Re-connecting to nature’s solutions, and partners: the RECONECT 4th General Assembly

Under an extreme climate scenario, the number of people affected by too little or too much water in Europe could rise to 295 million, nearly half of the EU population (EU Science Hub). In monetary terms, the statistics are also grim. According to data from the European Environment Agency, the EU experienced a collective loss of €13 billion a year since the turn of the century due to floods, landslides, droughts, heatwaves and other climate-related extremes. Implementing Nature-based Solutions to adapt to climate change can help improve current practices and provide multiple co-benefits besides climate risk reduction (EU Report).

During the four-day virtual meeting, the RECONECT partners were able to share their ongoing work, communicate results and findings, but also discuss the different enablers and barriers towards implementation, replication and upscaling of NBS in various parts of Europe, and beyond. All presentations and discussions revolved around the aim to harness nature’s solutions in dealing with climate-induced flooding, landslides and drought.

We were impressed with the active interaction of so many of our RECONECT partners in the first fully virtual version of our general assembly. Conducting a four half-days online conference with over eighty participants was certainly a digital feat but by no means did it reduce learning, sharing or progress. The conference had a tight agenda with all the key topics on our work and deliverables on Nature-based Solutions addressed. We do however of course look forward to meeting back in person, hopefully in 2021”, said Zoran Vojinovic, RECONECT project coordinator.

The RECONECT consortium consists of 36 partners from 18 countries and draws upon an incredibly diverse network of Demonstrators (those who implement large-scale NBS projects, old and new) and Collaborators (those who conduct new NBS research, of which 4 EU and 13 international studies) that cover a wide range of conditions, geographic characteristics, and institutional and governance structures. The professional expertise of the participants was wide and varied, from academia to industry practitioners.

We heard for example from Jasna Plavsic — a RECONECT collaborator from Belgrade University — how the Jadar River in Serbia frequently bursts its banks due to torrential rains causing landslides and erosion. The dykes downstream aren’t robust enough anymore and new mining and highway plans are further exacerbating the current challenges.

Jadar River flood in 2014

Various Nature-based Solutions are on the cards, such as floodplain restoration, reforestation and terracing to contain the flash floods and buffer strips and live crib walls [1] to withhold landslides. Whilst solutions exist, so do barriers such as land ownership, nature protection zones, a lack of existing data and long-term institutional support.

[1] A live crib wall is a frame built with untreated timbers and filled with soil and live cuttings. Once completed, this structure acts as a retaining wall.

Further afield, we learned from the Hydro-Informatics Institute in Thailand — a RECONECT collaborator — that implementing Nature-based Solutions for flood mitigation in the Pathum Thani Province (north of Bangkok) can be challenging due to a lack of understanding and buy-in from local communities. This is where the project’s Communications and Dissemination strategy comes into play, ensuring case studies and results from NBS implementation are shared through stories, web articles, infographics, short videos and translations aimed at influencing a wide range of stakeholders and beneficiaries.

Jelena Batica from the University of the Cote d’Azur, presented the demonstration work from the Var River Basin, part of the Var Eco Valley, a flagship project of the French Government focused on innovative approaches to environmental challenges.

Damages in the Var Eco Valley

This region is no stranger to floods and storms, with recent storm Alex causing considerable loss of life and infrastructure damage. Various measures in the basin have been (and will be) developed such as green dikes, biodiversity habitats, ecological corridors and canal restoration and preservation.

In July 2020, IUCN unveiled a new Global Standard providing the first-ever set of benchmarks for nature-based solutions to global challenges. The new NBS Standard will help governments, business and civil society ensure the effectiveness of Nature-based Solutions and maximise their potential to help address climate change, biodiversity loss and other societal challenges on a global scale.

IUCN joined RECONECT in March 2020 and will bring valuable NBS knowledge, networks and expertise to the project, as well as supporting GISIG — Italian based ‘Geographical Information Systems International Group’ — in delivering the project’s communications and dissemination strategy. The RECONECT project is part of the European reference framework on Nature-based Solutions.

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