April 2015

(Last updated: 19th May 2015)

Promoting nature-based solutions to Europe's urban health & equity challenges

COHAB Initiative sponsors side event at ALTER-Net 2015 conference

ALTER-Net, Europe's research community for ecosystem services, is hosting its annual conference for 2015 in the city of Ghent, Belgium, focussing on the emerging concept of "nature-based solutions". Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) is a rapidly emerging concept covering a range of approaches which use natural processes and species to address societal challenges. Of particular interest are solutions to problems of ecological quality and human health and wellbeing in urban environments – and their rural hinterlands – as well as reducing their global footprints.

During the conference, the COHAB Initiative Secretariat, working with the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of Nottingham, UK, the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) and the Belgian Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO), will host a parallel session on the theme of "Europe's urban health & equity challenge and the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals:  is there a nature-based solution?", on the morning of Wednesday 20th May.

The proposed post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, to be agreed at the UN General Assembly in September 2015, include commitments to enhance “sustainable urbanisation” towards cities and settlements that are “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”, and to reduce the adverse environmental impact of cities by 2030. For Europe’s urban areas - as net importers of ecosystem services – these challenges will be enormous. Recent assessments of global risks suggest that social unrest and instability - often associated with urban sprawl – and urban health issues associated with air pollution and infectious & non-communicable disease - represent the challenges which Europe is most vulnerable to, and least prepared to deal with. Fulfilling commitments toward sustainable settlements will therefore require integrated action involving stakeholders in planning, environment, health, energy, transport and social welfare.

This specieal session will discuss the interconnection of health, social stability and ecosystems in European urban areas. Presentations will outline recent research and practical experience of nature-based approaches to health and equity, and ask how integrated approaches based on the conservation and use of ecosystem services can assist EU members to address commitments to the SDGs in a transdisciplinary manner.  Key questions to be considered include:

  • How can both nature and human well-being be sustained when more and more people live in cities placing increasing demand on finite living resources?

  • What conceptual frameworks should be used for nature-based solutions, to promote transdisciplinary approaches to urban nature conservation, health and equity?

  • Can nature-based solutions include the use of existing tools – e.g. health impact assessment and strategic environmental assessment – to address urban social and environmental risks?

  • Following from the experience of projects such as the MA and TEEB, and outputs of EU initiatives such as MAES, BESAFE and OpenNESS, to what extent are ecosystem services integrated into urban planning in the EU?


Abstracts for speaker presentations during the session are provided below. For further informaiton, visit the ALTER-Net website, or email


Europe's urban health & equity challnge and the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals:

is there a nature-based solution?

Speakers abstracts:

Conor Kretsch (COHAB Initiative Secretariat, and University of Nottingham, UK). Contact: /

Cities, nature and human well-being under the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals

The World Economic Forum’s 2015 World Risks Report identifies “profound social instability” as one of the top five risks facing Europe in the immediate and long term. This is closely allied to other important risks including persistent unemployment and rising economic inequality, and made more difficult to address by increasing cultural heterogeneity. Additionally, the growing threat of emerging infectious diseases and environmental concerns related to extreme weather events, the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem collapse, present further threats to human health and well-being in the region. These interconnected crises are increasingly concentrated in urban areas, raising uncertainties for each of the proposed post-15 Sustainable Development Goals – especially Goals 3 (on health), 10 (inequality), 11 (inclusive and sustainable cities) and 16 (peaceful and inclusive societies).  This talk will provide a brief overview of the science and policy challenges facing implementation of the SDGs and propose some opportunities for developing integrated, transdisciplinary nature-based solutions to deal with these issues.


Jukka-Pekka Jappinen (SYKE, Finland) & Liisa Tyrväinen (Natural Resources Institute, Finland). Contact@

Nature for Health and Well-Being in Finland – results and recommendations from the Argumenta project Ecosystem Services and Human Health (2013-2014)  

Ecosystem Services and Human Health (2013–2014), financed by the Finnish Cultural Foundation as one of the traditional Argumenta projects, was intended to stimulate dialogue among researchers, experts, and decision-makers and to discuss the links between ecosystem services and human health. Jointly carried out by the Finnish Forest Research Institute and the Finnish Environment Institute, the project has produced the first comprehensive and multidisciplinary insight into the current state of Finnish national research, along with future research and near future policy needs.  According to the analysis carried out by the Ecosystem Services and Human Health project, ecosystem services and related biodiversity can have many positive effects in promotion of health and well-being and also in disease prevention. For the main outcome, the project team proposes implementation of a 10-year national development programme: Nature for Health and Well-Being in Finland (2015–2025), to comprise a national action plan and a multidisciplinary, five year research programme. The knowledge and expertise generated through these proposals could promote the health of all citizens and aid in prevention of non-communicable diseases and social exclusion. Acting on these proposals should contribute to the development of nature-based services while also increasing business and employment opportunities.  The Argumenta project has also promoted interdisciplinary co-operation and network formation in Finland.


Hans Keune (Belgian Biodiversity Platform & INBO, Belgium), Katrin Goyvaerts (Flemish Agency for Nature and Forest), Benno Geertsma (Natuurpunt). Contact:

The science, practice and policy of biodiversity, health and urbanisation: experience from establishing a community of practice in Belgium

In Belgium the relation between nature and human health, is getting more attention in recent years. Though still at the beginning, a community of practice is emerging, working on making more explicit what is already there (linkages between nature and human health) and trying to enhance the potential in order to strengthen fruitful practices and collaboration among relevant actors. From three perspectives, science, policy and practice, we will present current work and experience on making the linkages and potential explicit and trying to build bridges to relevant communities from different sectors (the nature sector, the health sector, other sectors), and between different types of activities and practice (science, policy, on the ground practice). We will reflect on the challenges ahead and how we plan to collaboratively work on them within Belgium. We will also reflect on the importance of Belgian’s contribution to the post-15 Sustainable Development Goals and the international momentum within CBD and WHO for the relation biodiversity – human health, and vice versa: it would be very helpful to local processes like a community of practice development to get support from the international level which may stimulate national governments to support these initiatives. Simultaneously the international ambitions very much need local communities of practice to make things work on the ground and feed into the international arena with practical lessons and challenges.


Liz O’Brien (Forest Research, UK). Contact: liz.o’

Improving the well-being of diverse and excluded communities through Nature Based Solutions in Britain  

The twenty percent most affluent wards in England have five times more greenspace than the most deprived ten percent of wards. Urban deprived populations, lower socio-economic groups, Black and Minority Ethnic Groups, and those with a disability or long term illness are much less likely to access and visit nature spaces than the general population. A range of interventions and partnerships have developed in recent years between the health and environment sectors that aim to engage these groups in accessing nature to improve their health and well-being. This presentation outlines some of these, what could be termed ‘nature based solutions’, and suggests that public green spaces and working with the health, housing, education and prison sectors can offer versatile opportunities to engage those who can often be excluded and suffer from inequalities in terms of health and access to green space. However funding some of these creative solutions is a challenge and potentially threatens some of the progress that has been made to date.


Patrick ten Brink (Institute for European Environmental Policy, Belgium and UK). Contact:

Health and Social Benefits of Nature and Biodiversity Protection

Drawing on cases from across the 28 EU member states, and supported by epidemiological evidence, this study demonstrates the multiple health and social benefits from nature and biodiversity protection. Significant health benefits include lesser risk of respiratory disease as air quality is improved;  reduced risk of heat stress as urban green coverage reduces the heat island effect; and lower levels of obesity and diabetes through increased physical activity and outdoor recreation. The health and social benefits which Natura 2000 and wider Green infrastructure can provide underlines the importance of new stakeholder collaborations to catalyse and realise nature-based solutions to health and social objectives. This supports good governance and added-value of EU, national and local policies and investments.


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