Unlocking the potential of nature-based solutions in Asia
As the world looks to Glasgow for the COP26 conference on climate change, we’ll be discussing some of the changes our industry needs to make and reflecting on the COP debate on the AECOM Blog. Join the discussion on social media by following us on Twitter and LinkedIn. Find more information in our special COP26 edition of our “Future of Infrastructure” report: https://infrastructure.aecom.com
Working with nature to enhance urban and coastal resilience is a logical approach to counter the effects of climate change. Asia is rich in natural resources, but investments at large scale implementations have been relatively low. Southeast Asia alone has 200 million hectares of terrestrial forests and is home to the world’s largest potential blue carbon stock – degraded coastal wetlands that (if restored) can sequester large amounts of carbon.
Recently, I spoke on this topic at a seminar co-organized by AECOM and the Singapore Economic Development Board, with panelists including Indranee Rajah, Minister in Singapore Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Finance and National Development. From government authorities to local investors, city stakeholders all know that climate action is redefining the global economy – and we discussed the potential of nature-based solutions (NbS) in helping cities rise to the challenge.
To date, much of the focus has been on decarbonization efforts, but they won’t be enough to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. We need to think about complementary strategies such as carbon sequestration, and we also need to take steps to mitigate the effects of climate change. In both areas, NbS can play a big role.
Investment needs to be unlocked in NbS to achieve its full potential. The bankability of NbS projects is not always immediately apparent, but a strong public-private partnership model can help with this by balancing and mitigating investment risks, alleviating concerns, providing investors some levels of assurance on their returns on investment, while bridging readily available capital to getting sustainable infrastructure projects off the ground.
Several Asian cities have already begun adopting this approach and some of the lessons learned in places such as Singapore, Shenzen and Hong Kong include:
- Singapore is among the first countries globally to set robust governance standards for carbon emissions. These include compatible definitions and taxonomies for NbS, and a consistent set of global standards for disclosures and reporting. If properly structured, investment in nature can be a new asset class which will drive capital to larger scale implementations.
- In Shenzhen, one of China’s early adopters of the “sponge city” concept, which aims to control and mitigate flooding, water pollution and scarcity, and home to the iconic Dasha River Ecological Corridor, the city utilizes techniques and green infrastructure retrofits such as permeable pavements, green rooftops, bioswales and constructed wetlands at a variety of scales to reduce the intensity of rainwater runoff, enhancing absorption capacities across the city.
- In Hong Kong, the award-winning design for the Tung Chung East Reclamation Eco-Shoreline created a new type of urban seaside, developed to add ecological value to waterfront reclamation infrastructure while simultaneously providing public open space and protecting against coastal storms and sea-level rise.
The lessons and proof points in these cities underline possibilities. If we can create the environment that unlock the value of NbS, we will have a good chance to create resilient urban ecosystems that help mitigate man-made climate change.