The European Green Deal & Nature-based Solutions

14 December 2020

December 2020 saw a hallmark event hosted by German EU Presidency in collaboration with UNEP and IUCN on the integration of nature-based solutions into the European Green Deal. High-level speakers from governments, international organisations, civil society and the finance sector came together to discuss internal and external dimensions of the EU Green Deal in the context of the member states and the global implications of the deal.

The event kicked-off with a high-level panel discussing nature-based solutions and their potential in relation to the EU Green Deal, followed by two technical panels that dove into implementation challenges and opportunities. Svenja Schulze, Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety in Germany, opened the event. She stated that nature provides the most effective solution to combat climate change, whilst being cost-effective and protecting livelihoods. Schulze recognises that nature-based solutions are a sound investment - “not to mention a life insurance”.  She stressed that there is a need to look into prioritisation of nature-based solutions, mentioning the peatland protection as a good example of great return on investment.

For the European Union perspective Marius Vaščegam, Head of Cabinet of the Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, European Commission mentioned the EU has seen nature-based solutions as beneficial for some time, including them in strategies already in 2021. He also stressed the need for private funding in addition to public, and addressing the low portion of climate funding for nature-based solutions, even though they have proven cost-effective: “biodiversity is our lifeline and our life insurance”. Jytte Guteland a Member of the European Parliament from Sweden encouraged everyone in the field to stop working in silos and to integrate efforts. She sees the role of nature-based solutions as central in this transition and in creating green jobs: “…science is clear here: nature-based solutions are expected to provide 34% of climate change mitigation efforts to up to 2030 … the European Parliament wants to see adaptation plans that utilize these solutions to restore biodiversity”.

For the Member States angle Lord Zac Goldsmith UK Minister for Pacific and the Environment, agreed with many of the speakers that the lack of financing – especially private - for nature-based solutions is not ideal:  “NbS receives less than 3% of financing event thought they can provide a third of climate measures for climate mitigation.” Sergio Costa, Minister of the Environment, Italy echoed these sentiments, stating nature-based solutions should and can be harnessed to foster new jobs and bolster economies. João Pedro Matos Fernandes, Minister for the Environment and Climate Action, Portugal sees nature-based solutions provide a win-win for restoring nature and addressing climate change. He brought up the crucial point of the need to involve citizens to make the EU Green Deal successful.

On the flip side of the coin, from policy to practice - the technical panel was opened by Radhika Murti, Director IUCN Global Ecosystems Management Programme, stressing the need to utilise the opportunities the EU Green Deal provides through collaboration, as the discussion around nature-based solutions has finally emerged from the ‘conservation circles’ into the agendas of decision makers.  

Philippe Tulkens, Deputy head of the Unit ‘Climate and Planetary Boundaries’ in the Research and Innovation Directorate General of the European Commission encouraged the research community to go beyond “the usual EU concerns”, and to work on ensuring that green solutions are understood and accepted. He also expressed his concern over the difficulty of mobilising investment when many of the benefits of nature-based solutions are not monetary, calling for the scaling up nature-based solutions to harness market potential. Further, in order to incentivize investment Tulkens identified that implementation of nature-based solutions on the ground is crucial in providing inspiring examples. Florence Jeantet, Managing Director OP2B agreed that in order to secure financing, positive concrete incentives are needed.

Stephen O’Driscoll, The Head of Environment, Climate and Social Office, European Investment Bank (EIB) announced that the EIB intends to scale up our financing for nature-based solutions, but reminded that it might not come easy due to the fragmented nature and small scale of projects. To address the issue EIB will channel funds through their establish frameworks e.g. linking with forestry. O’Driscoll foresees the EIB’s new ‘environmental investments’ tracking system to incentivise more financing for nature-based solutions in the future. Akanksha Khatri, Head of Nature Action Agenda, World Economic Forum, reminded everyone that it is crucial to start at the basics, looking into agricultural investments and especially regenerative agriculture “and how to perceive soil as an asset when we build cities and infrastructure in the first place - we need to anchor cities as healthy places for our citizens”.  

On the global context - Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Coordinator of the Association of Peul Women and Autochthonous Peoples of Chad - called for involving indigenous people that have a more holistic perspective on nature in decision making processes: “We need to invest in nature, if we invest in nature we invest in our own lives, we get benefits for sustainability and health for people, that in turn can more readily contribute to the economy – we need to have access and be invited for decision making and have a chance to voice our opinions”.

Picture: Roselyn Fosuah Adjei speaks at the ´Building momentum for nature-based solutions on the global scale´ panel

Roselyn Fosuah Adjei, The Director of the Climate Change Directorate at the Forestry Commission of Ghana agreed with Oumarou Ibrahim’s remark “It is just about listening to indigenous people and collaborating with them to ensure a win-win situation – and if we really want to achieve the objectives of the Green Deal, we have to focus nature-based solutions as they address most of the Sustainable Development Goals, and they are not so technology intense to implement“.

Bernadette Fischler Hooper, Head of International Advocacy, World Wildlife Fund UK was optimistic about the year to come: “Nature-based solutions are becoming a more of a political priority – 2021 will be an important year to come - it is really important to make environmental actions a benchmark for good quality leadership, if we want to address climate change and global warming”. Hooper also had very pertinent last words to all working with nature-based solutions “The ecosystem of organisations and people needs to function as a healthy organism - let us not fight or compete with each other to ensure maximum impact.

It is clear from the event that nature-based solutions have great potential for economic, social and environmental improvements. To harness said potential - nature-based solutions need to be better integrated into European policy-making, and both public and private investment needs to be increased. How to achieve these goals? According to the event panellists - by providing positive and successful examples from the ground up, bringing the topic to the political fora and by finding alternate pathways and harnessing existing investment channels. To ensure successful and positive implementation it is crucial to take all citizens, including those outside of EU’s borders who the Green Deal invariably affects, into account.

The speakers called for more cross-sectoral collaboration, which the event itself proved a successful example with interesting discussions and active audience engagement. Watch the full event recording on Youtube