Last week, the CAUL Hub co-hosted a workshop on nature-based solutions with international collaborator NATURVATION at RMIT University. The workshop was led by Professor Harriet Bulkeley, Leader of the NATURVATION program, as well as Dr. Judy Bush and Dr. Cathy Oke from the CAUL Hub. It provided the opportunity for over 30 Australian researchers, practitioners and policy makers to come together to discuss nature-based solutions in local urban development, and how these projects could contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
What are nature-based solutions?
Nature-based solutions use the natural properties of ecosystems. They have the potential to limit impacts of climate change, enhance biodiversity and improve environmental quality while contributing to economic activities and social well-being. Examples are green roofs and city parks that limit heat stress, urban wetlands that store water and permeable surfaces, vegetation and rain gardens to intercept storm water. Yet despite their significant potential, the use of nature-based solutions remains marginal, fragmented, and highly uneven within and between cities.
Why is this relevant?
Growing international attention is now being directed to the potential for cities to work with nature to address a broad range of sustainability goals – from climate resilience to health and well-being, economic development to biodiversity. Within Europe, a significant programme of investment is focusing on the impact of ‘nature-based solutions’ in relation to environmental, economic and social outcomes. Global organisations including ICLEI, the IUCN, The Nature Conservancy, the UNFCCC, WWF and many others are seeking to mobilise urban actions that are working with nature to realise sustainability goals, and in particular the SDGs. Locally, there are examples at all levels of Australian governments of investment in research and infrastructure with these outcomes in mind.
Central to these efforts is the realisation that working with nature can potentially address multiple goals simultaneously. For example, the provision of green space in cities can cool the surrounding city, reduce pollutants, provide a sense of well-being, create inclusive spaces and encourage physical activity. Whilst more and more research and on-ground experience confirms these contributions, we currently have limited ability or capacity to plan and capture the multiple contributions that nature can make towards the SDGs and to create the means through which this value can be recognised, and investment enabled.
Towards the SDGs with nature-based solutions
The workshop functioned in three sections:
- Introducing nature-based solutions
CAUL Hub researchers Professor Sarah Bekessy and Dr. Bush, as well as industry partner Greening the Pipeline, shared local opportunities of nature-based solutions from around Melbourne.The diverse presentations highlighted the challenges of bringing back or maintaining nature in cities. This included the importance of local solutions for local ecologies when looking to replicate international success, and ensuring links to practice and practicality. There was plenty of optimism that with good governance and a linked-up approach, more nature in cities will be a reality sooner rather than later – especially if practice uses the evidence base to select the right nature-based solutions for their purpose and project aims.
- Exploring the NATURVATION Urban IndexThe Urban Nature Index is a new approach being developed as part of the EU-funded NATURVATION project, to evaluate how nature can contribute to SDGs. The NATURVATION Urban Index uses the existing evidence base to identify a set of environmental, social, cultural and economic indicators that can be used to evaluate how different kinds of nature contribute to twelve urban sustainability goals.Starting with a generalized assessment, the Index is designed to encourage discussion and debate about urban priorities. Currently, the Index can be used to explore how different interventions can contribute to sustainable development goals, or to examine how a specific type of urban nature project will support key priorities.Participants explored how the application of this tool can reveal the diverse ways in which a proposed urban nature project might contribute to multiple sustainability goals, the trade-offs involved, and how the diverse contributions that nature can make to urban sustainability can be debated and prioritized. According to Dr Bush, this was a great opportunity for Australian researchers and practitioners to reflect on the tool’s useability and usefulnesss.”It was a unique way for us to be able to contribute to NATURVATION’s research – by testing the tool and the model for ease of use, clarity and generalisability,” says Dr. Bush.
- Business models for nature-based solutionsDuring this interactive section, participants turned from questions of how we can plan and capture the multiple values of nature in cities, to how we might find practical ways of designing and implementing the business models and financing required to realise its potential. Working with a range of business models that have been identified as supporting the use of nature in cities, participants explored the different pieces of the ‘finance puzzle’ needed to create the potential for securing investment and experiment with diverse ways in which these could be bought together to enable cities to work with nature to address their sustainability goals.”The Business Model exercise served to reinforce the multiple benefits and services provided by nature-based solutions, and prompted us to build the business case using the business planning language of ‘value proposition’, ‘value capture,'” reflected Dr Bush. “As a result of our testing, we proposed that ‘customers’ should instead be called ‘beneficiaries’, so that we can include non-human biodiversity in the business planning approach.”
The workshop provided the chance for researchers and policy makers to come together to highlight and discuss key policy needs, existing research and research gaps.
Dr. Oke reflected that “it was great to see a tool utilising the evidence base for key indicators of the SDGs, so practitioners and policy makers can make informed decisions on which nature-based solutions provide the greatest outcome.”
The CAUL Hub looks forward to contributing to this with local evidence from our research hub and partners.