Nature-based solutions for climate adaptation

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Recent UN warnings[1] about increased problems arising from climate breakdown (flooding, drought, food shortage) have led to recent declarations of climate emergency[2] by various governments[3]. With cities increasingly being seen as major solutions to Global Climate Change[4], this wiki page examines how best cities can implement climate adaptation responses using nature-based solutions (NBS), that the European Commission defines as ‘solutions that are inspired and supported by nature, which are cost-effective, simultaneously provide environmental, social and economic benefits and help build resilience’[5].

This page is part of an ongoing, open-ended online collaborative database, which collects relevant approaches that can be used by city-makers to tackle unsustainability and injustice in cities. It is based mainly on knowledge generated in EU-funded projects and touches on fast changing fields. As such, this page makes no claims of authoritative completeness and welcomes your suggestions.

General introduction to approach

Within the overall concept of Nature-based solutions, some are designed to respond specifically to the challenge of climate change adaptation. NBS for climate adaptation in urban areas can include responses to heat stress with green walls and roofs, rehabilitated gardens and small forest creation, as well as green and blue infrastructure for flood management. GrowGreen[6] (Green Cities for Climate and Water Resilience, Sustainable Economic Growth, Healthy Citizens and Environments, 2017 - 2022) aims to create climate and water resilient, healthy and livable cities, making nature part of the urban living environment so as to improve the quality of life for all citizens while also helping business to prosper. It identifies high quality green spaces and waterways as NBS that are able to provide innovative and inspiring solutions to major urban challenges, such as flooding, heat stress, drought, poor air quality and unemployment while helping biodiversity to flourish. ProGIreg[7] (Productive Green Infrastructure for post-industrial urban regeneration) is active in urban areas that face the challenge of post-industrial regeneration. These areas suffer from social and economic disadvantages, inequality and related crime and security problems. Their “Green walls and roofs” approach improves building’s insulation, reduces storm water run-off, supports CO2 capture, filters pollutants, and increase biodiversity, leading to reduced energy consumption for heating or cooling (thus also costs for residents) and overall increases urban resilience.

Shapes, sizes and applications

A lot of the NBS for climate adaptation research and policy initiatives apply a 2-tier system of city networks, including European cities, but also linking with cities across the globe. GrowGreen began in 2017 and aims to create climate and water resilient, healthy and livable cities by investing in NBS. It seeks to embed NBS in long term city planning, development and management, so that accessible green and blue spaces are a permanent feature of all urban areas around the world. Its demonstration projects are designed and implemented in four (frontrunner) Cities (Manchester,UK: Valencia, Spain: Wroclaw, Poland: Wuhan, China), and three follower Cities (Brest, France: Zadar, Croatia: Modena, Italy) which face similar climate risks.

ProGIreg began in 2018 and is using Living Labs in post-industrial districts, similalrly in 2 of its 4 frontrunner cities (Turin, Italy: Zagreb, Croatia) to develop, test and implement NBS for climate adaptation. In Zagreb, the former Sljeme meat-processing factory is to be fully revamped into a business innovation centre with a 700m2 green roof and 300m2 of green walls, with potential to replicate this on other factory buildings at the same site. In Turin and Cluj-Napoca Green roofs and walls will be fitted to public buildings. Piraeus is a densely-populated area, with little ground space available for green regeneration, so the green roofs and walls will be used to improve local biodiversity and counteract the urban heat island effect. Both projects have a high level of transferability, as NBS projects are being developed by and with local community groups. 2 of the 4 follower cities (Cluj-Napoca, Romania: Piraeus, Greece) will closely follow the progress and engage in city-to-city exchange to replicate NBS locally.

Relation to UrbanA themes: Cities, sustainability, and justice

NBS for climate adaptation seem to have a very high urban focus, with each project assisting in CO2 capture. GrowGreen sees itself as a vanguard project for development of NBS around the world, seeking to embed NBS in long term city planning, development and management, so that accessible green and blue spaces are a permanent feature of all urban areas. With Climate Breakdown worsening, its practical lessons for climate change adaptation are expected to rapidly increase in uptake.

Regarding justice, GrowGreen’s approach includes various actors and stakeholders, a citizen driven, bottom up approach has been used to develop NBS designs, with the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project being constantly assessed throughout. ProGIreg seek to activate citizen involvement in processes of urban regeneration of varying scales along specific urban green corridors in a number of cities, using the living labs approach. Check Experimentation labs. Co-design of Nature-based Solutions (following NBS) lies at the core of the project and translates into systematically involving all relevant stakeholders, including local community groups, from the very start of the project, engaging them as equal co-creators. The aim of co-design is to achieve mutually valued outcomes, a joint ownership of the NBS implemented as well as a good fit between the NBS and the local context. Specifically ProGIreg has selected, possibly, challenging areas to work in, namely areas of deprived social housing and areas that suffer from social and economic disadvantages, inequality and related crime and security problems.

Regarding sustainability issues, GrowGreen is developing strategies for Climate change adaptation in cities, but its various areas of focus include: climate and water resilience responding to flooding, heat stress, drought, poor air quality and increasing biodiversity. ProGIreg explores many aspects of sustainability to a very deep degree, seeking to identify and improve areas in cities through NBS including: biodiversity, the carbon cycle, soil consumption and use of natural resources in urban environments, citizen involvement, education and empowerment. Citizen science and active citizen participation also include sustainable education and nature appreciation.

Narrative of change

With increased problems arising from climate breakdown (flooding, drought, food shortage) along with rapidly increasing urban transformation, how can NBS and other forms of green and blue Infrastructure best respond to modern cities urban climate challenges?

NBS in urban areas can tackle the challenges of climate change adaptation, using nature and nature-inspired mechanisms, as a means to counteract climate change impacts and as an alternative to carbon-intensive grey solutions. These include responses to heat stress with green walls and green roofs, rehabilitated gardens and small urban forest creation, as well as enhanced or restored green and blue infrastructure for flood management. It has been observed in this bundle of NBS, that researchers and policy-makers are recognizing and implementing ith more rigour the aspect of, active citizen participation as a key tool to bring about required change, and thus projects are developed by and with local community groups.

Transformative potential

All approaches attempt to make urban transformation work with and for citizens, therefore an intended high transformative potential is hoped for. ProGIreg’s report[8] from the end of 2018 had a considerable amount of exploration into levels of citizen engagement and what full empowerment could mean. GrowGreen is a citizen-driven, bottom-up approach, the full impact of this in a transformative potential will become clear near end of project, but it shows high potential. Many NBS challenge institutions because they bring alternative solutions on the table, such as a proposed green corridor that cuts off car lanes and challenges also the automobile lobby, or the creation of constructed wetlands for water treatment instead of more grey-based/chemical solutions might challenge both the "common" hierarchies in established institutions. By placing new solutions on the table, institutional power structures get also reshuffled at government (public) and (market/business) private level.

Illustration of approach

The focus of the GrowGreen (2017 - 2022) project was on Green Cities for Climate and Water Resilience, Sustainable Economic Growth, Healthy Citizens and Environments. They hoped to make a genuine and measurable contribution to the global NBS[9] and city-greening agenda up to 2022, by 2019 the results in their 3 chief Frontrunner Cities were the following:

  • GrowGreen’s chief Frontrunner City is Manchester, the fastest growing city in the UK outside of London. Five of the Greater Manchester region’s 13 rivers flow through the City of Manchester and are a major source of floods. The city’s long history of flooding is partly due to floodplain development, an ageing sewer system, covering rivers, and the large areas of impermeable surface that have resulted from urban growth. Surface water flooding has increased tenfold between 1945 and 2008, and is predicted to increase further with climate change. A community park with integrated NBS was designed in the neighbourhood of West Gorton, which is one of the city’s priority areas for housing development. The project is supporting local partners and stakeholders to design and deliver a detailed green infrastructure masterplan for the neighbourhood, expected to include parks, green streets, trees, rain gardens, community food growing, green roofs, attenuation ponds and a number of Sustainable Urban Drainage features.
  • Valencia is located in the centre of Spain’s eastern Mediterranean coastline, and is the country’s third city demographically and economically. The city has a warm-temperate subtropical climate, with hot summers and little rainfall. Climate change analyses for the city suggest that increasing temperatures, extreme weather events, and decreasing rainfall are likely for the remainder of the century. The city’s NBS demonstration project to address these heat-related risks is located in the Benicalap-Ciutat Fallera district, which has high levels of immigration and unemployment, as well as an ageing population and deteriorating infrastructure. Several projects have been designed in Benicalap. These include a vertical eco-system which will desalinate water for reuse, a small sustainable forest with species selected specifically to maximise carbon sequestration, a green-blue corridor which includes new street tree and shrub planting, green roofs to mitigate the impact of heat stress and actions to enhance community engagement such as a new biodiversity app and a community food growing project.
  • Wroclaw is the fourth most populated city in Poland and despite extensive flood protection works, up to 36% of the city remains at risk of flooding. Major floods have recently disrupted energy, transport and communication systems. Heat waves and drought are increasingly common during the summer months, and are exacerbated by the urban heat island effect. The city’s NBS demonstration projects are designed to address these dual risks of heat and flooding. The demonstration projects will take place in the Olbin/Plac Grunwaldzki (downtown) district of the city, which is a dense, multi-use neighbourhood that ranges from wealthy to socially deprived. The pocket parks, green walls and green streets envisioned as part of the project will be co-designed with local residents. In addition, a neighbouring district, the Biskupin/Sepolno (garden city) area, will be evaluated to determine how green development from the 20th century performs today. Since the project started, several courtyards have been designed within residential tenement blocks in Olbin. The new green courtyards will create attractive new communal green spaces whilst also incorporating NBS into the designs. Extensive community consultation has been carried out with proactive citizen engagement in the design.


  1. Jonathan Watts, J. (2019). Human society under urgent threat from loss of Earth's natural life. Guardian, UK.
  2. BBC (May 2019), UK: UK Parliament declares climate change emergency
  3. Rick Noack, Washington Post (May 2019): Ireland and Britain declare climate emergencies, but will it make a difference?
  4. United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  5. ProGIreg: Nature-based solutions and green infrastructure
  6. GrowGreen
  7. ProGIreg: Nature-based solutions and green infrastructure
  8. ProGIreg Deliverable 2.3: Co-designing Nature-based Solutions in Living Labs, pages 25-28