World Water Week Official Session, 21 August 2023

“There is no silver bullet [for NbS]; but if we can weave together the strands of a silver basket it can be done”

– Christine Colvin, WWF

Global investments in Nature-based Solutions (NbS) typically target strategies that are not relevant to diverse environmental, climate, cultural and political contexts. A growing body of evidence supports solutions to development and climate change adaptation that are either complementary to, or replace built infrastructure, and are based on indigenous knowledge, and community-owned implementation models.

Drawing on recent experiences of designing NbS, OneWorld convened an official World Water Week 2023 session on 21 August, with a diverse panel of global experts to demystify NbS and to discuss ongoing challenges and opportunities for mainstreaming nature-based approaches.

World Water Week Nature Based Solutions Belynda Petrie

Belynda Petrie (OneWorld) moderated the session, and introduced it by outlining some of the key questions the session sought to answer, including: How do we demystify NbS? How do we finance NbS projects at scale? And through all this, how do we ensure socially equitable and inclusive outcomes?

Kicking off the demystification segment, Gareth James Lloyd (UNEP-DHI Centre on Water and Environment), outlined a systems approach that simplified NbS and used examples to emphasise the layered benefits of NbS.  In Tanzania, the protection of key water sources is leading to greater climate resilience, restored forests, and financial co-benefits for the local people. Eight challenges and barriers arose for discussion and resolution.

Christine Colvin (WWF), discussed best practices for NbS, highlighting the need for localised solutions. Such solutions are typically context-specific, community-driven and sensitive to the unique climate challenges of the area. Importantly, NbS metrics cannot be scaled up in the same way as carbon metrics.  Localised solutions also benefit from the global shift towards prioritising inland, strategic water sources.

Maria Eduarda Govea Berto (finance specialist, Inter-American Development Bank) closed this segment with an overview of the role water funds and other finance mechanisms can play in giving effect to NbS. With robust examples from Latin America and the Caribbean, Maria brought the discussion closer to understanding how finance is addressing NbS, accentuating the possibilities that the risk-averse finance world perceives.

The presentation segment was followed by a lively panel discussion to address opportunities and means of mainstreaming NbS through interactive discussion with the audience. Joakim Harlin (Chief of Freshwater Ecosystems, UNDP) joined the presenters on the panel to discuss issues of scalability and social inclusion. The panel and audience concurred that a greater focus is needed on data, as it is only with data that projects can be scaled up. Divergent opinions arose on the question of scale, with an eminent panellist noting that it is often the case that solutions work because they are local. Simply expanding successful NbS projects upwards and outwards is unlikely to always yield success.

Additional key takeaways included:

  • Community incentives are critical to ensure the uptake of NbS.
  • Regulation – that is effective – is foundational to successful project implementation.
  • Return on investments must be quantified to achieve scale and sustainability.
  • Ideology is not a useful means of approaching NbS – if we work against nature, we will lose.

Online, live surveys during the session showed that participants left with an increased understanding of NbS. Further and new research is necessary across the globe. However, existing approaches and guidelines can be used – thoughtfully – now.

Reflections: Multi-scale groundwater strategies in Africa – supporting innovation (World Water Week 2023)