Institutional embedding

Guidance: international enabling policy environment

International conventions and agreements provide a minimum of shared understandings between countries. International law takes the form of negotiated, intergovernmental treaties and agreements to which countries can ‘subscribe’. The more states endorse a specific international agreement, the more this strengthens the power of the agreement. Examples are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Kyoto Protocol. A number of these international regulations is relevant for BwN because they support the ideas that underly BwN principles.

Below we list the regulations we think are relevant. We explain them briefly and highlight the elements that can support BwN. This information can be used in the early stages of pitching a BwN project. Although international regulations often concern high-level and abstract notions, referring to them can lead to concrete investments from international institutions like the World Bank.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s)

The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDG‘s) were adopted by all 193 United Nations Member States in 2015. The aim is to achieve more peace and prosperity in 2030, both for people and the planet. The SDGs are integrated: they recognize that action in one area will affect outcomes in others, and that development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability. The SDGs are a follow up on the Millennium Goals which were running between 2000 and 2015. Most relevant for BwN are the following SDG’s:

  • 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere. Natural disasters exacerbate poverty; BwN can reduce natural disasters related to flooding.
  • 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. BwN can contribute to the sustainable management of freshwater resources.
  • 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. BwN can contribute to disaster risk reduction in cities and human settlements.
  • 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. BwN solutions can sequester carbon, especially when plants and trees are used as a natural protection against flooding and waves.
  • 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. BwN creates natural environments and natural gradients which support biodiversity.
  • 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. BwN provides technologies that respect and enhance local biodiversity.

Paris Agreement on climate change

The Paris Agreement is an international agreement to reduce climate change by keeping a global temperature rise below 1,5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times. The agreement is part of the Climate convention, as is the Kyoto Protocol. The agreement was presented at the UNFCCC Climate Convention of 2015 in Paris. Additionally, the agreement aims to increase the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change. 189 Parties out of 197 Parties to the Climate Convention are Parties to the Paris Agreement. Governments mention this agreement in their policies, so developers should make explicit that BwN can help to meet their policy goals. BwN solutions contribute mainly to climate adaptation (flood protection) but can also contribute to climate mitigation when living systems are used to create more resilience, because they sequester carbon in living tissue or in the soil.

Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction

The Sendai Framework for disaster risk reduction is a global non-binding agreement to reduce disaster risk before 2030. Its main aims are formulated thus: ‘The substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries.’ Representatives from 187 countries have adopted the ‘Sendai Framework in 2015. It is a follow up on the Hyogo Framework that was active from 2005 to 2015. These frameworks both recognized that environmental degradation is a driver of disaster risk; and ecosystems management is needed to reduce disaster risk. It is also recognized that building with nature is important for reducing disaster risk and in 2020 already 26 organizations are involved in developing these ideas on ecosystem based disaster risk reduction. Sendai Priorities 1, 2 and 3 are related to NBS:

  1. Understanding disaster risk
  2. Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk
  3. Investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and Aichi targets

A UNEP working group presented the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nairobi in 1992. In June 1993 it had received 168 signatures. It has 3 main objectives:

  1. The conservation of biological diversity
  2. The sustainable use of the components of biological diversity
  3. The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources

In 2010 in Nagoya, Japan, the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. The Aichi targets are a set of 20 global targets under the Strategic Plan (Aichi means ‘light of hope’ in Japanese). These 20 targets are grouped under five strategic goals:

  • A: Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society
  • B: Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use
  • C: Improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity
  • D: Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • E: Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building

As BwN works with nature rather than against it, it will respect or even enhance biodiversity. BwN creates natural environments and natural gradients which support the local ecosystems.

Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

The Ramsar Convention was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971. Its aim is to provide a framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. It was signed by 171 parties. The Convention uses a broad definition of wetlands: it includes lakes and rivers, underground aquifers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands, peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, mangroves and other coastal areas, coral reefs, and all human-made sites such as fishponds, rice paddies, reservoirs and salt pans. The Convention works with three ‘pillars’:

  • They designate suitable wetlands for the list of Wetlands of International Importance (the “Ramsar List”) and ensure their effective management.
  • And they cooperate internationally on transboundary wetlands, shared wetland systems and shared species.

Wetlands are the typical working space of BwN. Whether they are on the Ramsar list or not, BwN can contribute to the goals by conserving a well-functioning system, both in terms of water quality and biodiversity.

How international regulations work for BwN development

International institutions like the United Nations, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the African Development Bank often have a high interest and involvement in international law. They need these frameworks to gain support for their programs. The World Bank states it like this: ‘The SDGs, which were formulated with strong participation from the World Bank Group, are fully consistent with the World Bank Group’s own twin goals to end poverty and build shared prosperity in a sustainable manner.’ This is also reflected in their funding activities: it is not uncommon to demand developers to provide direct references to the SDG’s and the Sendai Framework in their project proposals.

Although this high interest in nature-friendly international law theoretically may mean support for BwN principles, in practice it still needs a strong argumentation. International institutions often work with multi-million projects in which they seek certainty of proper investments. Also, they prefer to invest in the construction phase, while the developing countries are expected to pay for the maintenance, and pay back the loan over time. On top of this, Dutch inventions like polders, dikes and Delta works have gained a strong international reputation, and may be high on the wish list of national leaders and engineers in developing countries. A BwN developer thus needs to:

  • Reframe the BwN solutions as more innovative and future-proof than hard infrastructure options (and have a story ready on the disadvantages of the famous Dutch constructions).
  • Provide proof from other developing countries that BwN is just as secure and more inclusive.
  • Convince international funding agencies that they should also invest in soft infrastructure like nature and knowledge development.
  • Acquire an experimental ‘nook’ or niche in big projects to prove the validity and benefits of BwN. These benefits include more community involvement, an argument the funding agencies are sensitive to.

One might wonder if international regulations can be improved so they will support BwN better. Changing international regulations is not easy and may take decades. At the same time, they are formulated in general and abstract terms that allow for multiple interpretations, including the BwN interpretations. So it seems a better option to learn to frame BwN in terms that match the international law, and focus on fitting in (or changing) national regulations next. Why national legislation is so important is explained in the next section.