Is 2022 the year nature-based solutions finally become the norm?

Responsible use of natural resources 3 February 2022 Kevin P. Smith

Biodiversity loss is one of humanity’s top three threats. Could nature-based solutions be the answer? An oyster regeneration project in Staten Island and a ‘rain garden’ in Copenhagen hold some answers.

8 min

Last year’s global UN climate summit, COP26, dedicated an entire day to nature-based solutions. It was compelling evidence that nature-based solutions are increasingly seen as central to the twin problems of climate change and biodiversity loss. 

Nature-based solutions are defined as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.” They have become a hot topic.  

In addition to typically being cheaper than traditional ‘grey’ infrastructure, nature-based solutions offer other benefits like economic growth, green jobs, resiliency against natural disasters, increased property values, and better public health.  

This begs the question: Why aren’t nature-based solutions the norm everywhere? 

Nature-based resilience at any scale 

Part of the answer is a lack of awareness about the effectiveness of nature-based solutions and status quo bias among decision-makers, as one literature review suggested.

Nature-based solutions can be applied to both new and retrofit projects, and at different scales—from neighbourhood and site-scale to watershed-, landscape-, or coastal-scale. But doing so is not always obvious or easy. The scale and complexity of a project increases the number of technical and non-technical elements to work with and to understand how those elements intertwine.

To help make nature-based solutions the obvious choice in infrastructure projects, Ramboll, as part of the RECONECT Consortium, is not only helping develop the overall direction and standardised approach to planning, design, implementing, and operating nature-based solutions, but also applying them today. See some inspirational sample projects below:

Nature-based solution in New York City 

From the report: Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront: Opportunities to reduce embodied carbon from stage of design process.  Source: HM Treasury: Infrastructure Carbon Review, 2013

Living Breakwaters Project on the coast of Staten Island 

Ramboll leads construction management on the Living Breakwaters Project, which aims to prepare the coastline along the South Shore of Staten Island for climate change by recreating oyster habitats with breakwaters. 

The nature-based twist: these breakwaters are designed with an outer layer of ecologically enhanced concrete armour units. This design enhances marine fauna and flora, improves water quality, and restores habitats for marine species, including once native oysters that have disappeared due to environmental degradation. Oysters filter water and increase water quality, while holding the breakwaters in place. The 700-metre system is also designed to combat erosion and protect the shoreline.  

"Green infrastructure projects are more effective and typically cheaper to construct than traditional grey infrastructure projects, so it is just a matter of time before they become the norm,” says Kevin Smith, senior construction manager for the Living Breakwaters project in New York. “By the end of the decade we will start seeing many more projects like this one come to fruition. The benefits of a project like this will speak for themselves and certainly inspire other local governments to engage in similar nature-based solutions."

From the report: Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront: Opportunities to reduce embodied carbon from stage of design process.  Source: HM Treasury: Infrastructure Carbon Review, 2013

Høje Taastrup C, Denmark 

Rethinking resilience and liveability near Copenhagen 

As the main engineer consultant, Ramboll is responsible for planning and implementing a visionary transformation of Høje Taastrup, a municipality in Denmark’s capital region. The goal is to make the area more attractive, liveable, and increase climate resilience.  

The nature-based twist: the rainwater drainage system for the area is disguised as the world’s longest skatepark including beautiful recreation spaces. Rainwater will travel through ‘rain gardens’ down to the park area and on to an open rainwater pond. An irrigation system will use that collected rainwater to irrigate a park. During heavy rain, excess rainwater will be led from the rainwater pond to the skatepark that also serves as a detention pond for future community water management. 

Want to learn more about working with natural resources to create resilient and liveable communities?  Learn the latest nature-based solution insights in this report.  

Related to the agenda

Responsible use of natural resources

Making the most of our natural resources and protecting them for future generations

If you would like further inspiration, we recommend these resources:

Responsible use of natural resources

Biodiversity Net Gain – How greening developments can benefit us all

25. May 2021 Amy Paraskeva 8-10 min

Historically, a lack of robust consideration of biodiversity within the planning system has led to a cumulative loss and degradation of habitats over many decades. With land availability at a premium and developers looking to maximise yield from their investment, dedicating areas of potentially developable land for biodiversity improvements represents a commercial and logistical challenge.

Responsible use of natural resources

Growing greenspace after COVID-19

6. July 2020 Malcolm Robertson

We predict the impact COVID-19 and the climate emergency will have on the future development of greenspace in the UK.

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Using green infrastructure to reimagine urban ecosystems

2. June 2021 Laura Sanderson 8-10 min

There are many opportunities to reimagine urban ecosystems and introduce species-rich, beautiful areas within towns and cities that also help manage climate change. This article describes best practice with examples from recent projects in London.

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