*By Raphaëlle Ortiz, María Augusta Olmedo, Anamaría Núñez,
Seminar Session 1: Tools for valuing ecosystems and nature-based solutions
The first of three sessions of the seminar of the Focus on the Americas in World Water Week addressed valuing ecosystem services and nature-based solutions (NBS). It introduced NBS and explored several tools that could help governments, organizations and individuals better estimate their economic value.
Sergio Campos, Manager of the Water and Sanitation Division of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) began by emphasizing the urgency of addressing climate change:“According to Swiss Re, one of the world’s largest insurance providers, climate change could cut the world’s economy by $23 trillion by 2050, that is more than the GDP of all Europe. [It] will impact us all, but most particularly developing countries.” To address these issues through the prism of valuation, he elaborated on the objectives of each session: “In this seminar we will pursue three objectives: to learn about cutting-edge ways of valuing our ecosystems and showcase five case studies; to learn about the challenges and solutions of implementing nature-based solutions; and to explore key elements of the way forward.” He also highlighted the importance of resilient and sustainable use of nature for a change of paradigm in the use of water for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).
Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm, a lead scientist of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), was both the Keynote speaker and moderator of this session. After defining NBS as actions “that protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits” (based on the IUCN’s definition), Fernando demonstrated that water for food production alters every single ecosystem on the planet and it represents the largest human footprint. However, his keynote address was not all “gloom and doom” as he defined several ways that NBS could not only preserve biodiversity, but also help it thrive. NBS could have triple benefits: resilient food production, climate change mitigation, and enhanced nature and biodiversity. But, we must first address the USD 711 billion financing gap in biodiversity conservation. Water Funds have been a key part of the puzzle. Fernando illustrated this point with two successful case studies: the Sustainable Water Impact Fund and the Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund.
Following Fernando’s keynote, there was a panel discussion between Marine de Bazelaire from HSBC, Todd Gartner from WRI, and Naabia Ofosu-Amaah from TNC. Marine de Bazelaire kicked off the discussion by emphasizing the lack of private finance for NBS. She highlighted two of HSBC’s initiatives that aim to bridge that gap: the Pollination Asset Management and the NBS Accelerator, and mentioned the multifaceted benefits of mangroves. Todd Gartner shared some information on the Forest Resilience Bond in Northern California, which brought blended capital to address fire hazards and drought. Naabia Offosu-Amaah discussed the Sao Paulo Water Fund, which focuses on restoring and conserving forested areas, soil conservation practices in agricultural areas, sanitation and improved livelihoods thanks to corporate and public funding.
After this discussion, there was a video presentation of several NBS valuation tools. Gregg Brill from the Pacific Institute shared information about the NBS Benefits Explorer. Carlos Rogeliz from TNC discussed the mathematical optimization for cost-effective investment of NBS in watersheds. Kari Vigerstol, also from TNC, explored the multiple uses of WaterProof, a tool that facilitates rapid assessments of return on investment (ROI) for Nature-based Solutions for Water Security. Louise Walker from CIRIA elaborated on “BEST”, a free tool that provides a structured approach to evaluating a wide range of benefits from blue-green infrastructure. Anthony Panella from Chemonics International presented the SERVIR global network and the geospatial services it has developed to use Earth observations to support decision making and resilient development.
Before closing the session, Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm asked the speakers to elaborate on how to find the best option for one’s specific need, particularly for those who are not well versed in NBS tools. Gregg Brill emphasized the intuitive nature of the NBS Benefits Explorer and its connection to other tools that were presented. Kari Vigerstol reflected on the importance of scale; some are more fitted for local needs, while others are better for regional efforts. Carlos Rogeliz elaborated on how the phase of the project could impact the tool needed; an organization may need a suite of tools to finalize a project.
To close, Carlos Hurtado from FEMSA provided an overview of the main points of the session and highlighted the vast set of tools that can help scale and implement NBS around the globe.
Watch the whole session here:
Seminar Session 2: Challenges and Solutions of Implementing Nature-based Solutions
The second seminar session of the Focus on the Americas focussed on the challenges and solutions of implementing nature-based solutions (NBS). Speakers from India, Kenya, Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, South Africa, and the US shared their thoughts and experience.
Sergio Campos, the Division Chief of Water and Sanitation at the IDB launched the session with his welcome remarks: “The truth is that our governance and engineering [..] have been developed based on norms that no longer exist and that are no longer viable”. Therefore, we must adapt to the current situation and “NBS have been very effective at protecting our water resources from climate change”.
Merlin Mariam Varghese, the session’s Young Scientific Program Committee (YSPC) member, moderated this session.
Peter Penning, a Managing Partner at ALO Advisors, was the keynote speaker. He began the by defining several key terms, in a thought-provoking way:
- Solutions – “If we are discussing “solutions”, that means that there is a problem”. A good problem statement will help companies build their business cases and it will help them find the right solution. Organizations must use detailed root cause analyses to find the source of the problem. Once they find it, they must identify a small part that can be fixed completely.
- Implementing – “The biggest challenge to NBS is professional implementation”. Large-scale projects require project managers in addition to scientists. In the case of water security, “we cannot afford to work with amateurs”.
- Nature-based – “Nature will not solve our problems.” However, using nature to our human advantage could work, such as what we’ve accomplished through agriculture. In Oman, they used artificial wetlands to address produced water management issues.
He concluded: “A solved problem is [much] better than any co-benefit, because you’ve taken the issue off the table”.
Following this speech, there was a panel discussion between Ana Laura Elizondo from the FEMSA Foundation, Perry Oddo from NASA, Dr. Priyanka Jamwal from ATREE, and Peter Penning.
Ana Laura Elizondo discussed FEMSA Foundation’s commitment to address water security through the Latin America Water Funds Partnership. With over 11 years of experience, the fund has identified 4 key success factors that also present implementation challenges: collective action, scientific data, governance, and NBS. She shared information about FEMSA’s NBS projects in Guanajuato, Costa Rica, Rio de Janeiro, and Mexico City, and mentioned the role of data in attracting more funding.
Perry Oddo presented NASA’s robust earth science program which uses sensors to monitor water at different levels. The International Water Strategy aims to understand “who is working in water, what capabilities they are using, who they’re working with, and what their outcomes are”. Earth observations can supplement local measurements. The goal is to bring data to the decision-makers.
Priyanka Jamwal discussed Bangalore’s density and wastewater output. With such a large population and recurrent droughts, water access has become a challenge. In the city, wastewater treatment happens in both centralized and decentralized plants. ATREE has found that there is an opportunity to address water security by reusing treated effluent from decentralized plants.
When asked about the role of governments in pursuing NBS, Peter argued that public, private, or NGOs should help politicians make the right decisions. He referenced the case of Belgium, where NBS could help treat wastewater from the 0.5 billion houses that are not attached to treatment plants.
After this panel, there was a video presentation of 5 successful NBS implementations. Burnice Karimi, a graduate student from Egerton University, presented on the willingness to pay for restoration of water ecosystem services in the Kapingazi Catchment in Embu, Kenya. Jigisha Jaiswal, a Senior Research Associate from the Center for Water and Sanitation (CWAS) at CEPT University, discussed nature-based fecal sludge treatment plants in 250 cities in Maharashtra, India. Laura Forni, a Senior Scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, highlighted the value of Paramo land conservation in vulnerability reduction. Danita Hohne, a Scientific Technician at the Department of Water and Sanitation, discussed enhancing the sustainability of water supply in the Western Karoo, South Africa. Back to India, Professor L. Venkatachalam explored the economic values of ecosystem services of selected wetlands in Tamil Nadu.
Following these case studies, speakers discussed the future of NBS. Ana and Perry agreed that science and technology will help with scalability. Peter reinforced the idea that we must frame NBS as ways to solve problems to increase adoption based on successful cases such as the ones presented in the videos. Priyanka focussed on developing countries, where more data and guidance is needed to ensure the sustainability of these projects.
Veena Srinivasan, from ATREE, provided closing remarks. After highlighting the main ideas of the session, she encouraged the audience to think about scalability over time, risk minimization, and value maximization.
Watch the whole session here:
Seminar Session 3: The Way Forward
In the last session of this year’s seminar on “Tools for valuing ecosystems and nature-based solutions” of the Focus on the Americas, speakers focused on defining a possible framework for future action.
In his welcome remarks, Sergio Campos, Chief of the Water and Sanitation Division at the IDB, kicked off the session with a sense of urgency. He referenced the current floods in Pakistan and droughts in the United States and reiterated the drastic economic impact of climate change: “By 2050, rising temperatures could cut global GDP by USD 23 trillion annually according to Swiss Re.” Thus, it is time to rethink the way we work; and nature-based solutions (NBS) are a key part of the puzzle.
Dr. Kate Brauman, Associate Director for Analysis and Communications for the Global Water Security Center at the University of Alabama, was both the moderator and keynote speaker for this session. Her speech set the stage for the ensuing discussion. Given the theme of this session, Kate asked: where are we going next? What are we not thinking about? And what does it mean to value nature? To answer these broad questions, she highlighted several knowledge gaps that we must address:
- The flow of water – While there are already several NBS in existence today, they don’t always fully address the problem they are seeking to address. For example, when Hurricane Harvey struck Houston (TX), rain gardens and wetlands were not sufficient to contain the vast quantities of rain that fell in a short timeframe. Given that water flows preferentially, how do we define NBS that are legitimate, scalable and effective at mitigating climate impacts?
- The flow of information – There is a tendency to focus too much on data availability when it comes to NBS. Kate argues that we do not need to answer all the questions, but we do need to make sure the information we have is both salient and credible. Is our information trustworthy? What assumptions were made?
- The role of values – It is a fact that our individual or societal values impact our choices. In the case of payments for ecosystem services (PES), how do we define substitutions that are acceptable to all stakeholders?
Understanding the synergistic connections between each of these themes can help us define NBS that are legitimate, salient and credible. To meet this objective, all participants must have a clear idea of their values and actively ensure that these are not overlooked.
After this keynote address, there was a panel between Hannah Benn from Pegasys, Dr. Peace Sasha Liz Musonge from Aquaya, Harsh Seth from WWF-Sweden, and Willem van Deursen from Carthago Consultancy. While Harsh and Hannah were onsite in Stockholm, Willem and Peace joined us through Zoom.
Over this 1-hour discussion, each speaker was able to share their expertise. Hannah Benn emphasized the importance of having a shared vision among different stakeholders. She referenced the Cape Town water fund, which helped the city narrowly avoid Day Zero. Harsh Seth encouraged the audience to embrace the complexity of climate-change resilient solutions. The idea is not to find a single cookie-cutter solution which can be applied to any situation; we must explore tools and adapt these to different contexts. Peace Musonge, having completed her PHD research in Uganda, stressed the importance of indigenous knowledge. Some communities attribute other – non-financial – values to water, which must be taken into account. Grassroot participation is key to the success of any project. Willem van Deursen agreed with Peace Musonge, stating “local knowledge must find its way to more official information channels”. He also recognized the importance of storylines and patterns in moving towards addressing climate change. They all agreed that NBS should continue to evolve to meet tomorrow’s challenges.
Sameer Shisodia, CEO of the Rainmatter Foundation, provided concluding remarks. He highlighted the main points raised in the keynote and panel discussion; solutions should be based on fair trade-offs, scalable and sustainable.
Be part of every session held during World Water Week with Focus on the Americas to learn more about the value of water.
Watch the whole session here:
About the Focus on the Americas
The Focus is coordinated by the Inter-American Development Bank, in collaboration with: Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (OTCA), Water For People, the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), World Resources Institute (WRI), FEMSA Foundation, Water .org, RTI International, PepsiCo Foundation, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Latin American Alliance of Water Funds, Organization of American States (OAS), United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), National Water Commission (CONAGUA), Anheuser -Busch InBev (AB InBev), Fundación Chile (FCH), Hydronia, Municipality of Santa Fe (Argentina). The Focus is partially sponsored by AquaFund, the IDB’s multi-donor fund for investments in water and sanitation, financed with its own resources and from donor partners: the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), the Swiss Government through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), the Government of Austria and the PepsiCo Foundation.
This program is partially sponsored by AquaFund, the IDB’s multi-donor fund for investments in water and sanitation, financed with its own resources and from donor partners: the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), the Government of Switzerland through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), the Government of Austria and the PepsiCo Foundation.