Natural Solutions Initiative

Acting on Nature-Positive Approaches

The Natural Solutions Initiative (NSI) out of ACT - Action on Climate Team, will research how to apply nature-based solutions (NbS) to advance five key areas (climate action, biodiversity, sustainable service delivery, health, equity & justice, and Indigenous knowledge and leadership) across four scales of action (watershed, community, neighbourhood, and parcel). The NSI will accelerate the best available knowledge around the multiple roles that natural systems play in transitioning our regions and communities towards community low carbon resilience (LCR) and sustainability under rapidly changing conditions. 

Our Mission

The goal of the NSI is to co-create and advance a cohesive and systemic framework-for-action that optimizes the benefits of NbS for both people and nature in a rapidly changing climate. The NSI aims to advance and recognize diverse knowledges, approaches and metrics to optimize NbS across five key areas and four scales of action. Our goal is to coordinate a more systemic understanding of the value, uses and trade-offs associated with NbS, resulting in comprehensive implementation across scales and sectors (see Figure 1). 

Figure 1: ACT’s NSI Framework-for-Action. Cohesive nature-based solutions need to be considered across four scales of action (y-axis), evaluated over time (x-axis), and designed to optimize opportunities for, and address trade-offs with respect to, benefits across five key areas (z-axis).

What are Nature-Based Solutions?

Broadly speaking, NbS are those actions or strategies taken to protect, sustainably manage and/or restore natural or modified ecosystems, working lands and aquatic systems, or create novel ecosystems (IUCN, n.d.). NbS encompass a wide range of ecosystem-based strategies that can help solve societal challenges by working together with nature in ways that “reflect cultural and societal values and enhance the resilience of ecosystems, their capacity for renewal and the provision of services” (IUCN, n.d.). 

Advancing Systemic NbS Across Five Key Areas

NbS are gaining traction locally, nationally and globally for their ability to build regional and community resilience under pressing challenges. Specifically, NbS can multi-task to address a rapidly changing climate, aging infrastructure and service delivery, biodiversity loss, increasing inequities in our communities, and exposure for the most vulnerable, including limited progress on reconciliation with First Nations. 

The NSI coordinates, prioritizes, and evaluates NbS. We differentiate between utilitarian approaches including the protection and expansion of existing natural assets and the advancement of engineered blue-green infrastructure, and healthy ecosystems approaches that emphasize inherent value beyond human interest and use, including spiritual value. 

Coordinating for NbS Coherence Using Three Nested Approaches 

NbS come in many forms, so it is unsurprising that there is a corresponding variety in the terms used to describe them. The goal of the NSI Framework is to bring coherence to these terms and approaches to facilitate the cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral work that is required to advance optimal and effective NbS.

Figure 2 below depicts the interdependencies between natural assets and blue-green infrastructure when they are guided by an ecosystem-based management approach. A watershed or bioregional approach spurs collaborative opportunities to plan for optimal NbS strategies and shared management for implementation. Shifting beyond jurisdictional boundaries, in turn, provides a crucial opportunity for innovative forms of watershed-scale governance (GIO, n.d., and Matsler, 2019).

Figure 2: Three Nested NbS Approaches. This diagram illustrates the relationship between the NSI Framework’s three NbS approaches. In particular, watershed health and resilience will be advanced by coordinating the protection/restoration of natural assets with the enhancement/engineering of blue-green infrastructure under an ecosystem-based management approach.

Ensuring Cohesion Across Four Scales of NbS Action

NbS projects are being implemented at different scales across the globe. While some NbS practices are based on multi-lateral arrangements (e.g., Quebec and California’s Linked Cap-and-Trade program) or national policies (e.g., Canadian federal conservation programs), the NSI is focused on the role that NbS play at bioregional scales. Specifically, what NbS plans and projects are being implemented at local scales (at the community, neighbourhood, and parcel scales) and how to ensure coherence within and across communities and watersheds. As a result, using the three approaches described above, the NSI aims to ensure cohesion across four scales of implementation in support of the health and resilience of the watershed over time.

Figure 3 below highlights different types of NbS being applied across the four scales of action. It showcases the interdependencies between scales and the need for more cohesive NbS planning to support ecological processes and ecosystem services across scales. Ensuring that baseline ecological data and key indicators of health and resilience in the watershed are the foundation of NbS planning and implementation helps to ensure that NbS are being applied across scales in a way that supports nature and, by proxy, the communities that benefit from a functioning and healthy ecosystem.

Figure 3: NbS Opportunities Across Four Scales. This diagram highlights the types of NbS projects being applied across four scales of action, and the need for ecosystem-based management approaches to ensure connectivity and cohesion between them. The goal is to establish baseline data (in the watershed box) that is used to evaluate interdependencies across scales, monitoring the ways that interventions either support or hinder watershed health and resilience.

NSI Research-to-Action Phases

ACT’s NSI (2021-2025) is divided into three phases that aim to develop a multifunctional NbS framework for cohesive and systemic NbS planning and implementation across five key areas and four scales. 

Phase 1: Develop an NbS framework that multi-tasks across climate adaptation and mitigation, biodiversity, equity and justice, sustainable service delivery, and centres Indigenous knowledge and leadership.

Phase 2: Co-create NbS planning and implementation with relevant stakeholders across four scales of action—watershed, community, neighbourhood and parcel. 

Phase 3: Synthesize and share our learnings across networks and social media to mobilize best practices through an array of innovative resources and tools. 



IUCN. (n.d.). Nature-based Solutions. Retrieved November 2021, from IUCN: 

Green Infrastructure Ontario, GIO. (n.d.). What is Green Infrastructure? and Matsler, M. A. (2019). Making ‘green’ fit in a ‘grey’ accounting system: The institutional knowledge system challenges of valuing urban nature as infrastructural assets. Environmental Science & Policy, 99, 160–168.