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Guidance Note: Seeking Clarity on Nature-Based Climate Solutions for Adaptation

Learn how to clarify the concepts of Nature-based Solutions (NbS) and Nature-Based Climate Solutions (NBCS) with an emphasis on climate adaptation with this guidance note.
Multiple Authors
Two African women from Maasai tribe crossing savannah with offspring on their back, Mount Kilimanjaro on the background, central Kenya, Africa. Maasai tribe inhabiting southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, and they are related to the Samburu.


As the world witnesses and experiences the impacts of climate change, turning to nature could be a pragmatic way to adapt. Governments are being urged to implement ecosystem-based approaches, including conservation, restoration, and improved land management, in both adaptation and mitigation (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], 2022; Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services [IPBES], 2021). Such approaches, framed under the umbrella concept of nature-based solutions (NbS), are expected to be a key component of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and are already integrated into many countries’ National Adaptation Plans (NAPs).

However, controversy remains about what constitutes as NbS and how to achieve equitable outcomes while enhancing biodiversity and ecosystem resilience. Compounding this challenge is the unprecedented scale of biodiversity loss as a result of climate change and other interrelated drivers of change.

This guidance note aims to clarify the concepts of NbS and Nature-Based Climate Solutions (NBCS) with an emphasis on climate adaptation. These adaptation-focused NbS are captured using the widely known term Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA). Beyond awareness and knowledge of these terms, it is vital to unpack the social and biodiversity safeguards necessary for NbS to ensure that solutions are gender responsive and socially inclusive while delivering biodiversity benefits. This guidance note is a knowledge product of the Nature for Climate Adaptation Initiative (NCAI).

*This weADAPT article is an abridged version of the original text, which can be downloaded from the right-hand column. Please access the original text for more detail, research purposes, full references, or to quote text.

About the Nature for Climate Adaptation Initiative

The NCAI seeks to enhance Global North and South civil society organizations’ understanding, knowledge, and capacity to design and deliver NBCS for adaptation that provide biodiversity and livelihood benefits to people of all genders and social groups in developing countries.

The NCAI equips civil society organizations and practitioners involved in international development and climate adaptation with the knowledge to design compelling proposals and pursue projects, programs, and partnerships that will unleash the full potential of nature in confronting the climate crisis. The NCAI will create an environment for accelerated action on NBCS for adaptation while promoting gender equality, social inclusion, rights-based approaches, and positive outcomes for biodiversity and ecosystems.

The NCAI will strengthen the knowledge and capacity of civil society organizations using three key tools:

  • A self-paced, accessible e-learning course developed in partnership with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  • An online learning space with technical guidance, resources, and case studies.
  • Targeted online and in-person learning exchange opportunities, fostering a community of practice.

The NCAI is an initiative of the International Institute for Sustainable Development with support from Global Affairs Canada. For more information, please visit the NCAI website.

What Are NBCS?

NBCS are NbS that harness biodiversity and ecosystems to address the climate crisis through delivering positive climate adaptation and mitigation benefits.

NbS, NBCS, and EbA have evolved from a set of practices and concepts rooted in a holistic understanding of people’s relationships with nature, including within the conservation, water, and agriculture sectors. Practices that are closely related to NBCS include ecological restoration, forest landscape restoration, integrated water resource management, agroforestry, climate-smart agriculture, green infrastructure, and community-based adaptation, among others. These practices can be considered NBCS for adaptation if they have been implemented for the specific purpose of helping people adapt to climate change and manage climate risks as identified through risk analyses, and if they have a strong emphasis on building the resilience of ecosystems and people.

What Are NBCS For Adaptation?

Many sustainable natural resource management, restoration and conservation initiatives have been described as NBCS or EbA without underlying risk or vulnerability assessments (Lo, 2016). While NbS encapsulates many existing practices, they are not considered NBCS for adaptation or EbA unless:

  • They are specifically oriented toward managing current and future climate risks and enhancing biodiversity and ecological resilience.
  • They target and benefit particular groups and their livelihoods based on risk or vulnerability assessments.
  • They include “nature-based” measures integrating ecosystem processes, e.g., flood water storage through wetlands.
  • They take into consideration local, environmental, economic and social contexts, including traditions and culture.

For example, protected area management could be considered a type of NBCS for adaptation if management plans integrate and reflect risk assessments for communities and vulnerable groups, provide alternative sources of income and fuel and include restoration of native species in and around the protected areas to reduce climate risks.

Key Criticisms of NBCS and NbS

While NbS has received widespread support and growing policy momentum, it is still a contentious and divisive concept for several reasons. One of the concerns arises from the potential misuse of NbS—in particular for climate change mitigation, leading to rights violations, lack of respect for customary access to natural resources, and lack of free, prior, and informed consent (Qi et al., 2021). The criticism stems in part from past infringement of the rights of Indigenous Peoples from related initiatives such as the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in

Developing Countries (REDD+) projects, which seek to offset greenhouse gas emissions through sequestering carbon on land, particularly forests. Implementation of REDD+ in countries with weak governance and structural discrimination, the lack of implementation and enforcement of safeguards, and the technical nature of the initiative are some of the reasons it has been challenged and at times has led to negative outcomes for vulnerable groups.

Robust Social and Environmental Safeguards at the Heart of NBCS

While the concept of NbS has been divisive, proponents of NbS point to their potential to bring together diverse stakeholders, bridge silos across ministries or sectors, and enable creative solutions for societal challenges.

An added advantage is the ability of NbS to synergistically achieve global targets— addressing climate, biodiversity, and land agreements across the Rio Conventions while contributing to the achievement of other multilateral agreements such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. NBCS have the potential to deliver measurable benefits to communities and ecosystems in cost-effective, equitable ways. And the cost of not upscaling implementation is clear—in an era when biodiversity loss is accelerating and threatening human well-being and capacity to adapt, we need creative solutions that incorporate biodiversity conservation, restoration, and sustainable use.

Further Resources

Suggested citation

Lo, V., Qi, J., Jang, N. (2022) Seeking Clarity on Nature-Based Climate Solutions for Adaptation.Winnipeg, Canada: International Institute for Sustainable Development. Retrieved from

Further reading

Making ecosystem-based adaptation effective: A framework for defining qualification criteria and quality standards.

Core principles for successfully implementing and upscaling nature-based solutions.

Re-thinking nature-based solutions: Seeking transformative change through culture and rights.

Defining nature-based solutions.

An integrated community and ecosystem-based approach to disaster risk reduction in mountain systems.

Synthesis report on experiences with ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction

Seeking common ground for climate, biodiversity, and people: How to get the debate on nature-based solutions right.

Ecosystem-based adaptation: Helping nature help people adapt to climate change and deliver SDGs – Filling the knowledge gaps.

Suggested citation

Lo, V., Qi, J., Jang, N. (2022) Seeking Clarity on Nature-Based Climate Solutions for Adaptation.Winnipeg, Canada: International Institute for Sustainable Development. Retrieved from

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