Can Nature-Based Solutions Address Some of Our Biggest Climate Change Issues?
By Jane Marsh
The effects of climate change are more dire than ever. Rising sea levels and extreme storms increase the risk of flooding and erosion in coastal areas. Heat waves occur more frequently, escalating the possibility of wildfires and habitat displacements worldwide. As the crisis intensifies, nature-based solutions (NbS) are emerging to mitigate ecological damage and help countries meet their sustainability goals.
No doubt, nature has a big role to play, but are these purported solutions actually up to the task and what specific climate change issues can they tackle? Here’s what you need to know.
What Are Nature-Based Solutions?
NbS refers to activities that leverage nature to protect and restore ecosystems to address challenges effectively and adaptively, aiming to roll years of environmental harm back and build climate resilience in living areas. Implemented properly, NbS could remove at least 5 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2030.
The prevailing idea behind nature-based solutions is healthy ecosystems provide essential benefits, such as reduced carbon emissions, improved water security and cleaner air. If people take care of the environment, the effects of climate change won’t be so severe and far-reaching.
NbS Core Focus Areas
There are three broad approaches to nature-based solutions:
- Ecosystem conservation: This involves actions to prevent the loss of natural resources from land and sea. Common measures include halting deforestation in tropical rainforests, enforcing stricter poaching laws, and creating or expanding protected biomes.
- Ecosystem restoration: This approach focuses on replenishing areas already damaged due to climate change. Prominent tasks under this category include rewetting peatlands or wetlands to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, large-scale tree planting to boost natural carbon capture, and habitat restoration to promote biodiversity.
- Improved land management practices: This involves minimizing harmful environmental activities such as industrial farming and using toxic chemical fertilizers, as well as implementing sustainable land-use methods like low tillage and rotational cropping.
How Nature-Based Solutions Help Fight Climate Change
At this point, you probably have an idea of how implementing NbS globally can mitigate the effects of climate change. Specifically, they can tackle the following issues.
Heatwaves have become increasingly common and intense. Ironically, measures employed to cool indoor temperatures — like air conditioning — contribute significantly to global warming. Researchers estimate these systems account for nearly 4% of carbon emissions yearly.
NbS methods like planting more trees in urban areas provide a more sustainable solution. According to the EPA, urban areas with an extensive collection of tree cover are 2.9° Fahrenheit less hot than concrete jungles. Plus, trees provide ample shade and improve the air quality in the area.
Across the globe, there are reports of wildfires causing widespread damage to natural habitats, resulting in displacements, extreme air pollution and increased heatwave intensity. Large-scale tree planting can help reduce the risk of wildfires. For example, trees clustered in an area help block or divert wind, cutting off wildfire fuel. Dense vegetation also increases water vapor through transpiration, creating more humidity and reducing the likelihood of widespread fires.
Lastly, NbS can promote quicker habitat restoration in areas affected by wildfires. The more forests there are, the more wildlife will flock to them. This also helps create diverse ecosystems that are less susceptible to sudden combustions.
Rising sea levels and inclement weather have worsened the frequency and severity of flooding in recent years. The impact is worse in urban areas, as everything from humans to electronic systems and construction projects bear the brunt of the damage.
Restoring coastal ecosystems through mangrove reforestation is one nature-based solution that can keep flooding at bay. They act as a cost-effective natural barrier against flooding and coastline erosion.
Also, mangroves grow much quicker than trees and sequester carbon up to four times faster than the average tropical forest. In cities and towns, NbS and urban flooding preventive measures like installing detection equipment and purchasing adequate flood insurance can boost climate resilience and minimize interruptions.
While some places in the world are experiencing extreme flooding, other areas are reeling from prolonged drought. Experts estimate there will be even more instances of drought in the coming years due to rising global temperatures.
The usual methods for combating this issue include reservoirs and an intricate network of pipelines. However, this is not always feasible, especially in poorer countries and remote areas that largely depend on rainfall for water supply.
Nature-based solutions can help tackle drought by restoring wetlands and promoting afforestation. Wetlands and tree roots act like sponges, absorbing rainwater and replenishing groundwater supplies when droughts occur. This function is one of the reasons for the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, which seeks to restore over 15,000 acres of tidal wetlands in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Aren’t These Solutions Already Being Implemented?
Indeed, they are. Companies worldwide have partnered with the World Economic Forum to plant 12 billion trees in over 100 countries. In the U.S., the federal government recently approved over $1.1 billion to promote afforestation and tackle heat waves. In 2023, more than 30 new countries joined the world’s largest freshwater restoration initiative to restore 350 million hectares of degraded wetlands by 2030.
As commendable as these programs are, seeing their effects will take a while. Trees often take years to grow, degraded soil can take centuries to recover, and restoring habitats requires substantial investments. In the meantime, human activities continue to cause more environmental harm, intensifying the impact of climate change. Nevertheless, these measures are a step in the right direction.
Tackle Climate Change Issues with NbS
The battle against the effects of climate change rages on. Addressing these issues requires policymakers to expand their toolkit to include implementing nature-based solutions globally. In a world bracing for increased droughts, wildfires, flooding, and heatwaves, investing in solutions that put nature on your side is always a welcome idea.
Article by Jane Marsh
Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of