The road to successful Building with Nature projects

When does Building with Nature (BwN) become the first choice for climate adaptation measures? What are the obstacles to choosing Nature Based Solutions (NBS), as opposed to traditional engineered infrastructure? And what have we learnt until now? During the one-day Road to CAS event in Amsterdam in October, the EcoShape foundation hosted a webinar to address these questions.

Warm-up to CAS2021

As a warm-up to the upcoming – online – Climate Adaptation Summit 2021 (CAS2021) to be held in Amsterdam in January 2021, the city recently hosted the one-day online event Road to CAS. The event focused on the Dutch approach to climate adaptation, with presentations and speakers from public and private organisations actively involved in confronting the challenges of climate change. One of the sessions, the Road to successful Building with Nature projects, was hosted by EcoShape, a Dutch foundation dedicated to managing the public-private innovation programme Building with Nature in The Netherlands. EcoShape works to develop, build and disseminate worldwide a foundation of scientific evidence and knowledge related to Nature Based Solutions.

Major BwN desktop resource

The webinar kicked-off with the launch of a valuable new desktop resource for thinkers, doers, policymakers and others who are tasked with moving an NBS project from inception to fruition. It bundles twelve years of EcoShape BwN wisdom and knowledge gained across six different landscapes, and identifies six enabling factors for a successful Nature Based Solution:

  • System and technology knowledge
  • Multi-stakeholder approach
  • Institutional embedding
  • A sound business case, including ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ benefits
  • Adaptive management, maintenance and monitoring
  • Capacity-building

Tipping point

In a short discussion, Egon Baldal (Ministry of Public Works and Water Management) addressed the issue of when BwN can be seen as a mainstream approach for adaptation to climate change – when the public and powers-that-be no longer see Building with Nature as experimental or novel.

Using examples, he argued that we have already passed the “tipping point”: there are now BwN guidelines in the manuals of the US Army Corps of Engineers, and EcoShape’s new book is a valuable resource for education and reference. Ample case studies are published for many different scenarios. Our next challenge is to upscale both the awareness of BwN and the capacity to apply it successfully. For this we will rely on the new generation of engineers, scientists, ecologists and economists who understand BwN and are eager to play a role.

Striking examples

Roel Posthoorn (Natuurmonumenten) showed how an inland aquatic ecosystem, severely impoverished by past flood control measures, was locally restored and enhanced by creating an artificial island cluster from otherwise lifeless sediment: the Marker Wadden project. Within just a few years, a simple idea became a splendid and thriving natural environment for birds, animals and fish. Roel shared valuable lessons learned, for example on the importance of the “fun factor” throughout, which is infectious and inspirational.

Femke Tonneijck (Building with Nature Indonesia and Wetlands International) then described how her organisation has helped coastal communities in northern Java with the restoration of mangrove forests to trap sediment needed to keep the sea at bay. Coastal erosion and land subsidence have led to frequent tidal flooding of these communities. In a unique nature based solution, young mangroves are protected from destructive wave action while enabling sediment and nutrients to accumulate. These measures have greatly enhanced the coastal ecosystem and created new economic opportunities, such as fish farming. Intense local community involvement and government commitment are critical success factors that remain vital for future upscaling.

Panel discussion

But how can you compare long-term “soft” or intangible benefits such as the pleasure and well-being provided by a rich and natural landscape, with the very tangible monetary costs of implementation? Egon explained that the EU and UN both recognise this dilemma, and are working to define a standard methodology for monetising “natural value”. Roel added that it helps to isolate “hard” ROI values and calculations from “soft” benefits, and also gave a tip: take the decision-makers and influencers to somewhere that they can experience the expected benefit for themselves.

Worth watching

The entire 90 minute webinar can now be viewed online at the link below this article. It is well worth watching, especially the inspiring case studies of the Marker Wadden and Indonesian mangrove restoration. For some extra inspiration, in the last part there is an interesting discussion between young BwN practitioners and the experienced BwN project managers.

Building with Nature is now clearly mainstream!

EcoShape Webinar (YouTube): The road to successful Building with Nature projects