Integrated, holistic approach key for successful nature-based solutions

Researchers, practitioners, and city officials were brought together by EIT Climate-KIC this week (On 21 March 2018) to discuss how we can accelerate the creation of green, resilient cities.

Nadine Galle, consultant at Metabolic and co-founder of Global Green City Watch, among the participants, describes here the challenges and opportunities raised by the participating cities. She argues that while we’re still iterating on how to implement nature-based solutions, an integrated and holistic approach is necessary: 

The afternoon kicked off with a keynote by Frans van de Ven, senior adviser at Deltares. In collaboration with Imperial College London and EIT Climate-KIC on the Blue Green Solutions project, Frans and his team developed the “Adaptation Support Tool” to assess the potential of various nature-based solutions.

These “blue-green” interventions encompass everything from green roofs to urban forests to bioswales, the latter being landscape elements designed to concentrate or remove pollution from surface runoff water.

The tool is currently in “advanced beta” mode and still under strict lock-and-key, but will become open source in the near future. The tool is meant to be used in the pre-planning phase of the urban design process. Its embedded indicators are holistic in nature and include ecosystem services, health benefits, and even social cohesion.

Like the Global Green City Watch, which combines computer vision and object-based image analysis on high resolution satellite imagery to assess the quality of city parks from space, the Adaptation Support Tool shares similar challenges when it comes to quantifying subjective traits. That being said, both serve a valuable purpose in bringing more green, to more cities, more effectively.

Whatever the ultimate nature-based outcome, says van de Ven, it must be wholly integrated into the local ecosystem. The natural climatic conditions, such as the soil, geology, and precipitation, are taken as the root from which the nature-based development can build upon. This flips the script and makes nature foundational, rather than ornamental, as some may consider nature-based solutions only as the “green stuff” that needs to be sprinkled in after the fact.

The “green stuff” refers to something van de Ven calls, “hybrid green”, solutions which are less dependent on site-specific conditions, focus on one or two benefits (monofunctional), often need little space, and have clear business cases.

The CityTree, a mobile, mossy “living wall” designed by German startup Green City Solutions and supported by EIT Climate-KIC, for example, is the world’s first intelligent biological air filter. The CityTree could feasibly be installed in almost any city around the world and provides a beneficial, though singular, ecosystem service. A solution like this is a “smart” way to increase green air filtration in cities, but the question remains: How can we ensure we’re harnessing the true value of all the functions nature-based solutions can offer?

The “Active, Beautiful and Clean” mantra Singapore has put at the forefront of its sustainable urban development is an example of where beautification by green is prioritised. Beautiful, at best, but still vulnerable to urban heat stress, flooding, and climate change, at worst. Luckily, Singapore is starting to transition from a “Garden City” to a “City in a Garden”, where natural landscapes beyond decorative “green stuff” are garnering increasing priority for their multiple ecological, social, and economical benefits.

So what is the solution in nature-based solution? The truth is, we’re still figuring out the most effective, best practices. Although one thing is clear: It is imperative to implement solutions in an integrative and holistic manner. IMG_0682

Same problems, similar approach, different solutions

Pitches from Gothenburg, Vejle, Lisbon, and Strovolos highlighted some important issues. The remarkable thing was that each city seemed to face very similar challenges including flooding, noise, drought, resource efficiency, urban heat island effects, crime, and air and water pollution.

These are seemingly ubiquitous problems, yet need highly localised solutions. In addition to their adaptation challenges, the cities all faced similar barriers in implementing their solutions, such as how to ensure cooperation across municipal boundaries, how to ensure all key stakeholders are involved in the planning process, how to finance solutions, or how to make “green” the new norm rather than “grey”? Each city put forward their unique strategy, but they were all rooted in nature-based development.

The river Göta älv which flows to the ocean through Gothenburg, Sweden has been vital in shaping the region’s history and continues to contribute to its modern urban development. Upstream, however, the peri-urban areas have seen a 20 per cent decrease in wetlands in the last decade. The destruction of the naturally water-holding wetlands have caused flooding and landslides downstream.

The proposed solution? Experimenting with new business models to “buy water holding capacity” by restoring wetlands upstream. The cooperation platform LAB190 organises the four municipalities, including Gothenburg, to work together for sustainable economic and social development. The collaborative, cross-municipal approach addresses one of the key barriers facing cities working on climate resilience: That adaptation challenges are not bounded by municipal boundaries. Instead, climate challenges follow natural borders such as those created by river basins, flood plains, and mountain ranges.

To the east, in Denmark, the low-lying city of Vejle is also dealing with flooding. Scientists predict the city will be underwater by 2100. Rapid urbanisation and increased congestion have also caused flooding of a different kind: The deluge of cars on the streets. And with more cars, comes more concrete. In contrast to pervious surfaces, pavement collects particulate matter from the atmosphere, nitrogen oxides from car exhaust, rubber particles from tires, phosphates from residential and agricultural fertilisers, and dozens of other pollutants.

These pollutants concentrate on impervious roads and sidewalks and in turn pollute surface runoff water. Pervious surfaces, like parks, gardens, and specifically designed concrete, allow the percolation of water into the underlying soil, and increase the storage of flood flows. Vejle, a member of the 100 Resilient Cities program pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, is battling concrete by investing in the development of a Climate Boulevard. This central street will be used for shopping, meeting friends, and serve as a test-bed for urban ecological water management.

In Portugal, Lisbon is fighting to promote green infrastructure alternatives for water drainage. At times, the city deals with water shortages, and at other points in the year, the city must learn to handle flash flooding. When it is dry, Lisbon also faces extreme heat and drought, events known to increase the risk of spontaneous, dangerous fires.

Lisbon’s Strategy for 2010-2024 has a strong focus on green infrastructure. The blueprint, or “greenprint”, identified city regeneration, climate change adaptation, and connectivity of green spaces as their primary objectives. The publication of Lisbon’s Climate Change Adaptation Plan (2017) again re-established the need for nature-based solutions, while ensuring they remain cost-effective with low maintenance costs.

Rain-fed landscaping has been a popular intervention as they reduce maintenance fees and eliminate the need for urban irrigation. Not all citizens, however, are completely sold, as rain-fed landscaping can mean brown-ish landscapes in the summertime when precipitation is scarce. These experimental zones testing nature-based solutions in Lisbon serve as a key reminder that ecological, economical, and social benefits must be communicated to the city’s population for the project to be a true, sustainable success.

Strovolos, a municipality in the district of Nicosia in Cyprus, serves as a throughway for the Pedieos River, the largest river in Cyprus, with a length of 98 kilometres. The municipality is at the foot of the nature-based solutions mountain, with several challenges that are demanding an alternative approach.

The challenges are, of course, similar to the aforementioned cities and include flooding and rapid urbanisation, but also drought, urban heat waves, and severe water scarcity in the dry months. To start, the Cyprus Energy Agency is working to re-nature the riverbed to ensure better water retention and impede the water flow.

Garbage in the river also needs to be addressed, as this debris can be dragged along by the flood and get trapped at low road crossings, causing water to spill over the road. Identifying the most effective nature-based solutions for the job, however, and this counts for all four cities, remains a work in progress. 

————

About the author

Nadine Galle is a consultant at Metabolic, PhD candidate in ecological engineering at University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin, and co-founder of Global Green City Watch. She is inspired by nature to transform cities through circular economy to build resilient, thriving, and happy communities for millions of people.

 
Location
Ireland
Related Focus Area
Urban Transitions
Related Goal
Goal 2: Create green, resilient cities
Articles you may be interested in
In Detail
Municipality-led circular economy case studies from EIT Climate-KIC and part...

How can cities create prosperity for expanding populations whose rates of consumption are increasing, while strengthening the systemic change that supports waste and resource management?...

Municipality-led circular economy case studies from EIT Climate-KIC and partners
In Detail
Transformative change through innovation: An analysis of the role of innovat...

One of the areas with significant potential to reduce carbon emissions is the energy sector, including the transition away from coal. It is, and...

Transformative change through innovation: An analysis of the role of innovation in five transition regions
In The News
COP24 report: The vital role of land use in climate mitigation

With the carbon costs of travel in mind, key...

COP24 report: The vital role of land use in climate mitigation
In The News
COP24: Distributed ledger technology could help enact Paris Agreement

With the carbon costs of travel in mind, key...

COP24: Distributed ledger technology could help enact Paris Agreement
Opinion
System innovation is needed to help regions shift to a low-carbon economy
System innovation is needed to help regions shift to a low-carbon economy
In The News
COP24: Social innovation to drive just transition of coal regions

With the carbon costs of travel in mind, key...

COP24: Social innovation to drive just transition of coal regions
In Detail
DLT for climate action assessment

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT Over the past decade, we’ve witnessed a myriad of milestones that have put the vision of a prosperous, climate-resilient society on...

DLT for climate action assessment
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC’s ConnectedClusters launches at EUROCITIES

EIT Climate-KIC’s ConnectedClusters project—which aims to accelerate innovation clusters...

EIT Climate-KIC’s ConnectedClusters launches at EUROCITIES
Opinion
St. Patrick is on a Mission – #MissionFinance 1.5 C
Sandra Vlašić, Partnerships, Resources and Stories Terra Hub
St. Patrick is on a Mission – #MissionFinance 1.5 C
In our community
EIT Climate-KIC to showcase its top 30 cleantech startups during Slush 2018
EIT Climate-KIC to showcase its top 30 cleantech startups during Slush 2018
In The News
How to unlock the finance needed for integrated landscape approaches

Why integrated landscape approaches matter and how to unlock...

How to unlock the finance needed for integrated landscape approaches
In The News
Regional Innovation Scheme start-ups showcase cleantech achievements supported...

Last month (October 2018) in Vienna, Austria, 32 start-ups...

Regional Innovation Scheme start-ups showcase cleantech achievements supported by EIT Climate-KIC
In The News
City Finance Lab explores new advisory services to catalyse investment in sust...

With the carbon costs of travel in mind, Climate...

City Finance Lab explores new advisory services to catalyse investment in sustainable cities
In The News
EIT Climate-KIC responds to consultation on Long-Term Strategy for EU GHG emis...

As an active member of the community working to...

EIT Climate-KIC responds to consultation on Long-Term Strategy for EU GHG emissions reduction
Opinion
Distributed ledger technologies are here to stay
Dr. Harald Rauter Regional Innovation Lead, Climate-KIC
Distributed ledger technologies are here to stay
In The News
Search for 100 1.5C-compatible investments launched

The EU-backed Mission Innovation initiative has launched a framework...

Search for 100 1.5C-compatible investments launched
In The News
Can self-reporting be effective for investors?

Most climate and ESG data is self-reported – can...

Can self-reporting be effective for investors?
In The News
Risky business: Why 1.5C-aligned strategies are key to preserving capital

Decision-makers with responsibility for capital need to make bold,...

Risky business: Why 1.5C-aligned strategies are key to preserving capital
In The News
No alternative: Making sustainable infrastructure the only option

Only a fraction of global climate finance is reaching...

No alternative: Making sustainable infrastructure the only option
In The News
Could ambitious financial regulation be a key driver of climate action?

With the carbon costs of travel in mind, Climate...

Could ambitious financial regulation be a key driver of climate action?
In The News
Bridging the climate adaptation investment gap

Financing climate adaptation took centre-stage at Day 2 of...

Bridging the climate adaptation investment gap
In Detail
Techno-economic assessment and life cycle assessment guidelines for CO2 util...

CO2 utilisation technologies, also known as carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) or CO2 re-use, capture CO2 and convert it into new products or services....

Techno-economic assessment and life cycle assessment guidelines for CO2 utilisation
In The News
Re-Industrialise launches at the European Week of Cities and Regions

EIT Climate-KIC and partners recently launched the Re-Industrialise programme,...

Re-Industrialise launches at the European Week of Cities and Regions
In Detail
Reframing our current approach to urban transformations

EIT Climate-KIC gathered the outputs and lessons-learned from an urban transformations community workshop in Malaga, which saw more than 100 city leaders and teams...

Reframing our current approach to urban transformations
Opinion
Reframing perspectives on climate change
Reframing perspectives on climate change
Opinion
Only 20 companies in the world provide 100 per cent greenhouse gas emissions disclosure – Are ...
Only 20 companies in the world provide 100 per cent greenhouse gas emissions disclosure – Are investors in the dark on climate risks?
In The News
Gaining a better understanding of climate risk

The roadblocks that stand in the way of companies...

Gaining a better understanding of climate risk
In The News
The power of persuasion: Great Debate changes audience’s mind on self-re...

With the carbon costs of travel in mind, Climate...

The power of persuasion: Great Debate changes audience’s mind on self-reporting
In The News
A masterclass on climate-related financial disclosure

If we want to keep on track with the...

A masterclass on climate-related financial disclosure
In The News
Transforming financial sector’s core value system may be essential to 1.5C

With the carbon costs of travel in mind, Climate...

Transforming financial sector’s core value system may be essential to 1.5C