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Nature Based Solutions for Climate Mitigation and Adaptation
May 2, 2022

A guest blog by international water-food-energy nexus expert Shama Perveen, Ph.D.

A portrait of a woman smiling, Dr. Shama Shama Perveen, the guest writer for this blog article on nature based solutions for climate mitigation and adaptation.
Dr. Shama Perveen, water-food-energy nexus expert.

Despite repeated warnings of “now or never” to act, humanity has been increasingly influencing the climate, and the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report1 confirms it – providing the bleakest warning yet.  As the planet keeps heating up, the impacts show up in the form of rising sea levels and record floods, droughts, and heat wave events – more recurrent and evidenced globally. It is not surprising that our actions are causing irreversible damage to the ecosystem as we quickly outpace our ability to adapt or cope.  

While many of the world’s natural ecosystems and the communities reliant on them are vulnerable to the changing climate, low- and middle-income nations tend to be the most vulnerable to and disproportionately affected by the increasingly severe social, environmental and economic consequences2. There is increasing recognition345 that ecosystems can be a cost-effective means to create resilience and help support climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. 

The concept of nature based solutions (NBS) is generating more discourse among the scientific and expert community and marks a perspective shift in how society has come to now positively view the relationship between people and nature. Seen as systemic interventions, NBS are defined as actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits6.

There’s various evidence that nature-based (green) interventions when compared to traditional (grey) engineering solutions are more cost-effective and sustainable in the long-term. For example, NBS can effectively reduce the risks associated with climate change and water related disasters through floodplain restoration, improve water quality through the natural filtration provided by wetlands, or enhance water availability by using conservation agriculture for soil moisture retention. 

Coastal wetlands. Water with boats at the coast and green wetlands.
Coastal wetlands. Photo by iStock.

Implementation of NBS also has documented economic benefits from reducing the risk of climate change disasters, especially those involving water. The presence of coastal wetlands in northeast United States protected $625 million worth of property from direct flood damage during Hurricane Sandy, reducing damage by 20–30% in 50% of affected areas7 .In terms of avoided losses, a recent analysis revealed that annual expected damage from flooding would double and costs from frequent storms would triple globally in the absence of underwater reefs8. 

While there are plenty of examples of NBS projects around the world9, deciding long-term outcomes (i.e. success or fails) of the interventions in the face of climate uncertainty remains a challenge. This is especially complicated by the fact that decisions on climate, water, energy, and food are taken mostly in governance silos, although these sectors are constantly and dynamically interacting in space and time. 

A photo of a woman washing bananas in water.
The “nexus” approach: food, water and energy security is inextricably linked. Photo by iStock.

The “nexus” approach10 signifies that food, water and energy security is inextricably linked and actions taken in one sector can have positive (synergistic) or negative (tradeoffs) effects on others. Undertaking system assessments with this understanding in mind, can help balance multiple sectoral goals and interests while maintaining the integrity of ecosystems- all crucial elements if a NBS is being designed. For example, in tree plantation projects, if the species selected is unsuited to the region, it can have overall and long term negative effects on the ecosystem11. 

NBS is gaining traction, having found a strong footing in policy and business circles12. However, to ensure the solutions are implemented at scale to drive positive change, it is crucial that companies and investors, individuals, communities, and governments understand the interrelated crisis13 arising from their activities and the financial implications14 of the risks if we have to mitigate and adapt to climate impacts within the narrow window of time we have left. 

Are you interested in learning more about how to make a positive change in the environment? Visit our YALI4OurFuture page for more tools and resources.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.


  1.  IPCC, 2022: Summary for Policymakers [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, M. Tignor, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem (eds.)]. In: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.
  2.  WEF. (2020). Nature risk rising: Why the crisis engulfing nature matters for business and the economy. Geneva, Switzerland: World Economic Forum.
  3.  IPCC. (2019). Climate change and land: An IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems [P. R. Shukla, J. Skea, E. Calvo Buendia, V. Masson-Delmotte, H.-O. Pörtner, D. C. Roberts, P. Zhai, R. Slade, S. Connors, R. van Diemen, M. Ferrat, E. Haughey, S. Luz, S. Neogi, M. Pathak, J. Petzold, J. Portugal Pereira, P. Vyas, E. Huntley, K. Kissick, M. Belkacemi, & J. Malley (Eds.)]. Geneva, Switzerland: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  4.  IPBES. (2019). Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. In S. Díaz, J. Settele, E. S. Brondízio, H. T. Ngo, M. Guèze, J. Agard, A. Arneth, P. Balvanera, K. A. Brauman, S. H. M. Butchart, K. M. A. Chan, L. A. Garibaldi, K. Ichii, J. Liu, S. M. Subramanian, G. F. Midgley, P. Miloslavich, Z. Molnár, D. Obura, A. Pfaff, S. Polasky, A. Purvis, J. Razzaque, B. Reyers, R. Roy Chowdhury, Y. J. Shin, I. J. Visseren-Hamakers, K. J. Willis, & C. N. Zayas (Eds.). Bonn, Germany: IPBES Secretariat, 56 pp. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3553579
  5.  WEF. (2020). Nature risk rising: Why the crisis engulfing nature matters for business and the economy. Geneva, Switzerland: World Economic Forum.
  6.  Cohen-Shacham, E., Walters, G., Janzen, C. and Maginnis, S. (eds.) (2016). Nature-based Solutions to address global societal challenges. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. xiii + 97pp.
  7. Narayan, Siddharth & Beck, Michael & Wilson, Paul & Thomas, Christopher & Guerrero, Alexandra & Shepard, Christine & Reguero, B.G. & Franco, Guillermo & Ingram, Jane & Trespalacios, Dania. (2017). The Value of Coastal Wetlands for Flood Damage Reduction in the Northeastern USA. Scientific Reports. 7. 9643. 10.1038/s41598-017-09269-z.
  8. Beck, M.W., Losada, I.J., Menéndez, P. et al. The global flood protection savings provided by coral reefs. Nat Commun 9, 2186 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-04568-z
  9. https://www.naturebasedsolutionsinitiative.org/
  10. https://unece.org/environment-policy/water/areas-work-convention/water-food-energy-ecosystem-nexus
  11. Chausson, A, Turner, B, Seddon, D, et al. Mapping the effectiveness of Nature-based Solutions for climate change adaptation. Glob Change Biol. 2020; 26: 6134– 6155. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15310
  12. https://www.businessfornature.org/businesscase
  13. Ceres. 2022. Global Assessment of Private Sector Water Impacts. https://www.ceres.org/resources/reports/global-assessment-private-sector-impacts-water?utm_source=web&utm_medium=lightbox&utm_campaign=GWA22&utm_content=report
  14. https://www.ceres.org/water/valuing-water-finance-initiative