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Nature-based solutions to 21st-century challenges

About the blog

Robert Brears
Robert is the author of Urban Water Security (Wiley), The Green Economy and the Water-Energy-Food Nexus (Palgrave Macmillan), Blue and Green Cities: The Role of Blue-Green Infrastructure in Managing Urban Water Resources (Palgrave Macmillan)
  • Nature-based solutions to 21st-century challenges

In the 21st Century, society is faced with a variety of climatic and non-climatic challenges that can lead to abrupt, and in some cases, irreversible environmental change that adversely impacts human development.

Rather than relying on conventional engineering solutions to address these challenges, there is growing recognition of the need to work with ecosystems to ensure liveability in cities, help communities cope with and recover from disasters, and adapt to and mitigate climate change, all the while protecting natural ecosystems and biodiversity.

Nature-based solutions

Nature-based solutions (NBS) are inspired and supported by nature and use, or mimic, natural processes and can be applied strategically and equitably to help societies address a variety of climatic and non-climatic challenges. At the same time, NBS can bring about multiple economic, environmental, and social benefits, such as reduced infrastructure costs, job creation and green growth, and health and recreational opportunities.

NBS can be used to reduce risks from sudden events, for instance, coastal vegetation and natural features including sand dunes and mangroves can provide protection to local communities from storm surges while healthy coral reefs can reduce wave energy during coastal storms. NBS can also reduce risks from slow-onset events such as drought, for example, communities can mitigate droughts by releasing water from natural storage features such as lakes and aquifers for human and natural use.

Blue-green infrastructure

At the city-level, NBS can be applied as blue-green infrastructure (BGI), which utilises ecosystem services in the management of water resources while providing multiple co-benefits. BGI is a strategically planned network of natural and semi-natural areas that are designed and managed to deliver a wide range of environmental, economic, and social benefits. These benefits include improved water quality, reduced potential for flooding, enhanced resilience to climate change, reduced sewer infrastructure costs, increased green space for communities and wildlife, and green jobs from construction and maintenance of BGI.

Waterwise Perth

Recognising the value of nature in reducing the urban heat island effect and creating liveable, green, and sustainable places, the Government of Western Australia has released the Waterwise Perth Action Plan which sets out the direction for transitioning Perth to a leading waterwise city by 2030. To make this transition, the Plan calls for Perth to use water sustainably at home and in the garden, create liveable, green and resilient communities, find more sustainable ways to maintain public open space, and develop Perth in harmony with its water resources.

The Plan calls for an increase in green space in urban environments through a variety of initiatives, including the Waterwise Greening Scheme. This is a scheme where Waterwise Councils can receive funding to support a variety of waterwise greening initiatives, all of which provide a variety of benefits including improving water quality, improving community health and well-being, increasing biodiversity, and cooling local communities. Waterwise Councils can apply for up to $10,000 of dollar for dollar funding per annum to fund BGI initiatives such as Waterwise street green tree programmes, Waterwise garden competitions, Waterwise garden workshops, and demonstration Waterwise gardens including reclaimed public open space gardens.


The application of BGI enables cities to use water wisely while delivering a wide range of co-benefits. 

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