7th July, 16:30 - 18:30 BST - Oxford Martin School Lecture Theatre
University of Durham & Naturvation

Session summary

In session 9B, Mainstreaming NbS for urban sustainability and climate change action, the importance of cities was made clear: half of the world’s population already live in urban environments, and the concentration of population and economic assets in these areas mean that natural disasters are particularly damaging in cities.

We first heard from Elana Bader about the government of Scotland’s initiatives aimed at delivering nature-based solutions for resilient urban areas, including NatureScot’s Green Infrastructure fund, which is focusing on deprived areas to deliver multiple benefits, including for health, well-being and poverty. She emphasised that community co-design and co-management is important for delivering across outcomes and ensuring success, while being supported by long-term monitoring.

Linjun Xie spoke to us about mainstreaming NbS in urban China, where China has a long-established practice of working with nature but engineered solutions have been increasingly favoured. Urban NbS in China is mostly state-led and policy-driven, especially their iconic Sponge City Programme, but social impacts can be overlooked. Elsewhere, many green areas have been established in order to meet targets, but these are often “green but not eco”, consisting of grass parks with little to no ecological value. Grassroots initiatives are booming, but only receive government support at later stages, while it is nearly impossible to obtain public information on maintenance funding. Overall, to mainstream NbS in China, there is a need to value diversity in schemes, facilitate community-based actions, generate partnerships, improve data and monitoring.

Rob Car spoke about the need to link funding with leadership and local interest, as well as a common vision that brings people together. With the case study of the Tyne Estuary Partnership in the UK, he emphasised the success that can come when we start small, which he referred to as a nibbling approach, which was later expanded to urban tinkering and nibbling in the discussion. Furthermore, some healthy competition in the form of city envy can be useful to drive ambition and motivation.

The two final speakers both highlighted the importance of storytelling, with Jessica Kavonic presenting the perspective of NbS in African cities through a story herself, which touched on the challenges and frustrations in getting funding and approval, the importance of spending a lot of time on capacity building, and the difficulty in obtaining suitable data. Lastly, Harriet Fink elaborated on some insights from the Urban Nature Project in London, which uses storytelling, education and citizen science to engage people, particularly youth, in urban NbS. However, more needs to be done to engage diverse audiences and be mindful of the language used, as certain terms may cause people to disengage. Nevertheless, the session had full consensus that community engagement was the most important aspect, to ensure success of urban NbS.

Key take-homes

  • The concentration of population and economic capital in cities mean urban NbS can improve health and well-being, reduce poverty, and important for overall climate mitigation and adaptation.
  • Long-term monitoring of outcomes and ongoing maintenance is key, but often lacking.
  • There are traditions of urban NbS, but engineered approaches have often been favoured.
  • A diversity of NbS methods is needed, to facilitate community-based actions & develop partnerships.
  • Community engagement and story-telling can inspire and encourage support for NbS.


  • Harriet Bulkeley's photo

    Harriet Bulkeley

    Professor of Geography, University of Durham and Coordinator at NATURVATION

    Harriet Bulkeley is a British geographer and academic. She is Professor of Geography at Durham University and her work is concerned with the politics and governance of environmental issues, particularly focusing on urban sustainability. Harriet has focused on questions of energy, smart grids, infrastructure, housing, mobility, waste and most recently nature and biodiversity. She is currently Project Co-ordinator for the H2020 Smart Cities and Communities programme NATURVATION project. Involving a team of 80 researchers from 14 institutions in six European countries, the project seeks to understand the role that nature-based solutions can play in responding to urban sustainability challenges.

  • Elana Badar's photo

    Elana Badar


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    Delivering NbS for a resilient urban Scotland

    Elana joined NatureScot in 2017, where she supports the successful delivery of the £15 million European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Green Infrastructure Fund, which harnesses blue-green infrastructure in Nature-based Solutions projects in Scotland’s most deprived urban areas. She plays a key role in advancing the mainstreaming of NbS, contributing to inter-disciplinary reports and manuals on GI and NbS, and building collaboration. An Ecological Economist, Elana previously worked in the private and third sectors (including RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust), where she led and was part of a variety of infrastructure, education, community engagement, and conservation projects in the UK and across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

  • Linjun Xie's photo

    Linjun Xie

    Assistant Professor in Sustainable Urbanism, University of Nottingham Ningbo China

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    Nature-based solutions in urban China: practices, challenges and opportunities

    Dr. Linjun Xie is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Architecture and Built Environment at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China. She has a background in urban planning and her interdisciplinary research focuses on urban sustainability transitions and environmental governance. Her work has examined various sustainability innovations including low-carbon eco-city, smart-city, and nature-based solutions in promoting urban transformation and in addressing climate and biodiversity challenges.

  • Robert Carr's photo

    Robert Carr

    Environmental Manager, Partnerships and Funding, UK Environment Agency

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    The Strength of Partnership in delivering NbS

    Rob is a Strategic Partnership Specialist for the Environment Agency helping to identify Nature Based Solution across the North East of England. Growing up in an urban area, and having always been interested in improving one’s connection with nature, Rob followed his passion for the environment and has worked for the Environment Agency for nearly 20 years, covering water and waste regulations, pollution incident response, river catchment planning and environmental funding which all rely on strong partnerships to help deliver NbS to make our great communities even better.

  • Jessica Kavonic's photo

    Jessica Kavonic

    Head of Implementation (Africa), C40 Cities, (South Africa)
    Let us tell stories: African cities leading NbS mainstreaming for resilience and sustained action

    Jess holds a MSc in Climate change and sustainable development from the University of Cape Town and has more than 10 years’ experience with specialized knowledge of climate change and its relationship with a sustainable approach to development. Jess has extensive experience working with and for local governments, working to improve urban human well-being, build climate resilience, strengthen local sustainability and protect the urban natural asset base in cities through influencing development policies and planning systems.

  • Harriet Fink's photo

    Harriet Fink

    Director of Curiovan: Explorium of Natural Wonderment

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    Urban Nature and the Natural History Museum

    Harriet Fink is Learning and Volunteering Programme Manager for the Natural History Museum’s Urban Nature Project and co-founder of Curiovan: Explorium of Natural Wonderment. With a background in environmental education and play and producing immersive performances for children she has a strong interest in creative and inclusive ways to engage people with nature in cities.