Course:CONS200/2021/How Nature-Based Solutions are Fighting Climate Change in Europe

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The European Union has created numerous Nature-based Solution projects to help combat many environmental problems, including climate change[1]. Nature-based solutions (NbS) are actions aiming to solve contemporary environmental issues by using elements of ecosystem services derived from healthy, well-functioning ecosystems [2].It is a relatively new concept being implemented in Europe due to the European Union’s (EU) intention of being seen as a leader in an emerging environmental movement around the world, and thus there has been a surge in research on ecosystem services that benefit human and ecological needs [3]. Among the main nature-based solutions currently being implemented are experiments such as GrowGreen, SINCERE, and Vuores District. Recent reports on NbS have offered promising results in carbon sequestration and the reduction of energy demand[1]. If these solutions are found to be effective in Europe, then they can possibly be implemented in other continents to resolve social-environmental conflicts and climate change impacts internationally.

Climate change is the long term change in the Earth’s climate and includes changes in temperature, precipitation, sea level and other variables. Climate change has been causing various environmental upheavals around the world and upsetting the balance of natural ecosystems. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century”[4].

As awareness has risen about the detrimental effects of climate change, some European nations have taken the lead on nature-based solutions to aid in climate mitigation (helping lower greenhouse gas emissions), and climate adaptation (helping ecosystems and communities adjust to changing microclimates).

What Are Nature-Based Solutions?

Nature-based solutions is a tool used to “transform contemporary environmental, social and economic challenges into opportunities for innovation” and to further accelerate Europe's leadership in climate change adaptation and mitigation [5]. During this anthropogenic age, humans have been a dominant threat to the environment through the use of fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources that are harmful for the planet. This system will help us transition to the use of ecosystem services to utilize benefits people obtain from natural processes, while decreasing the use of non-reusable resources [3]. NbS is an all encompassing term that describes these general ideas and goals. Underneath this term, it can be divided into several approaches. Programs are created to target an approach and help to create a more sustainable city and living.

Nature-based solutions are used as a framework that can ultimately help with many other societal challenges. NbS can be divided into 5 main categories according to the IUCN:

IUCN's 5 Categories of NbS
Category of NbS Approaches Examples
Ecosystem Restoration Approaches
  • ecological restoration
  • ecological engineering
  • forest landscape restoration
Issues-Specific Ecosystem-Related Approaches
  • Ecosystem-based adaptation
  • Ecosystem-based mitigation
  • Climate Adaptation Services
  • Ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction
Infrastructure-related approaches
  • Natural infrastructure
  • Green Infustructure
Ecosystem-based Managment approaches
  • Integrated water resources managment
  • integrated coastal zone managment
Ecosystem Protection Approaches
  • Area-based conservation approaches (ex. Protected Area Managment)

Nature-Based Solutions and Climate Change

Nature based solutions were devised to help alleviate climate change, amongst several other social-environmental issues. The various solutions and projects currently being implemented generally accomplishes this through the introduction of green infrastructure (various plants and green spaces) in urbanized areas, such as encouraging residents to grow their own garden plants across multiple communities (which is the idea behind the GrowGreen projects)[6]. Tree planting is also common among several projects/initiatives, and all these actions play a part in combating climate change through carbon sequestration.

The implemented solutions also play a role in helping people adjust to lives in rapidly shifting microclimates, such as by planting trees to provide shade to people and buildings, as well as insulating them from winds in cooler times of the year.


There are many objectives behind the implementation of nature-based solutions in Europe. One of the main goals includes helping combat the largest environmental issue of contemporary times, climate change, as well as supporting human well-being and helping improve the sustainability of communities throughout the continent.  

These natural solutions gain inspiration from natural ecosystem processes, and seek to increase resilience to climate change by both methods of climate adaptation, and climate mitigation. For instance, the GrowGreen project helps residents start gardens, which can help increase rates of atmospheric carbon absorption if done over a large enough scale [6]. In fact, a lot of the solutions involve retrofitting urban areas with green and blue infrastructure interventions.

These interventions can also help provide numerous ecosystem services to communities, which help these projects fulfill other goals such as improving community quality of life with an ecocentric perspective. According to information from the IUCN, the rise of these nature-based solutions in the EU is likely to promote well-being in ways that adhere to modern European cultural and societal values, as well as contribute to other issues including food and water security, climate change, human health, and even economic development[2].

Why Europe?

The European Union is aiming to accelerate its position as the leader of the environmental movement. Through NbS, the EU is able to create more secure and stronger relations with neighboring countries outside of the European Union and facilitate international trade [5]. The cultural and technological progress of many European nations allows them to take the initiative in these new efforts to create more sustainable urban communities, and enhance lives with nature and its associated benefits.

Indicators of Nature-based Solutions as an Effective Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Mechanism

The effectiveness of nature based solutions in fighting climate change and alleviating some of its effects can be gauged by evaluating NbS influence on climate mitigation and adaptation.

Kabisch et al. has studied the effectiveness of NbS as a solution to fight climate change[7]. Four categories were analyzed in this study: integrated environmental performance, health and well-being, transferability and monitoring, and citizens involvement[7]. Through their research, nature-based solutions have been recognized as an effective mechanism to combat climate change while benefitting human well-being[7].

Indicators of NbS Effectiveness [7]
Integrated Environmental Performance Health + Well-Being Transferbility + Monitoring Citizens Involvement
  • Decrease in air pollution
  • Reduction in temperature
  • Reduction in Carbon emissions
  • reduction in flood risk
  • Increase in the number of species, functional richness and vegetation cover
  • decrease in respiratory disease and obesity
  • Increase in quility of life, happiness + employment
  • better access to green/blue spaces
  • integrated governance (increase of stakeholders involved in planning/implementation from different disciplines)
  • Long-term viability of projects + monitoring (duration)
  • Increase in city budget being allocated to maintenance and implementation of green spaces
  • citizens involved with implementation of projects
  • more ownership and responsibility of green spaces
  • Sharing and adopting NbS in community

Due to the effectiveness of NbS, we see its popularity grow as citizens are adopting this new solution with cities increasing their budgets towards green space development and other NbS programs. Its ability to regulate the ecosystem has increased the health and well-being of many people in both urban and rural communities. In the European Commission Report on NbS, many positive attributes of Nature-Based Solutions are stated in terms of their ability to mitigate climate change[1]. Through the reduction of energy usage snd increase in carbon storage and sequestration, NbS has been recognized as an accomplished program allowing the EU to reach toward their target reduction temperature of 1.5 - 2 degrees C[1].

Implemented Nature-Based Solutions in Progress


GrowGreen is a five-year project that aims to improve urban life by incorporating nature-based solutions into long-term city planning and management[6]. By including nature in urban areas, GrowGreen hopes to increase biodiversity, help businesses prosper, and create harmony between people, the economy, and the environment. GrowGreen works in six cities across Europe to develop strategies for nature-based solutions tailored to the specific needs of each location. GrowGreen will run from June 2017 to May 2022 in the following cities: Manchester, UK; Valencia, Spain; Wroclaw, Poland; Brest, France; Modena, Italy; Zadar, Croatia.[6]

GrowGreen's main objectives are[6]:

  • Provide evidence of nature-based solutions as cost-effective and replicable methods of improving urban environments to support the development of further NbS policies.
  • Develop usable and replicable approaches to the implementation of NbS in cities, in accordance with existing priorities of the city.
  • Raise awareness and build capacity within cities to support the development of the policy and business models needed to enable the implementation of NbS.

GrowGreen City Projects

Manchester, United Kingdom:

The city of Manchester has five rivers within it, and it receives some of the heaviest rainfalls in the UK[8]. Its aging sewer system, combined with the increase rainfall due to climate change, has created a significant problem of flooding in the city. In response, GrowGreen worked with Manchester residents to design a park that absorbs excess water[8]. Opened in Manchester's West Gorton neighborhood in June 2020, the park includes many NbS features such as bioretention tree pits, rain gardens, and swales - all of which are types of vegetated basins or channels that collect runoff[9] - as well as water-permeable pavement. The park will also improve air and water quality, and increase biodiversity in the area by restoring the habitat of local plants and animals. GrowGreen is also providing funds to the city of Manchester to help them develop new plans to reduce the flood risk of the city's main rivers.[8]

Valencia, Spain:

Located on the Mediterranean coast, Valencia is prone to very hot summers, and climate change predictions suggest that its temperatures will only increase, as will the frequency of extreme weather events[10]. To combat this, GrowGreen is testing several projects meant to decrease heat stress in the city. These projects include: a vertical garden, built in a school to regulate temperatures, which also provides soundproofing and filters wastewater from the school's sinks and showers; and a green roof built on a senior center, which reduces heat in the building and stores rainwater[10]. The natural temperature regulation provided by these NbS should also reduce energy usage. GrowGreen is currently in the process of planting a small forest and building a blue-green corridor linking pre-existing green spaces, both of which will reduce heat by providing shading and improved ventilation, as well as increase rainwater absorption and improve habitats for diverse vegetation.[10]

Wroclaw, Poland:

Located on the Oder River, Wroclaw is facing an increasing flood risk and increasingly frequent heat waves due to the effects of climate change[11]. GrowGreen's projects, all located in Wroclaw's Olbin district, are designed to combat both of these problems. Their NbS projects include swales and rain gardens to soak up excess rainwater, planting trees to increase shading, and a green street which includes trees for shading, parklets, and climbing plants on buildings[11]. GrowGreen is also aiming to improve biodiversity - which is increasingly at risk due to climate change[12] - with small structures like birdhouses and insect hotels, to provide safe areas for species to live.[11]

Brest, France:

GrowGreen is implementing two projects to combat the increased flood risk that Brest is facing due to climate change. The Kertatupage Project is a park that stores floodwater in an underground basin[13]. Its plants were also chosen to encourage biodiversity. The Keravelloc Project is bringing a small stream above ground and renovating the surrounding area to provide more space for floodwater and to increase the amount of vegetation in the area.[13]

Modena, Italy:

Located on two rivers, and having an extensive canal system, a poor sewage system, and an increasing number of impermeable surfaces, Modena faces a high flood risk[14]. However, its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site makes it difficult to make significant changes to the city's infrastructure or layout[12]. GrowGreen is currently testing a grassy canal and swales as a means of reducing flood risk by absorbing water[14]. These projects will also help filter their water, which will reduce the amount of pollutants in it. Experiences from these pilot projects are being used by GrowGreen and their local partners to develop further plans to reduce flood risk and mitigate heat stress.[14]

Zadar, Croatia:

Zadar is facing increasingly frequent heat waves and intense rainstorms due to climate change[15]. GrowGreen is currently working with the city to replace impermeable surfaces like concrete and asphalt with hollow paving and greenery, which will absorb water to decrease flood risk and help to decrease temperatures[15]. Zadar is also mapping out green spaces and specific climate change vulnerabilities across the city, and in certain economic sectors, and working with GrowGreen to plan NbS features accordingly.[15]


Sustainable forest management is a vital part of climate change mitigation due to the role that forests play in absorbing carbon emissions[16]. SINCERE (Spurring Innovations for Forest Ecosystems in Europe) aims to establish more sustainable management of forests and support the provisioning ecosystem services that they provide[17]. Provisioning services include food, water, and raw materials such as timber[18]. Led by the European Forest Institute, this project works to create multifunctional forests to benefit forest owners and wider societies, and its research is intended to be used to develop new business models and to inform a coordinated European policy framework that will maximize the sustainable provision of valuable forest ecosystem services[19]. This project includes 11 case studies across 9 countries, and will run from 2018 to 2022[20].

The main objectives of SINCERE are[21]:

  • Build an evidence base for nature-based solutions by integrating scientific and practical knowledge to create innovative mechanisms to meet the supply and demand in forests
  • Build “Learning Architecture” -  interactive innovation projects between many groups and people - to support continuous and collaborative learning
  • Develop, implement, and analyze the effectiveness of a set of innovation actions
  • Work with researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to synthesize knowledge from other innovative green projects to enable widespread use throughout Europe and the world
  • Establish a coordinated policy framework across Europe to institutionalize Learning Architecture and the support of forest provisioning services
  • Spread knowledge and increase communication about forest provisioning services by designing an online interactive toolkit for innovators working in forests.


Vuores is a green district currently under construction in Tampere, Finland. The district is designed to be eco-efficient to address climate change challenges[22], and will incorporate many NbS such as: public green spaces and parks (including a central park zone that will run through the entire district[23]), storm water ponds, green roofs and walls, permeable pavements[22], flood meadows, and public gardens[23]. Buildings and other new structures are adapted to the landscape, preserving the pre-existing natural sites around the district such as forests and lakes. The parks of Vuores have extensive networks of pedestrian and bike routes to make it possible to travel throughout the district without a car[23]. The district's NbS will reduce carbon emissions, heat stress, energy usage, and flood risk. As of spring 2018, Vuores had about 4,000 residents[23], and it is expected to have about 13,000 by the time construction is finished in 2030[22].

Future WorldWide Implementations and Continued Research

While the European Union currently supports NbS projects managed by local and regional governments within Europe, the IUCN is actively considering working with international governments in order to preserve biodiversity worldwide through nature-based solutions [2]. Ongoing international projects by the European Commission have sought to address sustainable use of natural resources and climate change mitigation by empowering vulnerable communities across continents. BRIDGE, or Building River Dialogue and Governance, is such a project by the Commission which currently supports local and Indigenous communities located near fragile freshwater environments, including Lake Titicaca and the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna river basins [24]. A current goal for both projects is to research and document nature based solutions in freshwater management and policy [25].

Nature based solutions could help to outline future economic systems that balance climate change adaptation and mitigation with profitable economics. A Spanish environmental consultation service under the Enterprise Europe Network is currently helping companies to develop NbS plans to ensure sustainable development within uncertain circumstances that climate change brings [26]. Similar implementations of NbS projects within industries that are current drivers of greenhouse gas emissions, such as prioritizing carbon sequestration in forestry management and logging practices, may be vital in achieving internationally-set climate targets[27].


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 European Commission (2020). "What Nature-Based Solutions can do for us".
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 International Union for Conservation of Nature (2020, April 29). "Nature-based solutions". Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Maes. J., & Jacobs. S. (2015). "Nature-based Solutions for Europe's Sustainable Development". Conservation Letters. 10.
  4. IPCC. "Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change" (PDF).
  5. 5.0 5.1 O’Sullivan, F., Mell, I., & Clement, S. (2020). "Novel solutions or rebranded approaches: Evaluating the use of nature-based solutions (NBS) in Europe". Frontiers in Sustainable.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 "About". GrowGreen. 2017.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Kabisch; et al. (2016). "Nature-based solutions to climate change mitigation and adaptation in urban areas: Perspectives on indicators, knowledge gaps, barriers, and opportunities for action". Ecology and Society. 21. Explicit use of et al. in: |last= (help)
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "Manchester". GrowGreen. 2021.
  9. "What is Green Infrastructure?". United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2020.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 "Valencia". GrowGreen. 2021.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 "Wroclaw". GrowGreen. 2021.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Nunez, Sarahi; et al. (June 2019). "Assessing the impacts of climate change on biodiversity: is below 2°C enough?". Climatic Change. 154: 351–365 – via ProQuest. Explicit use of et al. in: |last= (help)
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Brest". GrowGreen. 2021.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 "Modena". GrowGreen.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 "Zadar". GrowGreen.
  16. Canadell, Josep G. (2008). "Managing Forests for Climate Change Mitigation". Science. 320: 1456–1457 – via JSTOR.
  17. "SINCERE – Spurring innovation for forest ecosystem services'". IUCN.
  18. Carpenter, , S. R., Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (Program). (2005). Ecosystems and human well-being: scenarios: findings of the scenarios working group: millennium ecosystem assessment. Island Press.
  19. "About". SINCERE - Innovating for Forest Ecosystem Services.
  20. "Case Studies". SINCERE - Innovating for Forest Ecosystem Services.
  21. "SINCERE – Spurring innovation for forest ecosystem services'". IUCN.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Antuña-Rozado; et al. (2019). "Nature Based Solutions (NBS) for sustainable and resilient cities: experiences from Europe and Brazil". IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science. 297. Explicit use of et al. in: |last= (help)
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 "In English - Vuores-portaali". Vuores.
  24. Cobo, E., Pineiros, L., & Warmenbol, C. (2019). "Lake Titicaca - Empowering Women and Improving Water Governance". IUCN.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  25. "BRIDGE in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna river basins (BRIDGE GBM)". IUCN. March 1, 2021.
  26. "Enterprise Europe Network". European Commission. October 11, 2019.
  27. Bulkeley, Harriet (July 17, 2020). "Nature-based solutions for climate mitigation". Analysis of EU-funded projects – via Publications Office of the EU.

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