Conclusions from COP26: Social innovation and Nature-based Solutions at EU Side Event “Nature for Climate & Biodiversity in Cities”- IUCN, UNEP, Glasgow City Council, Ecologic, Social Climate, FIDIC, Bogotá, Granollers

Innovación social por el clima

Conclusions from COP26: Social innovation and Nature-based Solutions at EU Side Event “Nature for Climate & Biodiversity in Cities”- IUCN, UNEP, Glasgow City Council, Ecologic, Social Climate, FIDIC, Bogotá, Granollers

November 19, 2021 Events 0

“Glasgow ends today, but the real work begins now,” said Seve Paeniu, the Finance and Climate Minister from Tuvalu. Concerning UN negotiations, COP26 has meant another incremental step in the right direction, but still too slow compared to how the climate crisis is unfolding before our eyes. Yet, there is hope, action-oriented hope. Outside the main stage, the 30,000+ people that have taken part in the Conference, and our million allies back home, we continue to work together to implement solutions on the ground, share best practices, and jointly multiply impact. It happens in cities and towns. It is led by civil society and social entrepreneurs and businesses. Legal frameworks and fiscal incentives will of course facilitate the task, and we will keep advocating for them, but social change can’t and won’t wait. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, “The arc of the moral Universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Except that in this case we have to make it quick, and that is just what we are doing.

With this purpose in mind, on 3 November 2021, we -Social Climate- together with the Glasgow City Council, Ecologic Institute, and FIDIC, on behalf of three Horizon 2020 consortia (INTERLACE, CONEXUS and Connecting Nature), co-organized and spoke at the COP26 EU Side Event: “Nature for Climate & Biodiversity in Cities: entrepreneurship, co-creation and engagement”; in conjunction with other key partners including IUCN, UNEP, City of Bogotá, Municipality of Granollers, University of Sheffield, and Florys.

We discussed the importance of Nature-based Solutions -NbS- for cities to jointly address the climate and biodiversity crises, creating quality green jobs and wellbeing for local communities in the process. An enriching multistakeholder approach framed the conversation involving policy makers, entrepreneurs, international organizations; around key challenges, opportunities and pathways to mainstream urban NbS and boost local economies. Strategies to meaningfully engage civil society and SMEs were shared, seeking in particular to work with local governments in order to enact enabling policy frameworks.

The tone was set by Sandra Naumann from Ecologic Institute (H2020 INTERLACE) and Sean Vincent Kelly from the Glasgow City Council (H2020 Connecting Nature), who briefly talked about what is being done in this regard on EU level through Horizon 2020 projects, and how Glasgow -COP26’s hosting city- is being rewilded one neighborhood at a time, with sound participation from Nature-based Enterprises -NbE- via a Nature-based Accelerator; and then introduced the sector practitioners:

Elle Steele and Felicity Steers -co-founders of Florys, a Glasgow-based NbE-, showed us how to seize opportunities arising from the pandemic to regreen public spaces and “commemorate community spirit” by using “urban acupuncture to inject life into unused spaces and make them convivial -small shots of beauty and nature in unexpected places”. And they do it in an inclusive and collaborative way, working with communities, local businesses and other organisations, deliberately creating networks and symbiosis for the benefit of the local population’s health (physical and mental), as well as biodiversity’s (connectivity of habitats). Therefore, they contribute to implementing the city’s climate action plan and 2030 Agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals. From their participation in Glasgow’s Nature-based Accelerator, they draw one valuable lesson for us all: “strength lays in co-working opportunities.”

Then, Jesus Iglesias -co-founder of Social Climate and EU Climate Pact Ambassador- depicted their sweet spot at the intersection between Nature-based Solutions and economic localization, two intertwined major levers for climate action, resilience and equity. As he put it, “NbS boost local economies by generating the proper conditions for local communities to gather, enjoy nature and celebrate culture, thus paving the way for small businesses to thrive catering to their needs. And the other way around, SMEs contribute to caring for and maintaining NbS, ensuring they continue to provide the ecosystem services they depend upon like clean air and water, climate proofing, and stress-free zones.” He illustrated this groundbreaking idea with two concrete projects Social Climate is spearheading: The Climate Journey, a highly replicable model of guided tours across cities and rural landscapes alike to see firsthand the impacts, causes and local solutions to the climate crisis; and Incubaeco, a comprehensive online incubation program for Spanish and Mediterranean social entrepreneurs to develop and scale up Nature-based Enterprises.

From the angle of policy-making, the example of Granollers, a small (60K inhabitants) city near Barcelona in Spain is definitely one to look up to. Xavier Romero -Environmental officer at the Municipality of Granollers- vividly described how the H2020 INTERLACE project had allowed them to take citizen engagement in rewilding and NbS initiatives to the next level, thanks to the NATURE-PLACES-PEOPLE model. Basically, it allows NATURE and biodiversity to thrive again in the city, through the creation of new green areas and restoration of degraded ecosystems. It does so by enabling shared PLACES for dialogue and exchange between urban, peri-urban and rural populations and public administrations. As a result, it all ultimately strengthens the connection between PEOPLE and to their natural environment in urban settings. The case study presented revolves around the restoration of the Congost river area.

Lastly, Robert Spencer and Idriss Kathrada -Vice-Chair and member respectively of the Sustainable Development Committee of FIDIC (International Federation of Consulting Engineers)-, reflected on the potential for NbS in the built environment, making the case for a better integration in the Building & Construction sector as an effective mechanism to address societal challenges like climate change and health. In particular, for both project development and renovation, regreening NbS lower the energy load of buildings up to 20%, hence effectively reducing the urban heat island effect and cooling the city between 1 to 2ºC. They emphasized the need to adopt such approach both during the project (bio-climatic) design and site management stages, through soil and water management, and vegetalization with shrubs, trees and other species; as well as the social benefits and biodiversity net gain these practices entail. Moreover, national frameworks like «Engagement for nature» in France, and global ones such as the Global Alliance for Building and Construction’s -GABC- 2021 Report on “Building and Climate Change Adaptation”, are quintessential to mainstream NbS in the construction sector.

The second part of the event consisted in a high-level panel discussion, moderated by Tom Wild, Principal Investigator at the University of Sheffield (H2020 CONEXUS). It comprised interventions:

First of all, Carolina Urrutia -Secretary of Environment at City of Bogotá‘s Mayor’s Office-, portrayed the challenges her city has been facing to integrate nature into the urban fabric: from redistributing and granting more space to nature and people (pedestrians and bikes) and less to fossil-fuel vehicles, to acquiring the land to be protected, and making sure interventions (management and restoration) are appropriate for communities to connect to the land and to enhance biodiversity. Also, suggesting NbS as alternative to grey infrastructure in public contracts was challenging, both in terms of proving the investment is worth it and convincing citizens and voters, given they take longer to develop. Concerning the multisectoral approach, managing protected natural areas is a collaborative public-private effort, involving a range of tools such as the city’s climate action plan, air quality plan, a new entity to coordinate actions, and the master plan: a land use plan setting an increase of protected areas by 30%, as well as ecosystemic connection of green areas for the sake of biodiversity.

Martina Otto – Head of Cities Unit & Secretariat of Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction at UNEP-, shared valuable insights on where biodiversity stands in the construction and building sector, as well as the challenges to include nature in planning and development projects. According to her, recognition of NbS’ multiple benefits in the sector is coming, being quite established already in adaptation, and gaining traction in mitigation as well thanks to the reduction of mechanical air conditioning in buildings, and the cooling of cities by tackling the urban heat island effect. Stunning and beautiful examples help a lot in this regard, like Milan’s vertical forest, as part of tomorrow’s heritage. Overall, this is a niche market still, and in order to scale it, there are a number of barriers similar to those in the wider city space: 1. Lack of sufficient quantification of benefits, and natural capital accounting to value nature’s assets as with grey infrastructure, taking into consideration that sometimes being multi-benefit makes it more complex to clearly convey impact, and also the fact that NbS are highly context-specific; 2. Business models and finance: despite some innovative cases, in general there is much work left here to make the business case for NbS in the sector, often stumbling upon the wrong-pocket problem, with the ones benefiting the most not paying the upfront cost, and with payback time often too lengthy for some features; 3. Multi-level governance: while there are many instances of great leadership from cities, they are limited sometimes in their power, and thus need to cooperate with national governments, as is the case with building codes for NbS, insufficiently referenced yet; 4. The workforce needs to be properly (re)trained along the full value chain, from architects to builders. Certainly, there are some examples on how things can shift already in the policies and incentives space, with sound standards put in place in Toronto, or incentive schemes in Singapore; but for NbS to join the mainstream, it still will take much advocacy, further demonstration, and better policies and incentives for scale-up. Also, investors have to overcome their mistrust on something new like NbS.

Next, Chantal van Ham -Acting Director, EU Programme Manager NbS and Focal point for local & regional authorities at IUCN Europe-, dealt with the challenges to engage civil society in NbS, foment cooperation with municipalities to mainstream NbS policies, and how inclusion and participation differs across regions and social-political contexts. IUCN Global Standard for NbS constitutes a fundamental tool to help stakeholders make nature part of the equation. The reality is we all suffer climate impacts more and more, in particular in the urban world, with 33% of natural heritage sites around the world threatened. At the same time 30% of mitigation can be provided by nature, while only 3% of climate finance is currently directed to NbS, which needs to be tripled by 2030, and four-folded by 2050. Cities are key partners in this, being the closest to citizens, who have still to appreciate the value of nature. Also, business and finance have a strong role to play in integrating NbS, for example in buildings and the use of raw materials; but also in our wider landscapes by strengthening the connection between cities and surrounding ecosystems. The real mission of this century being actually to restore natural ecosystems, as they are on the brink of collapse. In terms of risks, they are very unequally faced, which is quite unfair given some less responsible communities are much more affected. As highlighted in a recent report by the World Bank, the collapse of some ecosystem services could wipe out 2.3% of global GDP by 2030, but to Subsaharan Africa it would imply almost 10%, and 6,5% to South Asia. Urban ecosystems are highly degraded, yet at the same time there are many examples from H2020 demonstrator projects and others that show there are ways to restore connection, and drive climate action that is inclusive and equitable, bringing in the voice of communities. An interesting example being the participatory budgeting processes many cities have been leading for years, giving citizens a chance to decide the kind of projects they want to see happening and how they’re managed. New York, for instance, has allocated 210 M$ to 700+ community-designed projects to improve local, climate-related services. It’s a way to capture the knowledge, skills and capacities of local people across society, and give them a say in deciding their future protection. This was indeed underpinned at the recent IUCN World Congress, with the Marseille Manifesto prioritizing the empowerment of people as agents of change, including women, youth, indigenous, local communities and front line workers. Also cities, subnational governments and businesses are essential in this endeavor, in order to catalyze local action through joint solutions built on cooperation across levels, disciplines and sectors.

Last but not least, Kit England -Green Economy Manager at Glasgow City Council-, drawing from his experience put forth some recommendations to local and regional governments seeking to actively engage actors in implementing NbS, particularly businesses. We live in interesting times, at the start of a decisive decade where emissions need to halve globally by 2030. In Glasgow, the context has been at the early stage of piloting and demonstrating (innovation), for a few years, both through H2020 program and the wider policy process. Now, it needs to move from incremental change (growing the numbers of projects, businesses and NbS), to exponential change by pulling multiple levers of change. NbS have to be mainstreamed, the green economy substantially grow, and the whole economy turn green. So, in order to get that much more robust and mature approach to the whole green economy, several factors play a part: 1. As reflected in the Glasgow Green Deal, climate action can no longer be considered separate from economic action, as it’s clear emissions and risks stem from the structure of the economic model. This of course poses a phenomenal challenge, but as the pieces of the economic puzzle are put together, it leads you down the road of climate action. So trying to treat those two dimensions jointly within the institutions is fundamental, in terms of government’s structure and ways of working; 2. Pushing that new mindset into different policies and plans, like Glasgow’s regional economic strategy, which offers big transformational opportunities for climate action, including support to green business; 3. Systems innovation: the City Council has been working with organizations like EIT Climate-KIC and in partnership with the regional and national government, to innovate and increase the amount of NbS in different sectors, like construction, looking across all the value chain for levers of carbon storage; 4. Wider enabling conditions like green investment prospectors for NbS, fostering a process to connect private sector investors with local businesses, and leveraging capital markets to scale up finance.

In the brief Q&A session, Kit and Martina addressed a question on how to unleash the power of digital innovation to mainstream NbS. In general, digital platforms are starting to create markets and services around NbS. An example would be Earth Observation satellite services to map street canopy cover, which coupled with demographic information can help understand equity issues on access to NbS, and also spot business opportunities to create value. Moreover, digital solutions come handy for tracking and measuring the impact of Nbs, as well as a means to involve communities.

Wrapping up, Sandra Naumann from Ecologic Institute (H2020 INTERLACE), delivered the closing remarks, underscoring the fact that change is underway, and we can all make a contribution to bring more nature into cities in response to the climate and biodiversity challenges. So keep it up, Nature-driven changemakers, and see you at COP27 for more collaborative action 😉

Here is the event’s full video recording on EU Climate Action‘s Youtube Channel: