Nature-based solutions: increasingly present in infrastructure projects in Latin America

The investment situation in infrastructure in Latin America and the Caribbean is insufficient to meet the needs of the population. The traditional provision of infrastructure, based on the intensive use of materials such as concrete and steel, exacerbates environmental problems such as climate change, making nature-based solutions (NBS) an attractive option. The NBS incorporate materials and biological processes in the infrastructure to improve the quality of water, air and protect the coast. The most apt sectors to incorporate NBS are the provision of water and sanitation, transport and energy, housing and urban development. A study by the World Resources Institute analyzes 156 projects in the region and finds that more than half are focused on the water sector and most of them are led by local NGOs and financed by bilateral and multilateral donors.

Investment in infrastructure in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) continues to be less than what is necessary to meet the demands of the population, which is characterized by its sustained growth and high urbanization.

The traditional approach to infrastructure provision, based on the intensive use of materials such as concrete and steel (“grey” infrastructure), entails aggravating environmental problems such as climate change, increasing greenhouse gas emissions, environmental degradation and the loss of of biodiversity.

In this context, nature-based solutions (NBS) are a set of instruments and technical tools that seek to incorporate materials and biological processes into the infrastructure required by the population. For example, the ecological restoration of basins to improve the quality of the water coming from it, the expansion of green spaces to improve air quality in urban environments, or the protection of mangroves and coral reefs as a coastal defense strategy against storms. .

The SBN allow the provision of services to the communities without aggravating the current environmental problems, and also increasing the stability and resilience of these services. By resorting to natural materials and processes, the range of resistance to climatic events is expanded, unlike the classic gray infrastructure, which has more limited resistance thresholds. In fact, raising those thresholds of resistance to future inclement weather drives the cost of typical gray infrastructure ever higher.

The most apt infrastructure sectors to incorporate SBN are the provision of water and sanitation, transport and energy, housing and urban development. For example, in urban water management, NBS can improve water security through better water supply and reduced flood risk.

A recent study by the World Resources Institute (WRI, 2021) provides details on the state of progress in the implementation of projects that propose NBS in the LAC area. The work focused on projects whose implementation has started or is in the process of starting and that have obtained at least USD 100,000 in financing, covering, according to these criteria, a total of 156 projects in the region (Graph 1).

Graph 1: Distribution of the NBS projects surveyed in the continent.

Among the projects analyzed, more than half are focused on the water sector, especially on improving the quantity and quality of water. Housing and urban development is the second most common sector, with objectives such as reducing the risks of landslides and coastal, river and urban flooding. The transport and energy sectors attracted the least amount of NBS (Graph 2). NBS’ projects in the energy sector mainly address water supply and erosion control for hydropower. Transportation projects primarily address the risks of flooding, erosion, and landslides on highways and ports.

Graph 2: Distribution of NBS projects by sector in which they focus, including the priority focus in green and the secondary focus in orange.

What organizations promote these projects? The report indicates that they are directed mostly by local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) (26%), by national governments 24% and by local governments (municipalities, cities and states), 19%. The rest of the projects are run by private companies or other types of organizations. However, almost all of the projects (94%) present some type of involvement with the national or subnational government, either for financing or for institutional support, as illustrated in Graph 3.

Graph 3: Government participation in NBS projects by country.

Regarding the financing of the projects, it is provided mostly by bilateral and multilateral donors, such as environmental financing funds or international development cooperation agencies. This type of institution finances 50 evaluated projects (32%). Then follow national and local governments, with 30 projects (19%), development banks with 22 projects (14%), infrastructure service providers (10%), the remaining 25% being financed by other parties (p eg, private companies and project developers, private foundations and NGOs).

The report also describes the progress of governments and multilateral development institutions in the Region in introducing innovative financing instruments and management tools to favor the implementation of NBS projects. For example, in Peru there is a law that requires public service providers to support or implement NBS within their region of influence.

More and more governments and civil organizations recognize that the protection of nature is an essential component for the development of sustainable infrastructure and with a better balance of cost-effectiveness. The WRI report provides key information for these organizations to understand the current dynamics of institutional and financial support for SBN projects.

Source: “Nature-based solutions in Latin America and the Caribbean: regional situation and priorities for growth” Available at: caribbean-regional-status-and-priorities-growth

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