Urban Nature Atlas Expands Globally During COP26, Launched by British Academy

Marking COP26 Nature Day on November 6, CEU’s Urban Nature Atlas (UNA) now expanded to include nature-based solutions (NBS) from across the world, is one of two digital maps supported and featured by the British Academy’s Just Transitions Programme.

The second map, in partnership with the Nature-based Solutions Initiative (NbSI) at the University of Oxford, launches November 8 at the UN Pavilion at COP26. Both tools illuminate how nature-based solutions can help address the climate and biodiversity crises, contribute to human wellbeing and help build an inclusive and sustainable economy.

“These maps arose from a series of workshops organised by the British Academy over the summer of 2021 which brought together scholars, practitioners, policymakers as well as indigenous communities, businesses and civil society organisations to help map nature-based solutions worldwide,” notes Professor Harriet Bulkeley FBA, Project lead for the British Academy’s COP26 work. “These discussions, along with the sharing of case studies and experiences, have provided valuable sources for these platforms, developed by partners at the NbSI and CEU, highlighting the diversity and value of Nature-based solutions.”

NBS are interventions that help protect, sustainably manage, and restore ecosystems, while at the same time benefitting human wellbeing and biodiversity. Examples include restoring natural habitats such as woodlands to better absorb carbon dioxide and building floating rafts out of plant material which can then be used to grow vegetables in waterlogged areas during monsoon season.

“Nature-based solutions have the potential to transform cities and make them more liveable and resilient to the impacts of climate change,” comments Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy Professor Laszlo Pinter. He adds, “The new cases added to the Urban Nature Atlas from cities worldwide, including many examples identified by participants attending the British Academy workshops, illustrates that this potential is real and present in a wide range of contexts, and should serve as an inspiration for the research, policy and practitioner community."

To showcase the variety of nature-based solutions and map their potential to address different environmental and socio-economic problems that cities can face in the 21st century, the UNA was created as part of the EU-funded Horizon 2020 Naturvation (NATure-based URban innoVATION) project. It was developed by a research team at CEU's Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy including Professor Pinter with researchers Dóra Almássy PhD, Sara Maia Rocha, Attila Katona and Judit Boros, in collaboration with the Ecologic Institute, and with further support being provided by Durham University.

“As a knowledge base dedicated to showcasing the richness and value of NBS in cities worldwide, the Urban Nature Atlas aims to inform, inspire, and enable everyone interested in bringing their transformative power to bear on the cities of the future,” says professor Pinter.

Dr. Dora Almassy, who has been with the project from the start, explains that the initial data collection for the Urban Nature Atlas was conducted in 2017 by CEU, Lund University and Utrecht University and comprised a systematic survey of nature-based solutions in 100 European cities. Due to the increasing interest in the Urban Nature Atlas over time, all nature-based solutions included in the Atlas were reviewed and updated in 2020 and following the closure of the Naturvation project in May 2021, the Urban Nature Atlas was transitioned from the Naturvation website to its new and permanent home at www.una.city.

In May 2021, a process was launched to include additional nature-based solutions and extend it to a global scope. Supplementing the 1000 nature-based solution case studies compiled from the original 100 European cities, the Atlas now includes non-European case studies drawn from cities featured within the Naturvation project and case studies from all continents, covering over 50 countries where nature-based solutions providing climate change adaptation or mitigation.

Collection of these climate action-focused case studies was funded by the British Academy in preparation for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). The publication of the two maps aims to support the public and policymakers worldwide to explore the many ways communities are working with nature to deal with the causes and consequences of global change, across a diversity of different urban and rural environments, ecosystems and socio-economic and governance contexts.

Building on the existing infrastructure of the UNA, the project involved the identification of a suite of up to 80 urban or peri-urban NBS cases in non-European cities, highlighting, in particular, their connections to climate change mitigation and adaptation. The Atlas also received an updated user interface with a new advanced search function to highlight cases that focus on climate change. Still forthcoming is an advanced analytical function improving the filtering of cases based on user interest, and the recognition of patterns and evidence related to NBS attributes and impacts.

Key lessons from the global data collection will be distilled in a final report, reflecting on what is being done on the ground, who is implementing and financing NBS, and what the costs and benefits of the projects are- both intangible and measurable.