The United States government announced its Nature-Based Solutions Roadmap at November’s COP27 summit in Egypt, signalling that the world’s largest national economy is investing in the protection, restoration, and sustainable management of nature as an effective way to deliver societal benefits such as flood risk reduction, climate change mitigation, agricultural production, physical and mental health, clean water, and air quality.
The roadmap is described as a “strategy to scale up NBS” and it addresses multiple barriers that have hindered the uptake of these approaches in the past. One of the five strategic areas of focus, for example, includes expanding the use of nature-based solutions (NBS) on land and facilities owned and managed by US federal agencies, including the military. That’s 650 million acres and 300,000 buildings across the country, where the government has the opportunity to demonstrate how NBS can be implemented in practice.
The roadmap also contains recommendations on updating agencies’ guidance and policies so that it is easier for NBS to be evaluated and implemented. Updates to permitting processes that enable efficient reviews of NBS and approaches to benefit cost accounting that capture the benefits that NBS provide over time are significant policy recommendations that could help level the playing field for NBS when compared to other alternatives. In addition, the roadmap encourages advancement of common measures and monitoring of impacts related to NBS, which builds on the executive order issued by the Biden administration on Earth Day 2022, that included a commitment to develop government-wide Natural Capital Accounts.
Advancing the consideration of the range of social and economic benefits provided by nature, whether that is in flood management, wildfire prevention or the value of wild pollinators, can help unlock more funding and jobs related to NBS. This is supported by another strand of the roadmap, which is training the NBS workforce. For example, currently, many traditional engineers may not be trained in the design and management standards required for implementing nature-based solutions to address challenges such as flooding or coastal risk reduction.
Momentum for nature is building
The Biden administration has committed to addressing climate change in both the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021. Combined, these laws commit substantial funding for natural resources and present significant opportunities for nature based solutions such as directing approximately $20 billion for farmers, ranchers and private forest owners to increase carbon storage and reduce emissions on their land and approximately $8.6 billion to restore and conserve coastal habitats. The roadmap builds on these historic laws and investments by providing guidance on how NBS can be more widely implemented to achieve desired outcomes.
Another positive of the roadmap is that it addresses opportunities for a broad range of government agencies to use and secure the benefits from NBS: it doesn’t make NBS the responsibility of only one or a few agencies that are tasked with environmental management such as EPA or USFS. A government-wide approach will facilitate NBS as an opportunity for many agencies and departments such as the Department of Defence, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Importantly, federal funding and support at scale will also help to incentivize essential private sector investments in NBS. Inger Abdersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme said earlier this year that investment into NBS must triple by 2030, from the current level of $133bn. With the roadmap, the US government has shown it is serious about using nature based solutions: identifying a clear pathway for how to do it will not only help build the country’s NBS experience and benefits, it will also demonstrate the effectiveness of NBS to corporate and financial investors.
It is very exciting to see the US government take a leadership role in prioritizing nature as an important way to meet societal needs while addressing the enormous and urgent challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. In parallel, the interest in nature amongst the private sector and financial institutions has reached historic levels. At the COP 15 meeting on biodiversity in Montreal this week, we hope this growing international public and private sector momentum and progress on protecting, restoring, and sustainably managing nature will lead to the global commitments we need to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030.