Nature-based solutions can help fight climate change and biodiversity loss | University of Oxford

Nature-based solutions can help fight climate change and biodiversity loss

10 September 2020

Nature-based solutions, such as restoring native forests, are key to reducing climate change impacts, according to a report today from Oxford's Nature-based Solutions Initiative.

In the first systematic review of nature-based interventions around the world, the Oxford researchers found that most reduce climate impacts, such as flooding, soil erosion and loss of food production.

Nature-based investments also led to social, environmental, and greenhouse gas reduction benefits - suggesting they have a key role to play in global efforts to combat climate change and biodiversity loss, while also achieving other sustainable development goals.

Professor Nathalie Seddon, study author and Director of Oxford’s Nature-based Solutions Initiative says, ‘This review shows that there is a wealth of evidence that nature-based solutions can and should play a key role in countries’ plans to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

‘But not all solutions are equally beneficial. Evidence from artificial systems, such as tree plantations made up of non-native species, often found trade-offs, where some benefits are offset by adverse effects such as decreased water availability.’

The study authors hope policymakers will use the research to understand better which nature-based solutions are most effective.

Nature-based solutions work with and enhance nature to support both people and global biodiversity. Tree-planting is a well-known example, with the potential to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and protect against flooding and soil erosion, so long as the correct species are planted in the right places. Other such solutions include protecting old-growth forests to reduce landslides, and restoring coastal ecosystems as a defence against storms and sea level rise.

Alexandre Chausson, study author and senior researcher in Oxford’s Nature-based Solutions Initiative, explains, ‘It’s not just about tree-planting and greenhouse gas removal. In many cases nature-based interventions can help communities adapt to the wave of climate change impacts we’ve seen over the past months, from record-breaking heatwaves to wildfires and hurricanes.’

Nature based solutions can also add economic value, according to the team. Alison Smith, another study author and a researcher at Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, adds, ‘Although seeing nature-based solutions solely through an economic lens can undervalue their benefits, it’s also important to highlight their role in the green economic recovery from COVID-19. In the UK, for example, restoring peat bogs or native woodland has been highlighted as a potential source of green jobs.’

And nature-based solutions can provide goods and services which help buffer communities when other sources of income fail, according to Beth Turner, study author and researcher at the Nature-based Solutions Initiative. She emphasises, ‘In Zimbabwe, protected forests provide honey to supplement food and income when crops are lost to droughts. And beyond monetary value, properly implemented nature-based solutions can empower communities and build equity, which can contribute to climate change resilience in the long term.’

Notes for Editors

  1. Professor Nathalie Seddon (Nathalie.seddon@zoo.ox.ac.uk) and Alexandre Chausson (alexandre.chausson@zoo.ox.ac.uk) are available for comment. 
  2. If you have questions about this release please contact news.office@admin.ox.ac.uk
  3. An advanced copy of the article is available on request.
  4. The review investigated some 400 scientific studies including 290+ real-world intervention cases. Of these, most nature-based interventions (59%) were found to reduce climate impacts such as flooding, soil erosion and loss of food production, although in 12% of interventions some negative climate impacts were exacerbated. 
  5. While the study highlights many successful nature-based solutions, the team cautions that there are still considerable research gaps. In particular, the evidence base is biased toward the Global North, despite communities in the Global South being generally more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and having the highest direct dependency on natural resources.
  6. To help ensure this research is taken up by policy makers, the team have developed the first online, interactive map of the scientific evidence for nature-based solutions. This portal is the first of its kind, and allows hundreds of studies to be explored. The tool is free to access at www.naturebasedsolutionsevidence.info.
  7. The article will be published in the journal Global Change Biology and available from 00:01 on Thursday 10 September 2020 at this link: https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15310.

The Nature-based Solutions Initiative is an international, multi-lingual and interdisciplinary team of natural and social scientists based in the Department of Zoology and the School of Geography, but collaborating with economists, engineers, governance and finance experts from across the University of Oxford. Its mission is to understand the potential of Nature-based Solutions (NbS) to address global challenges and support their sustainable implementation through the application of good evidence from science and practice. We also work in partnership with international and local NGOs from the conservation and development sectors and we advise decision makers in business, government and the United Nations.

The Environmental Change Institute was established in 1991. Its aim is to organise and promote interdisciplinary research on the nature, causes and impact of environmental change and to contribute to the development of management strategies for coping with future environmental change. 

The University of Oxford
Oxford University has been placed number one in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for the fifth year running, and at the heart of this success is our ground-breaking research and innovation. Oxford is world-famous for research excellence and home to some of the most talented people from across the globe. Our work helps the lives of millions, solving real-world problems through a huge network of partnerships and collaborations. The breadth and interdisciplinary nature of our research sparks imaginative and inventive insights and solutions.