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Nature-based solutions: Transforming cities, enhancing well-being

Unsustainable urbanisation, climate change, biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystem services are just some of the challenges societies across the globe are grappling with. This Results Pack showcases nine EU-funded projects that have developed important tools and expertise to address these challenges through nature-based solutions for building sustainable, resilient and prosperous societies.

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Nature-based solutions (NBS) can offer cost-effective and locally attuned answers to many of the environmental, social and economic challenges facing modern societies. While technologies and mechanisms for creating jobs and economic growth abound, it has become paramount to consider the sustainability of modern-day innovation efforts.

Urban environments in focus

NBS are designed to bring more nature and natural processes to urban and non-urban environments. The idea is that working with nature, rather than against it, can lead to a more resource-efficient, greener and resilient economy and society in a way that enhances natural capital rather than depletes it, while supporting economic growth, creating jobs and improving our wellbeing. Today, 70 % of European citizens live in cities, a number that is expected to increase to 80 % by 2050. In other words, a mere 30 years from now, 36 million new urban citizens will need housing, employment and care. At the same time, the unsustainable rate of urbanisation as it is taking place today, is endangering biodiversity and natural ecosystems, as well as human health and social cohesion. Europe already has extensive pools of knowledge, scientific expertise, and technological capability relevant to NBS. What is needed is to enhance the evidence-base and rationale and to implement nature-based solutions at a greater speed and a wider scale.

Putting the EU on the map as an ambitious global leader

The nine EU-funded projects featured in this Results Pack feed into ongoing discussions about how to improve the framework conditions for NBS at the EU policy level and support the growing European research and innovation community in the field. While more evidence and knowledge is needed to develop, upscale and mainstream NBS in Europe and globally, the projects below provide a strong foundation for future research and implementation, putting the EU on the map as an ambitious global leader in building sustainable, resilient and prosperous societies. The CONNECTING Nature and GROW GREEN projects both promote NBS for improving well-being and regeneration of urban areas through peer-to-peer learning and capacity building between cities. While many NBS have been tried and tested already, their implementation is not a simple matter of replacing an existing and established way of doing things. In most cases, NBS require a whole new mind-set and governance approach as well as new business and financing models. The URBAN GreenUP project has developed a digital tool to assist authorities, urban planners and citizens in identifying the NBS that best fit a city’s needs. In a similar vein, the NATURVATION project’s Nature Based Solutions Navigator aims to support decision-makers in identifying which kinds of NBS contribute to specific sustainable development goals, while the team behind the UNALAB project has developed a toolkit based on experiences from three European cities to support cocreation in exploring, designing, implementing and evaluating specific NBS. Another aspect to take into consideration, is how to engage multiple levels of society - from citizens and researchers to policymakers and industry leaders - in the discussions and efforts to bring NBS into urban as well as non-urban areas. The Nature4Cities project has created a web-based knowledge and decision platform to raise awareness about NBS and foster new collaborative models for their uptake, while ThinkNature’s multi-stakeholder communication platform aims to promote NBS at local, regional, EU and international levels through dialogue and interaction. Many actions are focused on the urban environments, but there are several other aspects of NBS to consider. MERCES focuses on the marine environment and how ecosystem restoration of degraded marine environments in Europe can be restored through efficient and effective NBS. Finally, the NAIAD project looks at the protective value of nature and its ability to help society reduce human and economic risks associated with floods and drought.