In the last few years, the term ‘Nature-based Solutions’ (NbS) gained momentum in sustainability literature as an ‘umbrella’ concept encompassing measures able to address many issues related to both climate change mitigation and adaptation (e.g., enlarging carbon sinks, enhancing biodiversity, protecting from extreme weather events consequences etc.). NbS even attained a formal acknowledgement from several institutions, with the European Commission defining them as ‘actions inspired, copied or supported by nature’.
Notwithstanding these endorsements and the mounting evidence of NbS’ positive benefits in tackling various environmental challenges, the implementation of these solutions in the European Union (EU) is still relatively limited, as national and local decision-makers seem to prefer business-as-usual approaches. The reasons lying behind this fact can be grouped into two broad categories, namely legal and non-legal.
The latter range from the erroneous perception of NbS as prohibitively expensive interventions to the lack of a longer-term perspective on the part of the political establishment. Moreover, in the field of NbS, adopting a one-size-fits-all approach is not desirable. As a matter of fact, NbS must be adapted to the local social context and tailored to the site’s morphological conditions in order to deliver their whole range of ecosystem services.
From a legal perspective, one can observe a certain degree of misalignment between the indications given by the EU and the opportunities provided by the majority of Member States’ legal systems. For instance, NbS are mentioned 20 times within the new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change (SACC) and an entire section is dedicated to their promotion. NbS represent one of the three priorities of the EU systemic approach to climate change adaptation, hence the Union’s support is primary and explicit.
On the other hand, national legal systems often do not incorporate the regulatory preconditions necessary for NbS scaling up. For instance, limitations in building codes combined with the lack of provisions for the sustainable utilisation of stormwater can reduce the opportunities for building green roofs. Bureaucracy combined with low environmental standards impedes the dynamic recovery of green areas. Unclear provisions on the allocation of responsibility in public projects that affect property rights hamper green and blue infrastructure development.
These are just some examples of practical issues that national and local authorities face when implementing NbS. The EU endorsement of NbS is certainly an important step and will help to change the attitude towards these actions. However, Member States must strive to adjust their regulations in order to facilitate NbS employment. Only then it will be possible to maximise NbS benefits, realise the objectives of the SACC and thus accelerate the transition towards sustainable development.
About the Author
Francesco is a PhD candidate at the University of Eastern Finland. His PhD project focuses on the legal feasibility of implementing urban nature-based solutions across European cities. The main research areas addressed by his project are conservation of urban biodiversity and improvement of climate change adaptation. Francesco is interested in analyzing the main legal challenges that hinder nature-based solutions implementation and scaling-up within the European Union. He received his LLM in Environmental Law and Sustainable Development in 2021 from the University of the West of England.
European Commission (2015) Towards an EU Research and Innovation policy agenda for Nature-Based Solutions and Re-Naturing Cities: Final Report of the Horizon 2020 Expert Group on Nature-Based Solutions and Re-Naturing Cities. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
European Commission (2021) Forging a climate-resilient Europe: the new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change. COM (2021) 82 final <https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52021DC0082&from=EN>