15 April 2019
European Commission

The challenge

We are facing a broad range of challenges, such as unsustainable urbanization and related human health issues, degradation and loss of natural capital and the ecosystem services it provides (clean air, water and soil), climate change and an alarming increase of natural disaster risks. Currently over 70% of Europe's population live in cities, expected to increase to over 80% by the middle of the century. This translates to 36 million new urban citizens, who will need housing, employment and care by 2050.

Innovating with Nature

There is growing recognition and awareness that nature can help provide viable solutions that use and deploy the properties of natural ecosystems and the services that they provide in a smart, 'engineered' way. These nature-based solutions provide sustainable, cost-effective, multi-purpose and flexible alternatives for various objectives. Working with nature, rather than against it, can further pave the way towards a more resource efficient, competitive and greener economy. It can also help to create new jobs and economic growth, through the manufacture and delivery of new products and services, which enhance the natural capital rather than deplete it.


A Research and Innovation policy agenda for Nature-Based Solutions

The EU Research and Innovation policy agenda on Nature-Based Solutions and Re-Naturing Cities aims to position the EU as leader in ‘Innovating with nature’ for more sustainable and resilient societies.

In this context, we define nature-based solutions to societal challenges as solutions that are inspired and supported by nature, which are cost-effective, simultaneously provide environmental, social and economic benefits and help build resilience. Such solutions bring more, and more diverse, nature and natural features and processes into cities, landscapes and seascapes, through locally adapted, resource-efficient and systemic interventions.

The main goals of the EU R&I policy agenda for Nature-Based Solutions and Re-Naturing Cities are to:

  1. Enhance the framework conditions for nature-based solutions at EU policy level
  2. Develop a European Research and Innovation Community for nature-based solutions
  3. Provide the evidence and knowledge base for nature-based solutions
  4. Advance the development, uptake and upscale of innovative nature-based solutions
  5. Mainstream NBS within the international R&I agenda.

Two main thematic and spatial areas, which both include cross-cutting issues such as climate change adaptation and mitigation and risk management and resilience, constitute the focus of the EU R&I policy agenda for Nature-Based Solutions and Re-Naturing Cities:

  • Re-naturing cities
  • Territorial resilience

The EU R&I agenda for Nature-Based Solutions and Re-Naturing Cities is implemented through Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, but also through other means to enhance the awareness and engagement of end-users, stir the supply and demand towards the market and develop an EU-wide knowledge base on nature-based solutions.

Research on biodiversity is also supported through the BiodivERsA ERA-Net, which works to coordinate national research programmes on biodiversity across Europe and to organize international funding for research projects in this field on a competitive basis.


Research history

The renewed EU Research and Innovation policy agenda on Nature-Based Solutions brings together and capitalizes on major strands of knowledge and results from past EU Framework Programmes on biodiversity and ecosystems, sustainable urban development, natural resources management, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and disaster risk reduction.

Specifically, under the Environment theme of FP7, the 7th EU research and innovation funding programme (2007-201), priority was given in the following areas:

Biodiversity and ecosystems:
Research focused on assessing and forecasting changes in biodiversity and on understanding the dynamics of ecosystems. The relationships between the environment, the society and the economy were analysed in order to identify – and mitigate – potentially harmful effects on the environment and on human health and society. The results of these risk assessments provided knowledge that allows us to better manage, conserve and rehabilitate our ecosystems in a sustainable manner for future generations.

Natural resources management:
Sustainable management of resources was a main activity under the FP7 Environment theme. Research into integrated resource management, water, soil, forests and desertification was aimed at strengthening collaboration among researchers, academics and the industry to find the most cost-effective management measures for sustainable resources management. The overall aim was to improve the knowledge base and develop advanced models and tools that can help to mitigate resource degradation.

Sustainable urban development:
Sustainable urban development has been addressed across almost all of the themes of the FP7, addressing energy, transport, environment, waste, water, ICT, land use, citizen engagement, social cohesion, human health, air, water and soil pollution, climate change impacts and adaptation, etc.

Climate change adaptation and mitigation:
Relevant research through the FP7 Environment theme supported assessments on the role of biodiversity and ecosystems in the global carbon cycle, on future climate projections, on the natural, social and economic impacts of climate change and on relevant mitigation and adaptation strategies, including novel responses to climate change.

Disaster risk reduction:
Natural hazards research in FP7 was framed along a robust and comprehensive framework that supported individual hazards and multi-hazards research and the integration of the risk-reduction chain for the development of prevention and mitigation strategies. This included research on individual hazards, on exposure and vulnerability assessment and on risk-analysis.

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