Climate Smart, Nature-based Solutions for building Urban Resilience to Climate Extremes

Climate Smart, Nature-based Solutions for building Urban Resilience to Climate Extremes


Numerous scientific studies put forward the fact that Climate Change is inevitable. As a result, the whole world is experiencing an uptick of the frequency of occurrences of disasters caused due to climate extreme events. With Climate Change taking place at an alarming rate, urban areas/ cities are more likely to experience severe strains from the resulting ill effects, especially the areas located and expanding along river banks and coastal areas.

A major proportion of urban areas/ cities are built with structures made of steel and concrete, and as a result such places tend to absorb and retain more heat. These situations amplify the effects of heat waves. Most urban areas/ cities have poor air quality levels, which is mostly due to vehicular traffic. This causes many discomforts to the people living in the area and very negatively impacts their health and wellbeing. Moreover, urban areas/ cities that are located close to rivers and coasts often experience disasters due to floods, storms and hurricanes resulting from climate extremes. Rising sea levels are also a problem for some coastal cities.

Hence, we must explore new ways of getting adapt to Climate Change and mitigate the ill effects resulting from Climate Extreme events.

Climate Smart Solutions

Climate smart solutions can be defined as actions developed for Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) and Climate Change Mitigation (CCM). For solutions to be Climate Smart, they must

  1. address climate risks;
  2. address the needs and concerns of vulnerable ecosystems and sectors of society;
  3. limit/avoid emissions that contribute to climate change through low carbon path ways.

Solutions consisting of above characteristics, ensure a sustainable, healthy and comfortable lifestyle for the urban population. Moreover, Climate Smart Solutions can bring in feasible and environmentally friendly approaches into urban planning process when compiling disaster risk management strategies for urban environments.

Are Nature-based Solutions (NbS) Climate Smart?

Nature-based Solutions (NbS) can be categorized as Climate Smart. They are interventions which make use of natural processes and ecosystem services to address a wide variety of challenges in the present-day society including Climate Risks. NbS can be completely “Green” (consisting of only ecosystem elements) or “Hybrid” (Combination of ecosystem elements and “gray” infrastructure). The theme NbS, is now gaining momentum worldwide as cost effective and environmentally friendly solutions with the due recognition that nature offers solution/s to every problem. Such solutions also help decrease vulnerability to climate change while also creating multiple benefits to local communities such as sustaining livelihoods.

NbS in International Frameworks

Importance of NbS are highlighted in international agreements such as Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030) as an effective and sustainable technique to reduce disaster risk. The New Urban Agenda recognizes NbS for minimizing environmental degradation in cities which is one of the major obstacles to sustainable development in urban areas.

Further, NbS possess the potential to contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s targets and to help achieve a range of Sustainable Development Goals. NbS are directly relevant to: Goal 2 (food security), Goal 3 (health and well-being), Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation), Goal 11 (sustainable cities and communities), Goal 13 (climate change), Goal 14 (conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources), and Goal 15 (protection, restoration and promotion of sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems).

Other international frameworks such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, Convention on Biological Diversity, and Ramsar Convention on Wetlands too recognizes the power of nature towards climate change adaptation and mitigation actions.

Climate Smart NbS to address Climate Extremes in Urban Environments

NbS use plant species, soils, and natural processes to manage water, temperature, and air quality to create healthier, resilient, and pleasing urban environments. Such solutions use local resources and materials to build community self-reliance and resilience. The main contributions of NbS towards resilient cities are:

  1. Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation
  2. Water and Flood Management
  3. Green Space Management
  4. Air Quality Management
  5. Public Health Management
  6. Creation of Economic opportunities and Green jobs

Moreover, NbS improve engineering by including natural components and bioengineering methods. Such solutions improve the performance and resilience of conventional “gray” infrastructure and often can replace it entirely for much cheaper and with stronger results that allow for local community monitoring, maintenance, and multiple uses.

When NbS is implemented in infrastructure assets such as roads, bridges, river embankments, canals, markets, and ports, NbS improve their durability and performance as well as the beauty, amenity, and multiple functions of the areas where they are located.

Multidisciplinary teams including engineers trained in bioengineering, landscapers, horticulturalists, and other specialists are required to successfully design and implement NbS.

NbS Examples in the Urban Environment

NbS can mitigate negative impacts of Climate Change through sequestering carbon via urban trees. Further, NbS such as wetlands, permeable paving and vegetated rip raps act as buffers against natural disasters emerging from climate extreme events such as floods, storm surges and safeguard the urban population.  Urban trees and green roofs are able to contribute to cooling of urban areas during heat waves.

NbS interventions for Climate Change Adaptation & Mitigation

In water & flood management, NbS such as wetlands, bioretention ponds, bioswales can reduce the amount of stormwater to be treated in public sewerage systems in the urban areas. Permeable paving reduces the volume of runoff water running through public drainage systems thus reducing excess pressures in the existing systems.

NbS interventions for water & flood management

Urban tree canopies, wetlands, urban gardens etc. substantially contribute to green space management in urban areas. Vegetation present in such green spaces are able to capture pollutants thus improving air quality levels in urban areas.

NbS interventions for Green Space Management

Urban green spaces can increase the level of involvement in physical activity contributing to a good public health and wellbeing.

Urban green spaces contribute to good public health and well being

NbS improve local economies and creates new income sources for communities. For instance, Wetlands with native flora and fauna provide a wider role specially for eco-tourism. Urban gardens provide opportunities for people to engage in urban agriculture and to obtain an extra income from the harvests.

NbS interventions can create economic opportunities

Bottom Line

Nature-based Solutions (NbS) are Climate Smart and they contribute to enhance the resilience of cities & urban areas to Climate Extremes utilizing ecosystem-based approaches. NbS bring together established ecosystem-based approaches such as:

  1. Ecological Engineering,
  2. Ecosystem based management,
  3. Ecosystem services,
  4. Green-blue infrastructure and
  5. Natural capital.

The subject area of NbS is relatively new. Presently, it is getting more and more popular around the world. More and more scientific researchers are showing interest in carrying out various studies related to NbS. As a result, knowledge on the subject is updated every day and the body of knowledge is evolving day by day.

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