A natural forest landscape symbolizing Nature-Based Solutions

Read time: 11 min

Climate change is a global challenge that requires joint action by countries, governments, corporations, and civil society. In response to this challenge, the international community has set in motion a series of commitments to reduce CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, with its sights set on 2050. 

A worldwide commitment to pursuing energy efficiency, promoting renewable energy, and driving circular economy projects are some of the measures agreed upon to reach carbon neutrality targets. However, there's one series of emissions, such as those from heavy industry, that cannot be avoided. In order to offset them, we have a powerful ally: nature-based solutions (NBS).  

What are nature-based solutions?

Nature-based solutions (NBS) are approaches, actions, and processes that use the principles of nature to find a solution to some of our most urgent social challenges such as climate change.

The term given to natural climate solutions was presented in an initiative by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the World Bank at the end of the 2000s and subsequently adopted by the European Commission. Today, nature-based solutions are completely aligned with the 2030 Agenda program and can effectively aid regions in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

The application of nature-based solutions, such as reforestation, increases climate resilience and contributes to protecting and restoring wetlands, peat bogs, and coastal and marine environments. Also, in an increasingly urbanized society, it fosters the development of urban green spaces and the installation of green roofs and walls, therefore creating more sustainable cities. Moreover, the promotion and sustainable management of forests and cultivated land support the adaptation to climate change while at the same time creating value, due to cost savings and the promotion of local employment. 

spruce forest


Forests play a dual role in climate change. They act as a cause and a solution for greenhouse gas emissions. Recent data indicate that trees and plants extract and “sequester” up to 45 % of the carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, preventing it from remaining in the atmosphere. Restoring forests and improving forestry practices could eliminate up to 7 billion metric tonnes of carbon per year, the equivalent of neutralizing 1.5 billion automobiles.

Reforestation consists of recovering forested areas destroyed in recent times by planting new trees and sowing seeds from tree species. Forests help prevent the erosion of the soil and desertification, and are important for protecting fields and urban areas from the action of the wind. When they are located along river banks or the coast, they fortify and stabilize the area. They also contribute to protecting natural ecosystems that otherwise could not develop.

Corporations can also contribute to reforestation by offsetting carbon emissions outside their production area through voluntary financial contributions to investments in projects to absorb, reduce, or prevent CO2 emissions. 

agricultural and pasture land

Agricultural and pasture land

Agricultural and pasture land are the second most important carbon deposit or “sink” after the oceans. The recovery of essential terrestrial ecosystems and the sustainable use of the soil in rural and urban areas can contribute to adaption to climate change and mitigate its consequences.

In the process of photosynthesis, atmospheric carbon also affects the ground given that whatever is not used to contribute to the growth of a plant on the surface is distributed through the roots and deposited in the soil. If it undergoes no changes, this carbon can remain buried for thousands of years.

Increasing the amount of organic material in the soil by making small changes to agricultural techniques, reducing erosion, and reducing the losses caused by burning and overgrazing can lead to the retention of up to a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. One example of CO2 capture is Bio-Energy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), which aids in the reduction in two ways: Firstly, crops used for biomass capture CO2 while growing; and secondly, when that biomass is burned to generate energy, the CO2 is captured and stored geologically, resulting in a negative emissions balance.

wetlands and bodies of water

Wetlands and bodies of water

Wetlands, traditionally considered to be unhealthy waste land, are very valuable areas for the environment due to their ability to capture and store CO2 from the atmosphere. Preserving wetlands and peak bogs, recovering coastal ecosystems, and increasing and preserving marine and coastal diversity could result in up to a 12% reduction in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Mangrove swamps, for example, and to a lesser extent marshes, can reduce the energy of the waves and currents, which stabilizes the sediment with the roots of the trees and reduces the risk of flooding caused by the tides.

In addition, natural climate solutions for water management make it possible to improve the use of water resources, for example, through the preservation and protection of the headwaters of river basins and the regulation of natural flows. As the UN World Water Development Report 2018 points out, nature-based solutions for water management are essential for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development since they also generate benefits for society, the economy, and the environment such as human health, food safety, sustainable growth, and the protection of ecosystems and biodiversity. 

Benefits of nature-based solutions

Nature-based solutions can contribute up to 37% of the emissions mitigation required to limit global warning to 2 degrees Celsius by 2030. With them, we'll contribute to caring for the environment. In addition, they provide an additional lever for furthering energy transition due to their many benefits:

  • Greater capacity to store carbon and water
  • They are already ready for immediate large-scale application and involve less cost per tonne of CO2 sequestered
  • Reduction of soil erosion
  • Increase in biodiversity
  • They are a source of income, and generate wealth in rural areas
  • They benefit the local population and create employment for vulnerable groups