaptation; and one that focuses more
on construction than changing our behaviour,  demands a serious rethink and reprioritization. Our Prime Minister hinted
at it while addressing COP at Glasgow recently. Nature-Based Solutions(NBS) offer a superior alternative, in fact, a co-strategy, to tackle the ongoing degradation. There is a need to talk and discuss more the relevance and necessity of these
solutions, and to evaluate and advocate their adoption far more vigorously.

The above piece deals with some key dimensions, and why they must be considered a preferred option.

Views are personal.  The author, Uday Kumar Varma an IAS officer, former secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and Ministry of MSME was also an esteemed jury member through SABERA 2021  You may also like his articles Have you and I learnt our lessons post COVID 19, New World OrderWho will Watch the WatchDog and  Digital Age: Future of Democracy

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