Nature-based solutions for climate resilience are catching on in World Bank projects: Less gray, more green and blue

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A diver in Belize handing over a coral to a person on a boat. A diver in Belize handing over a coral to a person on a boat.

Like many cities, Sierra Leone’s capital city, Freetown, is grappling with rapid urbanization. The influx of people has led to deforestation and increased disaster risk for residents in precarious areas. In response, the World Bank is supporting a local government effort to restore canopy cover and provide natural protection again landslides, flooding, and coastal erosion. Through a community-based restoration project, residents have planted 567,000 trees, shrubs, grasses, and mangroves across the city so far and taken a critical step in building climate resilience. These nature-based solutions (NBS) are increasingly recognized as an essential tool in mitigating disasters and supporting climate resilience.

"Nature-based solutions are increasingly recognized as an essential tool in mitigating disasters and supporting climate resilience."

More than 100 World Bank projects used nature-based solutions from fiscal years 2012 to 2021, and the number has increased significantly since 2018.  A new review by the Global Program on Nature-Based Solutions for Climate Resilience (GPNBS), a thematic area under the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), estimates these NBS project components are valued at US$5.5 billion (figure 1). They include activities such as the creation or restoration of urban green spaces, forests, coral reefs, rivers, floodplains, and grasslands and address a range of natural hazards while building resilience to climate change. The increase in NBS projects was consistent across most regions, although the majority were implemented in Africa and the East Asia and Pacific region. 

Notably, half of the total projects were hybrid, employing both “green” (natural) and “gray” (built) infrastructure, while the remainder used purely green interventions. Moreover, more than 65% of NBS investment projects were designed or implemented with community involvement, ensuring that local needs were addressed while promoting community support. Similarly, 65% of the NBS projects received a Gender Tag from the World Bank, which indicates that the project addressed gender gaps through analysis, action, and measured results.


Approved projects with nature-based solutions for climate resilience and cumulative approved WBG commitments for NBS from FY12 to FY21


This increase in NBS projects is driven both by increased demand by developing countries and by a heightened focus on NBS across the World Bank and other international institutions. The World Bank has increasingly emphasized the benefits of NBS in its strategies and priorities, including its Climate Change Action Plan 2021-2025. GFDRR and GPNBS are also closely working with partners such as the World Resources Institute and the African Development Bank to scale up NBS globally and to develop a joint methodology to track NBS projects across Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Nature-based solutions are increasingly seen as integral to climate and biodiversity goals.  In December, 196 countries adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) at the 15th UN Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of the Parties (CBD COP15) in Montreal. This framework includes plans to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 and calls for the application of NBS to reach these goals. Similarly, the cover decision from the 27th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC COP27), held in Sharm el-Sheikh in November, underlined the linkages between climate change and biodiversity loss; it highlighted the importance of “sustainably using nature and ecosystems for effective and sustainable climate action” in line with the World Bank’s COP27 Climate and Development Brief on NBS

As countries face increasingly complex climate-related challenges that undermine progress towards sustainable development goals, NBS offer a cost-effective alternative to conventional gray infrastructure, delivering greater resilience in the long term while providing key social and environmental benefits.  


Brenden Jongman

Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist, GFDRR

Sally Judson

Consultant, Nature-based Solutions, GFDRR

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