photo of waterfall taken by author of the blog author Randy Mandel

Responding to Climate Change Using Nature-based Solutions

December 11, 2023

By: Randy Mandel and Galen Peracca

A Nature-based Call for Action

Nature-based solutions (NbS) are methods that use the natural abilities of the environment to tackle environmental and social issues. They provide numerous benefits, including the preservation of biodiversity, the enhancement of water quality, and carbon reduction. These approaches involve protecting, restoring, and promoting the resilience of ecosystems and contributing to the improvement of human well-being.

Biodiversity conservation and decarbonization are pivotal to reducing the negative effects of climate change. Conserved or restored habitats to preserve or enhance biodiversity can help remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, thus helping to address climate change by storing carbon. Conserving coastal ecosystems can help reduce the disastrous impacts of flooding and storm surges caused by extreme weather events. By adopting these and other nature-based mitigation and adaptation strategies, we can tackle the daunting challenges posed by the current climate crisis.

In this blog, we discuss the advantages of implementing NbS to alleviate the negative effects of climate change. And, we describe the unique approach recommended by Montrose Environmental Inc., to identify NbS options that can aid in mitigating or adapting to the impacts caused by climate change.

Tackling Climate Change Using NbS Strategies

Nature-based solutions to address climate change, also known as “natural climate solutions,” involve protecting, restoring, or improving the management of ecosystems to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Some examples of these solutions include allowing forests to regrow, restoring coastal wetlands, and adopting restorative agricultural practices like cover crop rotation that promote healthy soil. These ecosystems help mitigate climate change by capturing CO2 from the air and storing it in plants, soils, and sediments. These approaches are a form of active carbon removal, distinct from other approaches that aim to prevent or reduce emissions.

Additionally, these and other NbS provide a wide range of other important benefits, including cleaner air and water, economic advantages, and recreation. Preserving ecosystem functions and services vital to promoting strategies that enhance carbon storage on forested lands can also be positively related to promoting biodiversity. Thus, carbon storage and biodiversity can be compatible with land conservation goals.

Montrose Environmental’s Ecosystem-Based Approach

Montrose utilizes an integrated approach to evaluate, map, and plan land management strategies that aim to preserve biodiversity and capture and store carbon. We use high-resolution mapping and modeling techniques to determine the amount of carbon sequestered in biomass and soil. This enables us to identify ecosystems where carbon storage can be particularly significant. Additionally, we measure critical biodiversity indices by employing various remote sensing techniques, spatial analysis, field surveys, and deep learning methods.

Montrose nature restoration experts take the scientific work one step further and incorporate an economic valuation of biodiversity and carbon assessment using an “ecosystem-based approach” that incorporates five key elements:

  1. Consideration of geographic areas defined by ecological boundaries 
  2. Recognition of the complexities of natural processes and social systems 
  3. Explicit definition of biological, economic, and social goals 
  4. Emphasis on science-based and data-informed decision-making
  5. Recognition that nature is unpredictable and adaptive management is a necessary component of the NbS strategy

Conducting a Climate-Focused Nature-based Solutions Analysis

The effective implementation of NbS for climate change mitigation requires economic and resource efficiencies. The evaluation of NbS options relies on specific ecological indicators and answers to a set of performance questions. The framework for NbS evaluation comprises three stages: (1) defining the project goals, including the problem(s) to be addressed and the expected scale of outcomes; (2) eliminating solutions that are not feasible for the local conditions; and (3) examining the expected performance after installation. To assess regulatory considerations, economic efficiency, analysis of synergies and trade-offs among different environmental and social benefits, adaptation to local conditions, spatial scale, and long-term performance, a systematic review is carried out in a series of technical steps:

Step 1: Desktop Review of On-Site & Reference Communities

We perform an initial desktop review of available information to characterize site history, data availability, ecological climax/steady-state conditions, reference communities, and trajectory.

Step 2: Remote Sensing

We use satellite imagery, LiDAR, UAV, etc. to assess the following conditions: habitat type and extent, site stressors, canopy cover & canopy height, hydrology, species richness, distribution,
and related variables.

Step 3: On-Site Surveys

We confirm habitat type and condition, site stressors, biological composition, and physical resource conditions such as soil, water, and air through field surveys.

Step 4: Comparative Analysis

We conduct a comparison of on-site with reference conditions to determine biodiversity and carbon conditions as well as overall system trajectory.

Step 5: Predictive Modeling

We compile remote sensing and on-site assessment information to create a predictive model. We apply algorithms to classify habitats and resource conditions spatially.

Step 6: Biodiversity Scorecard

We conduct a gap analysis to document on-site ecological conditions relative to reference areas. We use a scorecard approach to document uplift potential and determine costs, priorities, and management drivers to preserve and enhance biodiversity.

Montrose Consultants Can Help

NbS takes a comprehensive approach to tackling the climate crisis. It achieves this by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving ecosystem resilience, promoting sustainable development, conserving biodiversity, and informing effective policy measures. NbS solutions are cost-effective, safe, and scientifically sound. Recommendations and decisions are supported by informed environmental economic expertise and are aligned with ESG, regulatory, and social obligations.

Montrose has unrivaled expertise in ecosystem services assessments. Our experts are well-versed in conducting environmental assessments supporting conservation practices and the restoration of lands damaged by industrial accidents, natural disasters, and armed conflict. We support clients through all phases of environmental and regulatory compliance, including problem formulation, data collection and monitoring, environmental assessment, and regulatory negotiation.

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Randy Mandel
Principal, Biodiversity and Nature Restoration Practice

Randy Mandel is a leading subject matter expert for biodiversity and restoration ecology. He brings over 30 years of experience in the use of site-specific native plants, the integration of ecological and constructed systems, and the incorporation of native flora and fauna to over 5,000 domestic and international project sites throughout his career. Mr. Mandel co-founded and led Rocky Mountain Native Plants Company, one of the largest container native plant nurseries in the U.S., for over 13 years. He has authored over two dozen publications, including international journal articles and a stand-alone monograph on the use of wetland plant species for biofiltration.

Galen Peracca
Senior Associate Ecologist, Biodiversity and Nature Restoration Practice

Galen Peracca is an ecologist and impact assessment practitioner with over 17 years of professional experience in California and New England scoping, planning, and implementing environmental review and impact analyses of infrastructure and resource development projects that need approval by local, state, or federal agencies. Ms. Peracca has prepared ESIA and NEPA documentation and environmental reports consistent with international EP4 and IFC guidelines. She has supported permitting and environmental impact assessment work for oil and gas clients, federal, state, and local agencies, and business clients in the energy, transportation, and mining sectors.

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