16 December 2020

Natural remedies in uncertain times

The tumult of 2020 has left in its wake a need to rebuild and rethink solutions to bolster our wellbeing. With the confinement imbued by the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an awakening to the importance of nature in our immediate surroundings.

Access to nature in urban areas has become increasingly crucial for wellbeing[1]. Nature-based solutions such as green corridors, where nature is restored and connected through pathways of trees, fields, parks and rivers, provide habitats for respite and activities, help foster biodiversity, and mitigate pollution. Increasing the cover of green spaces that are pollinator friendly, and implementing urban gardens, green roofs and walls, all make urban areas more appealing, improve air quality and bolster resilience.

Despite its seemingly simple term, ‘nature-based solutions’ are intricate scientific, social and technological innovations where the environment takes center stage to ensure our wellbeing, placing us firmly where we belong – as a part of the ecosystem. Although this might sound lofty, nature-based solutions are generating practical and long-lasting results in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Some nature-based solutiosn may be small in scale, but this is wherein their power lies – they are easy to replicate. This is why the European Union is increasing funding for nature-based solutions, and why ICLEI is continuing to work with cities to ensure that nature-based solutions are implemented at a local level.

ICLEI Europe has been looking into the benefits of nature-based solutions for decades. Over time, this has progressed to work on projects that have a health component, including new pioneer GoGreenRoutes. This project will implement innovative solutions such as urban nature-based interventions, data analysis and citizen science to investigate the links between green spaces and health. The project will also take stock of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, evaluating the impact of air pollution levels during and after lockdown measures, and the effects of quarantine on mental health. ICLEI’s established projects, such as proGIreg and CleverCities, have been implementing nature-based solutions in cities throughout Europe for years. ProGIreg involves mental health patients in Turin in monitoring butterflies and bees in the area, to support pollinators and to increase the activity and wellbeing of patients. CleverCities, in turn, has transformed unused land near a refugee camp in Hamburg together with inhabitants of the camps and locals, turning it into a welcoming urban garden for all residents, providing much needed activity and integration.

In addition to grassroots activities, ICLEI is committed to raising awareness of the benefits of nature-based solutions among decision makers. ICLEI developed a comprehensive ‘Guide for Pollinator Friendly Cities’ for local decision-makers and practitioners. The guide provides a set of recommendations, based on cities’ successful experiences and initiatives in wild pollinator conservation. On the global arena, ICLEI supported the development of the “Edinburgh Declaration” a new agenda to strengthen local government representation at the UN Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP15) and in global biodiversity action. The declaration outlines nature-based solutions as key to a green recovery from COVID-19.

Nature-based solutions should be on the agenda of every decision maker in 2021. To help achieve this goal, a new Horizon 2020 funded project NetworkNature, spearheaded by ICLEI, IUCN, BiodivERsA, Oppla and Steinbeis 2i, gathers the nature-based solutions community together to amplify efforts. Alice Reil, Coordinator for the Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity programme at ICLEI, sees the role of NetworkNature as central in shaping the green transition: “In 2020, we were reminded of the importance of nature for our wellbeing as individuals as well as society. It became even clearer that some of us have easier everyday access to nature than others; ‘“Nature-deficit disorder” is really a thing’, said the New York Times. Together with over 30 EU-financed projects and four expert partners, NetworkNature aims to raise awareness of the benefits of biodiversity for us, and to share tried and tested knowledge and tools for others to take up these solutions. ICLEI strives to support and connect local governments in this effort by designing and moderating engagement and planning processes at the local level, whilst also being the voice of cities and towns in global policy processes.”

Projects such as NetworkNature, which pool resources and spur action, make it clear that the climate crisis and wellbeing of people are firmly on ICLEI’s 2021 agenda.

Read more on ICLEI Europe’s work with nature-based solutions here, and explore the platform as soon as it launches on 18 December.


[1] Nieuwenhuijsen, M.J. (2020). COVID19 and the city: from the short term to the long term. Environ. Res. 191:110066. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2020.110066