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Special event G20/UNEP – Resilient, Smart and Sustainable Cities: The Power of Nature-based Solutions

April 28th, 2021

Special event G20/UNEP – Resilient, Smart and Sustainable Cities: The Power of Nature-based Solutions

The event highlighted the multiple benefits of implementing Nature-based Solutions (NbS) in cities, and particularly their contribution to building resilience to climate change while contributing to climate mitigation. A wealth of urban experiments is underway across G20 countries, demonstrating that NbS – adapted to local circumstances – can work in all contexts. To multiply positive experiences, further quantification of the range of benefits, and increasing progress monitoring, are needed, as well as the integration of NbS in planning processes and technical standards for infrastructure, the development of innovative business and finance models and smooth multi-level governance. 

On April 16th, Italy and UNEP organized a virtual event on Nature-based Solutions (NbS) in cities, with the aim of exploring how to increase the pace and scale of their implementation.

Cities are at the forefront of both the impacts of, and responses to, the crises of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss, and health resilience. Drawing on remarkable examples of NbS initiatives across G20 countries, the event made a strong case for nature-based solutions in cities as a way to increase their ability to mitigate negative impacts and future risks, and pointed to a surge for a global movement towards NbS in cities.

The strength of NbS lies in their ability to deliver multiple benefits, ranging from increased resilience to climate events such as floods and heat waves, to biodiversity gains, improved well-being and job creation. Developing and deploying NbS in urban areas requires nature-based thinking, in order to integrate them into sector policies and city and infrastructure planning.

The first panel demonstrated wide-ranging options from green and hybrid infrastructure – with wetlands, urban forests, green transport and biodiversity corridors – to vertical forests. Issues such as competition for space, use of a variety of local species and maintenance need to feed into the planning efforts to lead to nature-sensitive urban design.

The second panel examined different business models. Innovative business models, alongside co-creation of supporting policies and technical standards are critical to engage the private sector and help mobilize finance. Novel business models and innovative financing arrangements are to be tested to capture value that is shared and dispersed across public & private sectors. Beyond common financing models such as Public Private Partnerships (PPP), cities were encouraged to think more broadly about available options, securing government ownership to ensure project quality, e.g. local taxes, bonds, but also instruments such as land value capture and non-financial incentives such as green plot ratios.

Turning awareness and recognition of the potential of NbS for on-the-ground investments requires quantified objectives and robust methodologies to decide on the most relevant intervention and assess benefits, using – for example – indicators such green cover ratio, temperature changes, job creation, mobility shifts. Cost-benefit analyses are crucial to make the case for implementation, as is putting in place a monitoring system. The increasing availability of digital technologies allows for better identification of the opportunities for action and can help track progress and maintain NbS effective. Finally, in order to succeed, it is crucial to change the way cities operate, moving away from business-as-usual urban planning to adopt nature-sensitive urban designs. This includes collaboration across several departments at local level, and engaging communities. 

In conclusion, urban actors were encouraged to ‘wear’ nature as a pair of glasses to envision the future of cities and tap into the multiple benefits of NbS to achieve greater air quality, regulate extreme temperatures, save energy, and improve citizens’ health and well-being. Not least due the job creation capacity of NbS, the provision of green space for recreational purposes and the application potential of NbS in urban infrastructure and sectors impacted by COVID-19, which makes NbS a cornerstone for a green resilient COVID recovery. 

Panelists and participants welcomed the opportunity for peer-to-peer exchange and highlighted the importance of South-South collaboration in the dissemination and replication of NbS in other cities. 

Panel 1: The multiple benefits of NbS in Cities (moderated by Ingrid Coetzee, Director: Biodiversity, Nature & Health, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability). Panellists:  Stefano Boeri, Stefano Boeri Architetti; Yvonne Lynch, Strategic Advisor, the Royal Commission for Riyadh; Sean O’donoghue, Senior Manager: Climate Protection Branch, eThekwini Municipality)   Panel 2: Innovation and business models for scaling up NbS in Cities (moderated by Musonda Mumba, Director of the Rome Centre for Sustainable Development – UNDP). Panellists: Boping Chen, Regional Director of Central East Asia, C40; Laszlo Pinter, Professor, Team Leader of the Naturvation Project and Head of Department at Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy, Central European University; Laurie Stott, Instructor, British Columbia Institute of Technology; Sergio Angón, Coordinator of the CityAdapt project, Xalapa, Mexico)