Cities are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, such as sea-level rise, drought, and extreme weather. With more than half of the people in the world living in urban areas, the global population will become more vulnerable to these impacts in coming decades, making a city’s ability to adapt increasingly important. NWF’s new report, “Green Works for Climate Resilience: A Community Guide to Climate Planning,” is a primer on the kinds of natural and nature-based approaches (also called “natural infrastructure”) that communities can use to prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change. It provides specific examples of approaches communities are taking, where they are being used, and how they are being implemented. Green Works also includes information about the economic benefits of nature-based approaches, such as the cost of establishing a green roof and the subsequent reduction in energy use and related savings in heating and cooling costs.
“Natural” infrastructure refers to approaches that rely on enhancing, protecting, and restoring naturally-occurring infrastructure, such as coastal wetlands and tree canopies, as well as features that mimic natural processes, such as a rain garden or a green roof. Although man-made, rain gardens and other low impact development approaches model the functions of natural infrastructure, such as by slowing the infiltration of stormwater to reduce flooding.
Natural infrastructure can also reduce the Urban Heat Island Effect (UHIE) in cities that occurs due to the large percentage of artificial surfaces (i.e. buildings, roads, sidewalks) that cover a city’s land area and retain heat. For example, trees in urban areas provide cooling shade, which can cool buildings and reduce energy use and costs for air conditioning, while also preventing dark surfaces from absorbing and releasing heat from the sun. Over a large enough area, an urban park or forest can significantly cool a city. Green roofs can also be used to insulate buildings and provide a cooling effect to the surrounding air through transpiration. Below are examples from the Guide that highlight some ways in which communities have started using nature-based approaches.
*Becca Shapiro contributed to this article.