As the world faces record-high temperatures, experts call for implementing nature-based solutions (NbS) to help cities adapt to climate change and improve human health and well-being.
Build climate resilience in cities using nature-based solutions, say conservation experts

Sheep and goats grazing might sound like a scene belonging to the countryside. Still, it is one of the NbS that The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is implementing in Berlin to help promote urban biodiversity.

First launched in the German capital, the Europe Urban Greening programme is also being implemented in Stuttgart. TNC has taken different approaches according to the cities’ unique needs, as programme director Jamie Chan explained to Euractiv.

“In Berlin, we have focused on working with city officials to pilot various NbS to reduce heat and flood risks and strategies to increase biodiversity. In Stuttgart, we created a challenge grant to support civil society organisations and start-ups in developing and implementing innovative NbS proposals.”

These include a green wall system that combines nesting opportunities and plant diversity, an ecosystem services decision support tool, retail façade greening, tiny forests, and a balcony greening tool.

“It is all about a variety of actors experimenting with different pathways toward climate adaptation and urban greening. Embedding NbS into municipal processes in major cities to accelerate the transformation from grey to green infrastructure, is a key goal.”

More funding needed

Such site-specific projects and partnership approaches can be replicated across other cities. “We would build on the programme, leverage its successes and lessons learned in other geographies,” Chan said when asked if it would expand.

But the programme relies on a €5 million fund to support it until 2025. Although it is sufficient to bridge the gap that municipalities often face when it comes to project planning and coordination, Chan noted there is a need for more.

“We have been able to get municipalities to match the funding for implementation. But this is not enough to cover the actual cost of implementation. More funding should go towards innovative NbS initiatives!”

Planting trees to save lives

Rob McDonald, TNC lead scientist for NbS, identified reducing greenhouse gas emissions, climate adaptation, and using NbS effectively for human well-being and biodiversity as some of the key problems facing cities in terms of urban sustainability.

“Cities are beginning to use heat action planning to get ready for the more intense heat waves that will occur with climate change, and nature-based solutions are part of that,” McDonald told Euractiv.

A study about the potential for NbS to help communities in the United States, in which Mcdonald was the lead author, found that planting trees in urban areas could potentially save an additional 464 lives and prevent some 80,758 cases of heat-related illnesses each year.

EU climate strategy is outdated

In 2021, the European Commission adopted its Climate Adaptation Strategy, which sets out how the European Union can adapt to climate change and become resilient by 2050.

But TNC Europe climate policy lead Rebecca Humphries argued that “The strategy lacks teeth. There is a need to strengthen governance, and capacities, and ensure the fight financing for climate adaptation.”

Humphries said the strategy needs to become a framework/law, “that can guide efforts at Member States’ level and send a unified signal to the international community on how the EU is taking leadership and increasing efforts on climate mitigation.”

This could aid in setting a governance structure and dedicated financing that would help guide and empower efforts at the subnational level. It might come especially in handy as a handful of European cities prepare to host major sporting events this summer, known for their carbon footprint.

Getting locals onboard

When it comes to making such initiatives work, engagement from local governments and communities is a must. Chan said there is a high level of awareness of the challenges posed by climate change, but hardships remain.

“Many German municipalities do not have the bandwidth or capacity to work with NGOs to explore climate adaptation approaches. They are often weighed down by the day-to-day running of the city and thus unable to experiment with new approaches.”

According to Chan, environmental education is “a critical way to gain early traction in the fight against climate change”.

A part of nature, not apart from nature

Allowing nature to heal and help resolve even man-made faults stands at the heart of the Urban Greening programme. TNC has long called for a shift towards natural solutions to address climate challenges.

According to Humphries, “Efforts need to be made to ensure the EU becomes climate resilient as soon as possible, especially with climate impacts becoming more severe. Additional measures and financing need to be put in place to address risks and impacts across different sectors holistically.”

“We need to implement sustainable urban planning, promote green infrastructure, invest in renewable energy, and foster international cooperation. Systemic changes in policies, regulations and governance structures are also needed to drive large-scale change and ensure long-term resilience to climate change,” concluded Chan.


This article is part of the special report Conserving nature in Europe: Mitigating climate change and biodiversity loss.



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