Impact Report of the Nature-Based Infrastructure Global Resource Centre 2021

An update from the NBI Global Resource Centre Team


Photo by Sitraka on Unsplash


Photo by Sitraka on Unsplash

“Our hope is that this pioneering initiative will help unlock investments for nature-based infrastructure at the scale that we all need, which can help fill the existing finance gap in climate adaptation.”

Carlos Manuel Rodriguez
    CEO of the Global Environment Facility

“The establishment of the Nature-Based Infrastructure Global Resource Centre as a one-stop-shop will be very timely, since it compares financial and economic benefits of nature-based infrastructure with conventional grey infrastructure.”

Li Yong
    Director General of UNIDO

“Nature is a generous yet complex system that yields key benefits for society and the economy. Provisions by nature are not only more sustainable but often also cheaper and more stable in the long term than those coming from human-engineered solutions. We must learn to work more and better with nature, and for that we need solid evidence. This is why we are proud to support the NBI Centre so we can make sure that decision-makers have the best knowledge to fully value nature’s contribution.”

André Hoffmann
    President of the MAVA Foundation


Photo by Zoe on Unsplash


Photo by Zoe on Unsplash

“Sometimes the best solutions are hidden in plain sight. Built infrastructure is responsible for over 60% of global emissions and is driving species and habitat loss. And it’s not always the best tool for the job. Actions like using reefs or mangroves instead of concrete sea wall defences, or complementing waste treatment plants with reeds or wetlands can be more effective—for both the environment and the economy.”

Richard Florizone
    President and CEO of IISD

We established ourselves as a game-changing solution to climate adaptation and sustainable infrastructure by launching the NBI Global Resource Centre just before COP-26 at a high-level panel discussion.

 The Nature-Based Infrastructure Global Resource Centre was officially launched on October 25, 2021. This was the result of a solid strategic communication effort, led by IISD, with input of the founding partners of the NBI Centre: the GEF, UNIDO and the MAVA Foundation.

The launch also marked the start of the use of the NBI portal through which stakeholders from all over the world can submit a request for an NBI valuation. The NBI portal serves as a collaborative platform through which IISD works with project stakeholders to exchange data, organize meetings and discuss results of the valuations.

The Centre is a unique global hub that offers resources on nature-based infrastructure.

In total, the NBI Global Resource Centre attracted more than 1000 participants to discussions focused on nature-based infrastructure throughout 2021.

The launch event of the Centre—“A High-Level Virtual Discussion on Valuing Nature-Based Infrastructure”—was widely attended and mobilized high-level speakers from the partners organizations. The key messages of the Centre and the importance of valuing NBI as part of infrastructure planning were echoed throughout the day.

In addition, we have held many multi-stakeholder dialogues focused on explaining NBI as a concept and underlying methodologies used by the Centre.

We also reached another 930 stakeholders in high-level events and dialogues on the value of NBI, financing NBI and how to value the costs, benefits and risks of NBI in comparison with grey infrastructure.

We sent clear signals on how we are combining robust science, explorative systems thinking, and creative financial valuation, for nature-based infrastructure projects.

We aim to become the world’s leading knowledge hub on nature-based infrastructure. Over the next 5 years, we will pursue efforts to bring together infrastructure planners, investors, policy and decision makers, civil society and academia to establish a business case for NBI and make it an asset class.

We provide data, training, and customized valuations based on the latest innovations in systems thinking and financial modelling. 

We released the very first research on the cost-saving potential of NBI which gained global resonance and was echoed in top international tier1 media.

We raised the profile of NBI by publishing new research that—for the first-time ever—quantifies the proportion of built infrastructure that could be replaced with natural alternatives and the money that would save globally, as well as wider environmental and social benefits.

This report provides an estimate of how much nature-based infrastructure can save costs and create value relative to traditional grey infrastructure.

How does nature-based infrastructure (NBI) perform compared to grey infrastructure? How can NBI help to bridge the infrastructure gap? And what outcomes would emerge from shifting investments from built infrastructure to nature? Building on this overarching question, this working paper aims to answer these questions by bringing together two elements of research: a literature review on infrastructure investment needs and the results from IISD’s Sustainable Asset Valuations (SAVi) of NBI projects.

This research shows that NBI provides the same services but is up to 50% cheaper than traditional infrastructure. In addition, NBI provides 28% better value for money. It also shows that an infrastructure swap could create additional benefits worth up to USD 489 billion every year—a figure that rivals the annual GDP of countries such as Austria, Ireland, or Nigeria.

Our findings made it to top tier international media:

Title: ‘Natural infrastructure’ could save billions a year in climate crisis response

Outlet: The Guardian

Date Published: October 25, 2021 

 Title: Turning infrastructure green offers huge savings on top of climate benefits

Outlet: Reuters

Date Published: October 25, 2021 

We filled the evidence gap that investors, project developers, and other key stakeholders face when they evaluate whether to invest in nature

selective focus photography of graph

Photo by m. on Unsplash

Photo by m. on Unsplash

Through the Sustainable Asset Valuation (SAVi) assessments, we have built a wealth of experience on how to value the costs of risks and externalities, as well as the risks that can emerge from externalities over a project's life cycle. We have established partnerships with active NBI stakeholders in various geographies and sectors.

2021 also marked the start of 6 NBI projects’ assessments:

-        Forest rehabilitation in Indonesia, with UNIDO

-        Sand dunes in the Netherlands, with the International Association of Dredging Companies (IADC)

-        Constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment in South Africa, with the Western Cape Province

-        Tree planting in Ethiopia, with the WRI Cities Program

-        Tree planning in Bhutan, with Bhutan Ecological Society

-        Mangrove restoration for coastal protection in Colombia, with WRI Colombia and the City of Barranquilla

·       We unpacked our innovative modelling approach so that stakeholders can effectively leverage it for NBI projects.


Photo by Tim Simon on Unsplash

Photo by Tim Simon on Unsplash

We combine robust science, explorative systems thinking, and creative financial valuation to make the investment case for nature-based infrastructure projects. Our unique methodology relies on the interrelated features of simulation, valuation, and customization. Through working with our stakeholders, we build a better and mutual understanding of NBI projects.

In addition to the wealth of resources available on the NBI Global Resource Centre, this year we developed a series of animated videos to explain our work with visually engaging content.

1.      A simplified version of a key tool that is part of our methodology: the Causal Loop Diagram

We explored new nexus of issues that are part of NBI.

·       Towards NBI as an asset class:

In this article, we explain the different actions needed to NBI as a distinct asset class. The systemic linkages between knowledge, finance, and policy are particularly crucial and will enable well-informed investment decisions that encapsulate all possible trade-offs.

·       Gender and NBI

Women are hit hardest by climate change, and they are key to effective and inclusive climate adaptation. In this article, we explain how nature-based infrastructure can provide equitable benefits for women, and how we can value that contribution.

·       Building with Nature for a better climate (Co-authored blog with GEF)

This article, co-authored with Aloke Barnwal, senior climate change specialist at the GEF, shares our reflections on the COP26 and the importance for our work on NBI.


Looking forward to 2022


Photo by drmakete lab on Unsplash

Photo by drmakete lab on Unsplash

In 2022, the NBI Centre will launch a brand new course that will empower policy-makers, infrastructure planners and investors to understand the economic and financial performance as well as their co-benefits, in comparison with "built" or "grey" infrastructure.

The course will also provide in-depth technical knowledge on how to make the case for investing in NBI.  With this knowledge it is expected that policymakers, infrastructure planners and investors will be better equipped to make informed decisions about infrastructure investments and climate adaptation.  

In 2022, we will continue assessing various NBI projects in Colombia, Ethiopia, Bhutan and many others. We will also develop new and improved data on NBI in our online database.