There is simply no time to lose in pursuing nature-based solutions in the race to net zero.
That was a key message to emerge at a lively Infrastructure Intelligence webinar on Friday, July 15, that stressed the vital importance of nature-based solutions and going beyond net zero.
The webinar, organised in association with award-winning communications specialists BECG, also saw leading industry figures highlight the role of nature-based solutions in sustainability, levelling up, and promoting health and wellbeing as well as the obvious aim of protecting and nurturing the planet itself.
Pursuing nature-based solutions is a crucial part of the fight against climate change and achieving net zero.
And a report by the Environment Agency published this week reaffirmed the vital importance of nature-based solutions.
But the webinar took place in what could be described as a tricky political and economic climate, with net zero seemingly in real danger of dropping down the political agenda.
Opening the debate was Zoë Metcalfe, client director at Atkins.
“In our towns, cities, industrial and business parks we must stop living as if we are external to nature and recognise we are part of nature,” she said.
“We are healthier with nature, nature is healthier with people who value nature. Nature is the ultimate multi-tasker that can tackle the interlinked challenges of our climate and ecological emergencies, in hand with industry reducing carbon emissions.
“Nature-based solutions fundamentally can be the leveller in addressing inequalities in surging health and wellbeing care needs. We require equity of access to quality green spaces for everyone. Urgent acceleration of the upscaling and roll out of social and green prescribing, embedded within the NHS as a standard practise and not a ‘special’ intervention with a lack of sustainable finance,” she added
“We need to be bolder setting ambitious targets that lead the world on the transition to counter climate and biodiversity collapse.”
Emma Wren, natural flood management lead at Mott MacDonald, said there was no time to lose in making nature-based solutions a priority.
“We need to work together to embrace nature-based solutions,” she said.
“Not as an add on, or a token effort, rather as a mainstream tool to help us directly tackle the nature and climate emergencies and deliver lots more great outcomes for society.
“We all need to be bold. We all need to act. We all need to do it right now. What are you going to do today?"
Also adding his voice to the discussion was Paul Morris, a director of Civic Engineers based in Manchester.
He said nature-based solutions could help achieve net zero, but it was also important to change perceptions within industry.
“We are facing climate, biodiversity, energy, health and housing emergencies; these are all interconnected challenges and as engineers we are in a position to be able to influence both policy and design to make a positive impact across these areas,” he said.
“This includes making improvements to our towns and cities from a strategic and policy perspective, as well as looking at the detailed design of our buildings and infrastructure and applying nature-based solutions; all of which have a key role to play in addressing the different challenges we face.
“Recent circumstances and pressures have led many planners, developers, local authorities and key decision-makers to adopt and accelerate a multitude of nature-based solutions across the UK’s built environment.
“While there’s much to celebrate and to be excited about in this sense, we also need to go much further and faster to make natural solutions a default consideration.”
Jamie Gordon, director of infrastructure and energy at communications consultancy for the built environment BECG, highlighted the importance of achieving buy-in from the public, communities and politicians.
“Nature based solutions are not new, they’ve been around for a long time,” he said.
“We need an easy and understandable way to get the nature-based solutions message across.
“It’s about building confidence in nature-based solutions amongst the public which in turn will influence and make politicians more comfortable with driving policy forward.”
A range of questions were highlighted during the discussion which looked at issues including the positive role nature-based solutions can have on health and wellbeing and the levelling up agenda, plus how projects are already making real differences to the quality of life for local communities.
The panel also considered key messages which should be delivered about nature-based solutions to industry, the nation and the new prime minister, when he or she takes office.
Morris said: “Nature-based solutions is a really important message. It’s an easy win, why wouldn’t you do it?”
Wren echoed the sentiment and said: “Let’s stop getting distracted by the here and now. We need to work together to save our planet. We all need to be bold, we all need to act and we need to do it right.”