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Reflections on nature-based solutions profiled at European Climate Change Adaptation conference in Lisbon

By Michelle Molnar – MNAI’s Technical Director

As the technical director for Municipal Natural Assets Initiative, I had the privilege to present MNAI’s work at the European Climate Change Adaptation (ECCA) 2019 conference in Lisbon, Portugal, at the end of May, and learn from many others working in the field of nature-based solutions. This was the fourth biennial series of European adaptation conferences that brings researchers, policymakers and practitioners from Europe and beyond to discuss advances on climate change adaptation, find solutions, and inspire collective action to increase Europe’s resilience.

Three themes stood out for me from the conference:

1) The role of local governments and nature-based solutions (NbS) was very prominent.

2) Cross-disciplinary and integrated approaches to emerging adaptation research were
apparent and encouraged.

3) Climate change is a sobering topic, but attendees embraced hope and this had a contagious effect (beyond what can be attributed to the Vinho Verde served with lunch).

The conference also highlighted impressive projects from Vietnam to Sweden to Canada, including:

  • Promoting nature-based adaptation in school yards and urban gardens (UK).
  • Developing new ecological models (as examples, PRIMAVERA is a collaboration between 19 leading European research and technology organisations with complementary expertise in climate science, climate change modelling, and high‑performance computing – And WOSPREF-Wind is a model that helps manage how wind impacts our forests:].
  • Bringing Innovation to Ongoing water management (BINGO) is providing practical knowledge and tools to water managers and decisions makers affected by climate change across six sites in Europe (

Many projects recognized the role of local governments and incorporated them as essential project partners.

MNAI’s contribution to the conference

Despite the prevalence of nature-based approaches, I was able to bring MNAI’s unique perspective to the mix. With more than a billion people around the world living in low-lying coastal regions and possibly susceptible to rising sea levels, conference participants were very interested in MNAI’s Coastal Assets project. The project is developing a screening tool that measures how well natural infrastructure – such as salt marshes or kelp – can provide protection from climate change impacts, and then quantifies the data for local governments to use.

Attendees from many countries were interested in MNAI’s approach because it can help local governments incorporate nature-based solutions within their municipal asset management planning, move their communities or countries from theory and concepts to operations and practice, and also continue maintaining their ecosystems.

What could Canada learn?

The degree of integration on climate adaptation could serve as a model for Canada. Many countries are combining adaptation issues, coordinating across levels of government and stakeholders, developing policy, and committing to work across ecological-economic-social frames.

This was demonstrated by the fact that ECCA 2019 is the first major conference that explicitly recognised the overlap between climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction activities. Additionally, the European Union Adaptation Strategy committed to improving coordination and enhancing the preparedness and ability of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.

The conference also promoted new policies such as Risk Informed Investments, where governments that invest in new infrastructure must demonstrate that the infrastructure is resilient to climate changes. Lastly, both the health community and reinsurance companies (who provide financial protection to insurance companies) are becoming more involved as they are promoting a culture of prevention as opposed to reaction.

The importance of hope

There is much to learn and share amongst those working in this field and I suspect the connections I made will be valuable for many years to come. But my final take-away might be the most important given its impact: hope.

Climate change is a heavy topic. Recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Natural Resources Canada, and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services can easily lead us to a sense of apathy and despair.

But extreme weather events are bringing an urgency to climate change and, therefore, speeding up action on how we can adapt. That’s because people are dealing with the effects of climate change now, and they don’t want to be the next community to face disaster without plans or knowing what to do. Adaptation empowers communities and can turn once-abstract concepts into concrete action. This recognition, along with the student strikers for climate and activist movements such as Extinction Rebellion, are catalyzing public concern and hope that youth mobilization will bring about a mobilization for all. And that truly gives me hope.

In closing, thank you to the organizations who supported me in taking part of this incredible opportunity: the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative, the David Suzuki Foundation, Natural Resources Canada, the Sitka Foundation, the Bullitt Foundation, and the McLean Foundation.

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