Blyde River Canyon, Mpumalanga
Blyde River Canyon, Mpumalanga, Image by Ashim D'Silva, Unsplash

Nature-based solutions promote human well-being and ecosystem benefits

How can Nature-based solutions help reduce climate risk in developing regions? And can these solutions be equitable for the communities involved? A research team at EfD South Africa and the Natural Capital (NatCap) collaborative have started a research project with African Climate and Development Initiative and other partners to look into this question.

Nature-based Solutions (NbS) are seen as increasingly important programs to help reduce the impacts of climate change and protect ecosystems and biodiversity. Nature-based solutions are actions that protect, sustainably manage, or restore natural ecosystems while still addressing societal challenges. For example, invasive alien tree clearing (and active prevention) in the mountainous regions of southern Africa has helped reduce the impact of climate change induced drought by improving streamflow in these areas. Nature-based solutions involve working with nature to promote human well-being and ecosystem benefits and can help support climate mitigation and adaptation actions and reduce climate risk.

The Towards Equitable and Sustainable Nature-based Solutions (TES NbS) project, led by Dr Petra Holden at the African Climate and Development Initiative, in collaboration with a range of partners including the NatCap collaborative and EfD researcher Professor Martine Visser, explores the role of NbS in reducing climate risk in developing regions, focusing on Southern African Water Towers. These water towers are mountainous areas (as well as high-lying hills and plateaus) important for water supply to lowland areas. Additional to the effectiveness of the NbS the project aims to determine if these solutions have been proposed, planned, and/or implemented equitably.

While NbS has become very popular, many northern-driven projects may not be appropriate in the context of developing regions. This is especially true in Africa where many people’s livelihoods are heavily dependent on their landscapes and the multiple ecosystem services derived from these landscapes. Furthermore, the impacts of climate change on many of these critical ecosystem services are not yet fully understood. To address these challenges, TES NbS aims to support decision-making, planning, and implementation processes to ensure that nature-based solutions (NbS) at local levels are more equitable and sustainable through greater awareness of the opportunities, constraints, and limits to NbS.

“We aim to impact practice and policy in ways that can ensure that nature-based solutions are designed, implemented, and monitored in ways that work for local contexts, considers climate changes, and has no negative consequences for people, nature, and nature’s contributions to people,” explains Petra Holden, leading the TES NbS project.

Need to maximize social equity

One of the key objectives for the TES NbS project is to determine what needs to be considered in NbS projects to maximize equitable social benefits to vulnerable communities and social groups both upstream and downstream.

“Equitable solutions to global societal challenges require a focus on social equity as a process at the local level,” says Petra Holden. “Addressing constraints to social equity and focusing on the most vulnerable in NbS is critical for equity and sustainability.”

The TES NbS social equity framework highlights the importance of social equity in NbS projects and states that "developing a nuanced understanding of social equity can be complex and slow. Yet, working from the ground up to achieve social equity can address local societal challenges while ultimately contributing to addressing broader societal challenges and achieving global Sustainable Development Goals.”

Building on this thinking, Gerald Ngoma is a PhD student based at EfD South Africa, under the supervision of Martine Visser and TES NbS PI Petra Holden. His current research aims to aid in mapping the constraints in achieving social equity in nature-based solutions in southern Africa. In addition, his research further aims to examine how multilateral funded nature-based solutions projects affect people’s livelihoods and welfare.

To learn more about the TES NbS project visit the dedicated website here

Click here to read more about the NatCap Collaborative


By: Dr Michelle Shields

News | 29 May 2023