How to convince investors that nature-based solutions are good to invest in?
IGNITION aims to develop innovative financing of nature-based solutions for climate resilience. The lead partner Greater Manchester Combined Authority and project partners are convinced that nature-based solutions are key to adapting Greater Manchester to the impacts of climate change, such as flooding and overheating. They know that the green solutions can work effectively and have multiple benefits, but do potential investors such as public and private land and housing owners, housing associations, businesses and others know about the possible gains as well?
During a web conference in April 2020 the project partners and other interested experts from the region and beyond came together. It was striking that even the experts did not always know exactly how well nature-based solutions perform over conventional technical solutions. We are able to calculate relatively well the drainage capacity of conventional sewage infrastructure, but it becomes blurry when talking about the actual capacity of alternative nature-based solutions such as Sustainable urban Drainage Systems (SuDS). A short quiz among the participants delivered mixed results.
The correct answers are 1a, 2b, 3a, 4c, 5c, and in fact, numerous publications on the effectiveness of nature-based solutions are available across Europe and other parts of the world. This abundance can, however, be quite confusing and planners or investors won’t have the time and resources to review all of the studies before designing their solutions. Therefore, IGNITION has built a systematic evidence base on nature-based solutions and presented this in the web conference.
What a nice piece of work! (message from the chat room)
To build the evidence base, IGNITION partners have chosen a Rapid Evidence Assessments approach, which is a short but systematic assessment on a constrained topic plus critical review. It was the most effective approach for the project as a full systematic review was not possible given the limited resources compared with the wide-spread information available. Still, the method is more systematic than a simple literature review. The partners screened numerous sources from literature and databases and identified more than 1000 evidence items for five types of nature-based solutions and against 12 possible ecosystem goods and services, which could be delivered through each different NBS type. The analysis also revealed that data is not equally distributed across NBS and related goods and services. This may be because of the character of the NBS, limited data being available, or only qualitative information being available.
For each type of nature-based solutions, the evidence data on ecosystem goods and services are summarised and sources and background information documented in detail. The benefit of data being collated in one accessible database, means that planners are able to pick the information needed to select the most appropriate nature-based solutions for the specific spots in Greater Manchester and to convince investors and users.
Building business models for nature-based solutions
The information enables IGNITION and others to build investment cases and business models for investment in nature-based solutions. For example, the phase 1 pipeline projects build on the business model of Water Resilient Cities: The Business Case For Investing In Water Resilience In Greater Manchester, where the site area based charging structure for wastewater management is used as a financial incentive through a reduction in charges levied on annual bills. Hard standing sites are replaced with SuDS to either infiltrate or attenuate rainfall. This saving on annual bills, over multiple years, can be used to fund the upfront costs of constructing the SuDS and maintaining them. To demonstrate the potential scale of this business model, high-level technical and financial feasibility testing has been undertaken. 381 feasible public sites - both school and non-school sites – have been identified for infiltration SuDS. If SuDS are implemented at all sites and financial conditions remain as present, the net benefits would be £7.36 million over a period of 15 years. On top of that, there are additional benefits for air quality, amenity, biodiversity and ecology, carbon sequestration, education, health, and recreation that sum up to £134.13 million.
Evidence for designing the Living Lab at Salford University and gaining further evidence from the Lab
Over the course of IGNITION, the information from the evidence base will also be used to plan and refine the nature-based solutions that will be implemented at the Living Lab on the University of Salford’s campus. This site will demonstrate and monitor the effectiveness of such solutions in a practical application. It will create a space where anyone can understand the financial benefits of NBS, as well as their potential for climate change adaptation in towns and cities. The first stage of the design and building work involves a raingarden adjacent to the University Library building, which is integrated into a living wall and is fed by the library roof. The second stage will include a green roof, a larger living wall, and sustainable drainage system-enabled street trees in a nearby area of the campus.
With the Living Lab, providers, planners, and investors as well as students, citizens and every interested person can directly experience how the solutions work. Furthermore, the performance of the lab’s different elements will be monitored, which in return feeds additional information into the evidence base for nature-based solutions.
Supporting better communication …
The Nature-based Solutions Evidence Base will also serve as an effective tool to support citizen engagement in IGNITION. A recent survey explored the current understanding of citizens regarding the role, functionality and benefits of nature-based solutions in relation to climate change and beyond. Citizens’ views, preferences and priorities for nature based solutions were also surveyed. The survey achieved 2065 responses and showed clearly that people are strongly in favour of green infrastructure. In more than 40 workshops, IGNITION partners could deepen the discussion with citizens and other stakeholders to develop the ground for co-creating more nature-based solutions in the future. But despite the want for and general appreciation of nature-based solutions, most of the participants were surprised by how positive an impact green infrastructure can have. They realised that nature-based solutions are not just that “fluffy and nice stuff” but also deliver wide-ranging, hard benefits. These findings show that there is definitely a need for this evidence base.
… and more applications
IGNITION intends to use the evidence base as the ground for further work packages on the project. It can underpin the baseline, monitoring and the achievement of the long-term target of Greater Manchester - an uplift of 10% in urban green infrastructure by 2038. The evidence base will help in communications with all types of stakeholders – citizen engagement, green infrastructure investors and providers, and others. It will further be a backbone of the technical expertise of the planned Climate Adaptation Services Company. This company will be a new special purpose vehicle and provide the organisational structure responsible for post-IGNITION activities, and the ongoing delivery of large-scale nature-based investments against the entire pipeline to 2038.
What are the next steps?
The use of the evidence base is, of course, not just limited to IGNITION but can serve investors, providers, and decision-makers outside the project and even outside Greater Manchester. Therefore, the tasks ahead are to consolidate the database to explore jointly with all types of potential users - in and beyond IGNITION - how the information can be presented best to be user-friendly and easily accessible. Thereby, the database should be seen as a living tool that shall be supplemented and updated continuously as new information becomes available.