Both the European Union, the United States and others have pledged billions in Euros and Dollars to help Ukraine rebuild and recover. It is not too early to think about the way that rebuilding moves forward, focusing on strategic goals and climate adaptation sustainable strategies.
Using Nature-based Solutions (NbS), including the integration of existing grey and green infrastructure, in particular within urban contexts, can result in a range of environmental, social and economic benefits while mitigating adverse climate impacts and increase the resilience of urban and peri-urban areas. In rural and natural contexts, it is more complex, and grey infrastructure requires to be carefully evaluated, Ukraine has an existing unique natural systems network, for example, the Irpin floodplains, and many others that require protection and care. The recently established Ukraine Nature-based Solutions Hub is an important start to help incorporate NbS into reconstruction work. Therefore, this effort will require careful planning, drawing on local human resources and expertise, to produce visible, impactful results.
What are NbS?
Nature-based Solutions comprise a wide array of interventions, all of which must be coordinated and carefully implemented. Nature-based Solutions basically translate as working with nature, the context as already noted earlier is critical, and it is not the same working in an urban area where infrastructure is already in place than in an open natural area; in those contexts, understanding first how nature works is key, therefore careful planning is critical. It would be hard to put actions and impacts in a short note but there are a number of excellent papers that discuss the aims of NbS together with the impediments and serious pitfalls that can arise, and indeed have arisen (Seddon N, Smith A, Smith P, et al. Getting the message right on nature-based solutions to climate change. Glob Change Biol. 2021;27:1518–1546. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15513). The forgoing article defines NbS in part as: “solutions to societal challenges that involve working with nature…as an integrated approach that could address the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss (Seddon, Chausson, et al., 2020), while supporting a wide range of sustainable development goals (Gómez Martín et al., 2020; Maes et al., 2019). NbS are actions that are broadly categorized as the protection, restoration or management of natural and semi-natural ecosystems, sustainable management of working lands and aquatic systems, or the creation of novel ecosystems.”
This description is not as narrow as it might first seem to many. For example, protecting and restoring shorelines can benefit communities through flood prevention and erosion. Greenspace development in urban areas helps to mitigate air pollution, helps also reduces heat island effects, cooling the air as much as 4˚ C, and providing communities recreational space and health benefits while improving the quality of life. The implementation of sustainable planning strategies that include NbS creates new job opportunities and can help reduce migration from rural communities while improving agricultural and land management techniques. NbS is not just about planting trees – it is a holistic planning and design concept with a multi-benefits approach to support the integration of green and existing grey infrastructure and requires a well-targeted investment approach.
Finally, and perhaps critically, any NbS planning must involve the community in the design and implementation of the plan. NbS planning, like any good planning strategy, is site-specific, unique to each community, social setting, and environmental conditions. The empowerment and participation of local community stakeholders is a prerequisite to long-term sustainability.
This article’s uppermost aim is to raise awareness regarding the need for adequate sustainable planning and design in all future reconstruction projects, to help provide a better and more sustainable future for Ukraine and its people. In the renewed efforts to fight climate change worldwide, NbS are a growing and necessary key component. For Ukraine, there is an opportunity for those who have committed reconstruction and development funding to incorporate NbS in the reconstruction planning and implementation and promote participation from Ukrainian planners, engineers, businesses, local governments, and NGOs to help assure sustainability.
SRDI thanks its partner UCRISP for its help in writing this article and for its work in planning and implementing NbS.