A Promising Role for Nature-based Solutions
The Government of Canada recently presented its Fall Economic Statement to help Canadians cope with COVID-19 now, and to shape our economic recovery going forward. One of the pillars of Canada’s plan to “build back better” included a $3.16-billion investment in a competitive green economy and nature-based solutions to climate change.
“Investing in nature, and its protection, is among the most affordable climate action governments can take. Forests, wetlands, oceans, and more, absorb and store enormous amounts of carbon, which can mitigate the impacts of climate change, and keep our air and water clean.”1
This was welcome news to those who have long advocated for natural systems, their role in storing carbon, and their capacity to simultaneously provide a suite of ecological services, such as mitigating flooding, improving water quality, and supporting biodiversity.
You won’t find a bigger bang for your buck than investing in nature.
Using Nature to Tackle Environmental Challenges
Nature-based solutions refer to the sustainable management and use of nature for addressing modern environmental challenges and associated impacts on our quality of life. In the late 2000s, nature-based solutions were first discussed in the context of seeking necessary and novel answers to the question of how we mitigate and adapt to climate change effects.
New research suggests that nature-based solutions to climate change can provide almost 40 per cent of the emission reductions Canada needs to achieve by 2030.2 While a range of measures will be required to reach zero emissions, nature-based solutions provide one more tool in our toolkit; when climate change adaptation and other co-benefits are factored in, this approach becomes particularly valuable.
The Fall Economic Statement says: “Canada’s natural areas provide a wealth of other free services to Canadians, including clean water, fertile soil, and fresh air, underpinning our society and quality of life.” The Government of Saskatchewan’s Prairie Resilience climate change strategy highlights the need for landscapes with the capacity to provide ecological goods and services, enhance our resilience to extreme weather events, and manage the risk to biodiversity; it outlines a role for natural systems including soils, forests, and wetlands in achieving this goal.3
Biodiversity outcomes may be among the greatest upsides to using nature to address climate change. The Living Planet Report 2020 revealed that our planet has experienced a catastrophic loss of biodiversity; 68 per cent of global species have been extinguished in less than 50 years.4 Nature-based solutions conserve and restore diverse natural features and processes on the landscape and will support global biodiversity.
Nature-based solutions also deliver protection from extreme weather and flood risk, something well understood by those who deal with the aftermath. The insurance industry has become one of the most vocal advocates for climate action, and for a role for nature. “Since 2009, flooding from coastal and inland sources has emerged as the most pervasive and costly natural disaster in the country, causing financial and psychosocial distress to homeowners in virtually all regions.”5 In its 2018 report, Combatting Canada’s Rising Flood Costs: Natural infrastructure is an underutilized option, the Insurance Bureau of Canada stressed the importance of natural systems for climate change adaptation, particularly the use of ponds, wetlands and vegetated areas to limit flood risk.
The Dollars and Sense of Working with Nature
As more research is done on the viability of nature-based solutions, results are revealing that using nature to help tackle environmental challenges isn’t just effective, it makes good fiscal sense too.
Wetland conservation has been demonstrated to provide an economically viable solution to a suite of environmental issues in east-central Saskatchewan; social return on investment analysis revealed that every CAD$1 invested in wetland retention yields CAD$7.70 value in flood control, nutrient removal, recreation and carbon sequestration.6
Getting nature to do some of the heavy lifting in place of, or in concert with, traditional built infrastructure creates efficiencies that save municipalities money. Local governments are increasingly including natural systems in their infrastructure planning to maintain and improve municipal services such as flood protection and stormwater management. Yorkton’s recent Logan Green Project is a series of settling ponds, a stream channel and a fishpond designed to manage stormwater and treat backwash water. Using the filtration and storage capabilities of natural systems reduced project costs by millions and will minimize future demand on the sewage system, all while providing new recreational opportunities for residents.
Nature-based solutions also offer an innovative means to create jobs and growth as part of a green economy. A 2013 study on job creation related to habitat restoration projects in the U.S. determined that these projects created, on average, 17 jobs per million dollars spent, and considerably more than traditional industries including coal, gas, and nuclear energy generation.7
Over the coming months and years, as we emerge from the impacts of COVID-19, we have an opportunity to do things differently and to truly build back better. By looking to nature and employing its inherent capacity to help us manage our biggest modern-day challenges, we can efficiently and affordably create a better life for all Canadians.
1,2Fall Economic Statement 2020, Government of Canada, https://budget.gc.ca/fes-eea/2020/report-rapport/chap3-en.html
3A Made-in-Saskatchewan Climate Change Strategy, Government of Saskatchewan, https://www.saskatchewan.ca/business/environmental-protection-and-sustainability/a-made-in-saskatchewan-climate-change-strategy
4Living Planet Report 2020, World Wide Fund For Nature, https://livingplanet.panda.org/en-us/
5Combatting Canada’s Rising Flood Costs: Natural infrastructure is an underutilized option, Insurance Bureau of Canada, http://www.ibc.ca/ab/resources/studies/natural-infrastructure-is-an-underutilized-option
6Wetlands, Flood Control and Ecosystem Services in the Smith Creek Drainage Basin: A Case Study in Saskatchewan, Canada, Ecological Economics, https://alus.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Pattison-Williams_et_al_2018.pdf
7Investing in nature: Restoring coastal habitat blue infrastructure and green job creation, Marine Policy, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257163033_Investing_in_nature_Restoring_coastal_habitat_blue_infrastructure_and_green_job_creation