Nature-based solutions: building blocks for green recovery and climate action in least developed countries

As international climate and biodiversity talks continue and conservation experts gather this week at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, Ebony Holland shares recent research outlining how nature-based solutions are being placed front and centre by least developed countries.

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Ebony Holland
Ebony Holland is nature and climate policy lead in IIED's Natural Resources and Climate Change research groups
31 August 2021
A green mangrove forest on the edge of a lake, with the roots of the mangroves exposed

Mangrove forests on Lake Tabarisia, Papua, Indonesia. Mangroves capture carbon and reduce the impact of storms and sea-level rise (Photo: Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFORCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The economies of least developed countries (LDCs) are heavily reliant on natural resources. It is therefore no surprise that they are leading the way in calling for actions that address the loss of nature together with climate change.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) LDC Group reinforces this in its ‘LDC 2050 Vision' (PDF) launched in 2020, which includes a clear outcome for "climate-resilient landscapes and ecosystems that are sustainably managed, less vulnerable to climate shocks and stresses, and use nature-based solutions".

Nature-based solutions (NbS) have risen sharply in popularity – and for good reason. As highlighted in a major new case study report released last month by 15 environment and development organisations, if done well, they offer a cost-effective way to protect, sustainably manage, and restore ecosystems, while also addressing societal challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and poverty and inequality.

This is not new to LDCs – they have been leading the way in incorporating NbS into their climate plans and there are opportunities to do the same in their emerging COVID-19 recovery strategies.

Using the power of nature

Measures that draw on the power of nature to support mitigation and adaptation are increasingly featured in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – the climate change plans submitted by countries to outline how they will honour their commitments under the Paris Agreement.

As highlighted by WWF in its recent report, many countries have incorporated actions that address both climate change and nature loss in their NDCs, which is a positive development.

Looking specifically at LDCs, our analysis found that NbS are embedded across 45 of the 46 NDCs even if they are not specifically called ‘nature-based solutions’. Of these 45 NDCs, 32 incorporate nature into both adaptation and mitigation measures and 13 incorporate it into adaptation measures only.

There are diverse ways in which nature features in these plans – from improving forest management for carbon sequestration, to introducing climate-resilient crop varieties, establishing green belts around large urban centres and restoring mangrove systems.

The majority of nature-based solutions identified, if done well, have the potential to deliver significant benefits for climate, nature and people.

Not all plain sailing

The term ‘NbS’ has not gained universal acceptance. Some Indigenous Peoples have raised concerns that it doesn’t represent their worldview and separates people and nature. And there are concerns that some organisations are using NbS for ‘greenwashing’ or as an alternative to offsetting their emissions.

As NbS become increasingly used, careful planning and safeguards must be in place to ensure they are high quality, delivered alongside rapid decarbonisation plans and do not disadvantage marginalised communities.

Where is the money?

A key risk is that none of the LDCs have fully secured funding or resources for the nature-related activities proposed in their NDCs. This lack of earmarked funding could send a signal that activities that draw on the power of nature to support climate action are not a priority for external sources of funding.

This could lead to a deprioritisation of NbS over time as NDCs are updated or risk being replaced by actions that do not support or could even damage nature. It could also inadvertently tip the scales away from other measures that deliver co-benefits for nature.

COVID-19 recovery plans – an opportunity for NbS?

There are currently no publicly available COVID-19 recovery plans for any LDCs, although we understand a number are in development.

This presents a major opportunity. Judging by how strongly NbS feature in the NDCs of these countries, they could feature just as strongly in their COVID-19 recovery plans too. Similarly, these may also require resources to implement. Drawing synergies between NbS in both the NDCs and in COVID-19 recovery plans could help to fill the gap and secure funding for both – a double win.

Our research, which will also feature in a subsequent blog, produced a set of emerging lessons for LDCs to harness NbS in both their green recovery and climate plans. These include developing long-term sustainable finance strategies for NbS that support multi-purpose interventions, as well as building multi-stakeholder partnerships for NbS.

There is also a need to support effective implementation of NbS to enable communities to sustainably use nature for diversified local livelihoods and incomes to better withstand any future crises.

Bridging the climate and biodiversity talks

In addition to embedding NbS in green recovery plans and NDCs, there is a broader need to more closely link international talks on climate and biodiversity. LDCs have been championing this through various meetings and summits during the 2021 ‘super year’ of major climate and biodiversity talks and momentum is building.

There are several ways to help achieve this by:

This year presents major opportunities for nature-based solutions – to increase awareness, uptake and scaling of high-quality interventions that can deliver for climate, nature and people – and the least developed countries are well ahead of the pack.