A Framework for Assessing Benefits of Implemented Nature-Based Solutions

Submitted by Maria Lilli on December 12, 2019 - 10:34am
Sustainability 2019, 11 (23), 6788

Nature-based solutions (NBS) are solutions that can protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems in urban and rural areas, while providing many benefits and co-benefits including stormwater mitigation, biodiversity enhancement, and human well-being. As such, NBS have the potential to alleviate many of the environmental, social, and economic issues that we face today. Grey infrastructure, such as lined trenches and catch basins, pipes, and concrete dikes are frequently used for stormwater management and flood protection, but they do not provide many of the co-benefits that are common with NBS. Grey infrastructure is designed to quickly collect and remove rainwater, whereas NBS keep rainwater where it falls, and where it can be used by the environment. Many stakeholders lack knowledge of the capabilities and benefits of NBS, and as a result, they continue to rely on grey infrastructure in their projects. When information is made available on the benefits and how they can be quantitatively measured, it is hoped that NBS will be promoted to a mainstream infrastructure choice. A valuable way to quantify and highlight the benefits of NBS is by using an evaluation framework. There are several evaluation frameworks that qualitatively assess the potential benefits of possible NBS, however there is a need for quantitative frameworks that can assess the actual benefits (or performance) of implemented (or existing) NBS. This article presents an evaluation framework that aims to quantify the benefits and co-benefits of implemented NBS. The framework involves five main steps: (1) selection of NBS benefit categories, (2) selection of NBS indicators, (3) calculation of indicator values, (4) calculation of NBS grade, and (5) recommendations. The outcome of the framework is a single numerical grade that reflects the benefit functioning for an NBS site and values for each performance indicator. This information may be used by decision makers to determine their budget allocations to expand or construct a new NBS site, to update maintenance plans that will improve the benefits of that site, to set up programs to monitor the NBS benefits and co-benefits over time, and to schedule labour and resources for other NBS projects. The framework was tested and validated on a case study of NBS in Thailand. Through conversations with stakeholders and knowledge of the case study area, relevant categories and indicators were chosen. Using data and information obtained through various means, values for each indicator and the overall NBS grade were calculated. The values revealed which benefits were pronounced, those that were weak, and where improvements were required.

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