Nature Based Solutions (NBS) present an immense potential to contribute to sustainable development. A number of frameworks have been proposed in the literature to evaluate the benefits of NBS projects. However, the majority of frameworks fail to address the full potential of NBS, neglecting long-term results, unintended consequences, co-benefits, and NBS contributions to achieving global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) enshrined in the Agenda 2030.
Moreover, the existing frameworks fail to link extensively to the current and imminent water-related challenges resulting from different kinds of pressures such as economic development and climate change. Finally, a framework linking NBS to water-related challenges in the peri-urban context is conspicuous by its absence.
Project NATWIP has taken up the task of addressing the above gaps by creating an innovative framework which can be applied in the planning and evaluation stages of NBS for water management in the peri-urban. The framework is currently being developed and will consider three main stages of an NBS project, namely, the spatial context, NBS implementation and adaptation processes, and the NBS results, co-benefits, and impacts, all assessed from the perspectives of social, economic and ecological sustainability.
The assessment framework developed in NATWIP has a flexible structure with the possibility of being applied to different countries, landscapes, and contexts, facilitating comparability between different NBS interventions for water in the peri-urban. The framework itself has two parts: conceptual and operational. The conceptual framework (shown below) provides a general picture of the central elements that any NBS project should consider and address to accomplish actions that are inspired and supported by nature and simultaneously provide social, economic, and environmental benefits and help build resilience and improve human well-being. It thus summarizes the main steps for NBS implementation and monitoring.
The Conceptual Framework (Source: Lima et al. 2022*)
In the above figure, the context is characterized by the SETTLEMENT, represented by a landscape image, with forest, water body, and human elements shown at the bottom of the figure. It is the baseline for the PROBLEM identification and the TARGET to be addressed by the NATURE-BASED SOLUTION, signalized with a sequence of white arrows. A dotted arrow indicates the TARGET’s association with the SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS. From the center of the figure towards the top, the three stages of the NBS are evaluated according to their respective indicators, represented by three gray arches: BASELINE INDICATORS at the spatial context level; PROCESS-BASED INDICATORS, at the process level and RESULTS-BASED INDICATORS at the results level. PROCESS INDICATORS are divided into three dimensions: ENVIRONMENTAL, SOCIAL, and ECONOMIC, represented in different dark colors. RESULTS-BASED INDICATORS are divided into six categories represented in a lighter version of the color of their respective dimension: BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION and ECOSYSTEM SERVICES within the ENVIRONMENTAL dimension; CULTURAL and POLITICS AND GOVERNANCE, within the SOCIAL dimension, and INCOME AND JOBS and AVOIDED COSTS within the ECONOMIC dimension. The CO-BENEFITS, generated from these results, signalized in the laterals of the external circle, converge into the WELL-BEING of the SETTLEMENTS’s habitants, as marked at the bottom of the figure.
The Operational Framework (Source: Lima et al. 2022*)
The operational framework as shown above, has three main stages: (1) Context, (2) Process and (3) Results. This structure is based on theory of change (ToC), which allows to identify short, middle and long-term results. In the first stage – ‘context’ - the characterization of the peri-urban and its specificities is the starting point. It is necessary to identify the settlement threats and opportunities. The peri-urban has different characteristics in every place. The second step is to identify the problem addressed, and its scale. That detailing will be necessary to develop and monitor a NBS suitable for a problem and its scale. In addition, the actors related do the problem and its engagement have to be explored as well as other projects that already work to address this problem or part of it. Based on this the targets have to be established. In this first stage, after establishing targets is necessary evaluate the baseline indicators, the main aspects that will be analyzed in the results stage to let a comparation and changes identification.
In the second stage - the ‘process’ of NBS implementation and adaptation - it is necessary to define the NBS type that will be adopted/developed and its scale. In this step, the actors engaged with NBS have to be identified and process-based indicators applied to monitor short and middle term results related to project actions. Some categories of indicators were proposed related to sustainability dimensions. These categories are a start point and can be adapted to different contexts. In the environmental dimension it's the interventions category. This category will allow to identify interventions done by the NBS implementation in the short and middle term. An example is: the number of seedlings planted. In the social dimension the categories proposed are project management (e.g., number of people hired), political support (e.g., existing policies related to the NBS), cultural (e.g., community cultural aspects), commitment (e.g., number of community actors engaged).
The third stage of the framework proposes categories of indicators to evaluate the long-term results. This stage is directly related to the targets and aims to identify whether these are achieved or not and what needs to be adjusted in order to improve the results. The categories proposed in the environmental dimension are ecosystem services (e.g., increase the water flow) and biodiversity conservation (e.g., increase areas of conservation). As this step is related to long term, it will be possible to identify how the NBS improves the ecosystem services and biodiversity, which are essential to promote many benefits and co benefits. In the social dimension the categories proposed are cultural (e.g., changes in community habits) and political and governance (e.g., new laws). In the social dimension the categories proposed are income and jobs (e.g., jobs generated) and avoided costs (e.g., savings generated in the long term by the NBS implementation).
*Source: Lima, A.P.M., Rodrigues, A.F., Latawiec, A.E., Dib, V., Gomes, F. Maioli, V. Pena, I. Tubenclack, F., Oen, A.M.P, Rebelo, A. J. Esler, K.J., Agudelo, A.R., Bosch, E.R., Singh, N. Suleiman, L. Hale, S.E. (2022). Framework for planning and evaluation of nature-based solutions. Sustainability, 14, 7952.