Nature-based solutions offer great promise as a route to both preserving and restoring natural ecosystems to promote planetary and human well-being. At SEI, we explore how equity and justice are addressed in their implementation and how their success should be calculated in measures of inclusive wealth, accounting for the distribution of benefits and costs that arise.

Nine SEI researchers highlight how their work is contributing towards driving ecosystem restoration and healing our planet within the next decade.

How is your work contributing towards protecting and restoring our ecosystems within the next decade?

Biodiversity losses in global commodity trade

Deforestation from supply chains has been emphasized in both the agendas of policymakers and private sector actors. We are developing practical metrics to assess the impact of land use change on species  and measure progress towards restoring habitats and abating threats to species . Global commodity chains are enormously important, but are all too often also associated with devastating impacts on our natural environment. These impacts are often obscured by geographic remoteness (production systems are far from consumption systems) and their complexity. We work to improve transparency through our Trase and Trade Hub projects in deforestation risk supply chains and better understand leverage points for their enhancement.

Green infrastructure and urban resilience

With the B.Green project, SEI Tallinn is exploring the challenges related to the integration of green infrastructure into urban planning. We are working with planners in Tallinn and Helsinki, as well as Forum Virium Helsinki (smart-city innovation organization), to raise awareness about the benefits of urban green infrastructure and promote cross-sectoral collaboration through digital and traditional participatory methods . We are also pushing forward the capability of 3D models and co-design methods to better capture green infrastructure elements. Even in urban areas that are undergoing processes of densification, timely, well-coordinated and climate-sensitive spatial planning can help improve urban resilience.

A glimpse of the Avalinn AR visualization application developed in the B.Green project

A glimpse of the Avalinn AR visualization application developed in the B.Green project.
Image credit: Johanna Jõekalda / Pollinator Highway

Zero Hunger by 2030

At SIANI, we address one of the threats to ecosystem degradation and loss in biodiversity: agricultural expansion. We communicate and organize dialogues based on new research and best practices on how we can feed our growing population through agriculture practices that are sustainable, such as intensification and diversification within sustainable food systems. To achieve Zero Hunger by 2030, we need the commitment and collaboration of all sectors.

Microplastic: from ocean to table

Plastic waste is a major source of marine pollution globally and causes several serious environmental problems. Plastic degrades into microplastic through sun and erosion, which causes damage to the environment and living organisms and can result in human health problems through ingestion. Microplastic will remain in our environment and continue to enter the food chain if plastic continues to be consumed at the current rate.

With the potential of microplastic to harm the environment and organisms in several ways, it is important to reduce microplastic in the environment and human exposure to them. It can mainly be achieved by increasing public, government and global awareness and pledging to reduce plastic waste, as we highlighted in this photo story on microplastic focusing on Asia. We illustrate how our work contributes to spreading knowledge about the increasing problem with microplastics in nature. The goal is to increase society’s awareness of the issue and foster a determination to participate in the global goal of reducing plastic waste.

Young woman cleaning microplastic from sand on the beach

Microplastic is a major source of environmental pollution. Photo: DisobeyArt / Getty Images .

Peatland restoration and climate change

Peatlands are enormous carbon stores (although they tend to be up to 95% water), but they are vulnerable to climate and management. Most peatlands in the UK are in a degraded state, mainly due to drainage and rotational vegetation burning. Whilst drainage is being reversed across the UK, alternatives to burning are being investigated as part of peatland restoration options within a long-term SEI study.

Across three sites in the UK, heather burning is being compared with alternative cutting or no management within a plot to catchment scale monitoring framework. Impacts on carbon budgets, greenhouse gas emissions, vegetation and biodiversity are monitored and linked to key ecosystem services. In addition, model scenarios investigated past, present and future climate and management impacts and the potential implications for climate mitigation strategies. For more information, visit the project website.

Data visualizations for healthier ecosystems

Using satellite imagery, spatial datasets and mapping tools, we study how the extent and health of ecosystems, such as forests and wetlands, are changing over time under the impact of climate change. Sample applications of our work, particularly in Bolivia, range from analyzing forest cover losses due to wildfires and deforestation in the dry tropical Chiquitania Region to monitoring wetlands and glaciers in the high Andes mountains. The drive for our research is the protection of not only biodiversity and ecosystems, but also the livelihoods and communities that depend on the services they provide. With this in mind, we produce data visualizations to share our findings with local stakeholders and support decision-making on sustainable resources management.

Wildlife conservation and policies

Our work on sustainable lifestyle management contributes to improving the conservation of wildlife species and populations while ensuring the food security and livelihoods of rural and indigenous communities that depend on wildlife resources. The over-exploitation of wildlife is a major threat for the sustainability of the species, putting at risk the subsistence of many people. In this context, our endeavours further the development of wildlife policies and regulations based on a sustainable use approach, integrating customary laws and traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and helping to understand the socio-cultural and economic motivations behind the use of these resources.

Giant anteater in Guyana

Giant Anteater in Guyana, South America. Photo: Allan Hopkins / Flickr .

Land use and a sustainable bioeconomy

A fundamental issue in achieving environment-development goals in both North and South is how to transform our use of land and biomass so that it is highly productive with low impact. In the global South, we have worked closely with African partners to use the ecosystem services lens to investigate how alternative institutional and biophysical arrangements for food and fuel production can better contribute to poverty reduction in poor and/or vulnerable areas.

In both the global North and South, we are using interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches to assess how land-based mitigation can not only help meet the targets of the Paris Agreement, but also promote healthy ecosystems and a stronger role for farmers, foresters and other key actors as stewards of the land. Similarly, we also aim to identify strategies, pathways and governance approaches towards a sustainable bioeconomy in different world regions. A common feature of this entire line of research is to work at the science-policy interface in understanding the difficult trade-offs between inclusive governance approaches that promote human well-being on the one hand and the health of ecosystems and climate stabilization and resilience on the other.