For more information on the background of this funding opportunity, go to the Additional information section.
The WEF Global Risks Report 2022, page 7 (PDF, 5.6MB) states that ‘climate action failure’, ‘extreme weather’ and ‘biodiversity loss’ are the most severe long-term threats to face the world over the next decade, as well as being the most potentially damaging to people and planet.
Therefore, increased research is needed to ensure that Nature-based Solutions (NbS) can achieve their potential to tackle both the climate and biodiversity crisis while also contributing to sustainable development (Understanding the value and limits of nature-based solutions to climate change and other global challenges).
Globally, the interest in NbS or using nature for climate resilience is growing, with international agreements such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Paris Climate Agreement underlining the importance of NbS as dependable approaches that address climate change.
The UNEA-5 have formally adopted the definition of NbS as: “actions to protect, conserve, restore, sustainably use and manage natural or modified terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems, which address social, economic and environmental challenges effectively and adaptively, while simultaneously providing human wellbeing, ecosystem services and resilience and biodiversity benefits”.
Eight of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have targets related to environmental sustainability and the role of the environment in supporting economic growth and societal wellbeing, demonstrating the potential wide-ranging benefits of NbS.
However, to be effective, NbS need to be appropriate for the environmental, social, economic and cultural contexts in which they will be applied, in current and future climate scenarios. NbS are being recognised in High Income Countries, for example the UK government’s 25 year environment plan (PDF, 11.1MB), however it is not well-reflected in the policies of low and middle-income countries (LMICs).
A lack of knowledge about the suitability and feasibility of NbS in different environments or contexts is a major barrier to uptake internationally. There is currently a need to better understand the limits of varying NbS interventions, what constitutes good practice, and how they address climate risk, equity and sustainability.
There are also notable financial and governance challenges involved in implementing NbS at scale, demonstrating the need for further research to ensure co-benefits and prevent trade-offs (Understanding the value and limits of nature-based solutions to climate change and other global challenges).
Funders, investors and decision makers need to be confident that the NbS initiatives they support are effective and scalable and consider potential externalities. However, many may lack the resources or expertise to analyse and evaluate this, including in the UK where NbS have been slow to scale up. With growing interest by governments and businesses to adopt and apply NbS, the first ever IUCN Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions was developed in 2020 to guide users through NbS applications and set benchmarks for their progress.
The recent IPCC AR6 WGII report (PDF, 4MB) affirms that climate action and sustainable development need to be pursued in an integrated manner in order to enhance human and ecological wellbeing. The concept of ‘Climate resilient development’ (CRD) deliberately adopts mitigation and adaptation measures to secure a safe climate, meet basic needs, eliminate poverty and enable equitable, just and sustainable development.
The programme will produce research outputs that support the refinement of the IUCN ‘Global Standard’ and contribute to ‘Climate Resilient Development’ pathways. The programme will contribute to delivering relevant UK government priorities including our contribution to meeting the Kunming-Montreal Protocol, Pillars 1 and 3 of the UK government’s Integrated Review 2023 (PDF, 11.3MB), the International Development Strategy (IDS, 2022) (PDF, 1MB) and the Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity recommendations.
The programme is supported through two of the five UKRI Strategic Themes – specifically ‘Building a Green Future’ (BaGF) and ‘Building a Secure and Resilient World’ (BaSRW), particularly to the sub-theme on Strengthening Resilience in Natural and Built Environment.
The joint UKRI and FCDO transdisciplinary research programme aims to enhance understanding of the scalability and contextualisation of NbS in SSA. It will:
- address a lack of knowledge about the suitability and feasibility of NbS in different SSA contexts and their potential impacts on local ecosystems and communities
- explore opportunities for NbS to be scaled upwards and outwards in SSA, through qualitative and quantitative assessment of the environmental, agrarian, economic and social impacts of NbS at scale
- better understand how NbS can increase the resilience of ecosystems and people to climate-associated risks and be incorporated into policy at the local and national scale alongside long-term investment from the public and private sector
- address equity and temporal sustainability of NbS for environments and people, through considering gender equity and social inclusion (GESI), knowledge mobilisation and the integration of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLC) in NbS design, implementation and maintenance
Your application should describe anticipated outcomes and impacts, such as:
- new knowledge and greater understanding around the scalability and contextualisation of NbS across a range of African landscapes and settings, to build resilience to current and future climate risks
- openly accessible evidence base of NbS impacts that makes use of new methods and solutions to understand the diverse impacts of NbS in different contexts, involving multiple disciplines and both formal and informal knowledge
- enhanced capacity for whole-system evaluation and optimisation of NbS interventions, that empowers local community driven governance
- greater equity in NbS in terms of both how the research and implementation is carried out, and the outcomes of NbS interventions
- enhanced temporal sustainability of NbS including factors such as securing long-term finance and evolution of policy drivers
- informing the adoption of NbS into national and local-level policy and public and private investment in SSA, realising the potential for NbS to support climate adaptation of local communities and ecosystems at a range of scales
Chapter 22 of the IPCC 2018 AR5 WGII report (PDF, 4.8MB) highlighted Africa as a future “hotspot” for climate change-related hazards. Water quality and quantity have already been strongly impacted (Rankoana, 2020) and climate change will have a massive impact on food supply (FAO, 2021).
Key climate change-related risks or hazard types highlighted by SSA-based actors while scoping this programme include fluvial and pluvial flooding, heatwaves, drought and invasive species. SSA-based communities are involved in a diverse array of NbS approaches, including management of rivers, forests and wetlands impacted by climate change, tree planting and invasive plant clearing, livestock management, sustainable urban drainage systems and urban farming.
There is a need to identify how effective NbS are at increasing resilience to multiple climate change-induced risks in SSA, their wider impacts (for example at the catchment-scale or along supply chains) and identify how these can be monitored and improved to enhance equitable outcomes for local environments and people.
The interconnected nature of the socio-economic/ecological systems in which NbS are implemented can lead to varying upstream and downstream consequences across a range of sectors, with implications for (amongst others):
- disaster risk reduction
- land use planning
- food and water security
- biodiversity and habitat protection
- human health
- cultural heritage
- conflict and migration
- interlinked urban, rural and informal systems
Understanding how NbS interact with the environmental context therefore requires a whole-systems approach to monitoring and evaluation of NbS and how their impacts cascade or interact across mosaics of NbS interventions at different scales. Further research is needed to produce realistic costs and benefits (environmental, monetary and non-monetary) of NbS – their implementation at scale and their maintenance, in order to convince governments and communities to engage with NbS interventions as part of national and local-level climate adaptation strategies.
This programme will seek to enhance our understanding of the scalability and contextualisation of NbS in SSA. A greater understanding of how efficacy of NbS vary between contexts is required through comparative analysis. This includes consideration of how current localised interventions can be scaled up, how the benefits they bring change across scales and interact, and how knowledge that has been developed in other settings needs to be adapted for the African context.
A focus on these key topics offers secondary benefits to the UK knowledge base, where findings may be transferred to fill gaps in our own understanding of the efficacy and impacts of UK-based NbS for different contexts and scales.
An investment of up to £9.5 million will enable a programme comprising four large awards of up to £2.25 million over three years, requiring inter, and transdisciplinary teams of researchers including a range of expertise, for example, environmental, social, economic, engineering, biology, health, and arts and humanities together with in-country end users and beneficiaries to co-design and undertake the research required.
Projects will be expected to build on equitable UK-SSA partnerships to address research challenges under all three of the priority themes listed, alongside both underpinning threads of ‘equity’ and ‘temporal sustainability’.
To sustain research impact, projects will also be expected to collaborate with local and national government agencies, the private sector and international actors engaged in NbS or the policy contexts through which they are implemented and should seek to build on Indigenous People and Local Community (IPLC) knowledge.
Projects may focus on a single SSA country or region and the range of hazards and potential NbS in that area; or on a constrained set of challenges and solutions in a number of SSA countries or contexts.
Applications to this programme should primarily aim to utilise NbS to support adaptation of ecosystems/land use or communities to climate change-induced risks, or both, although co-benefits and unintended consequences should be considered.
Your application should build on equitable UK-SSA partnerships to address research challenges under all three of the priority themes:
- contextualisation of nature-based solutions
- scalability of nature-based solutions
- community-driven approaches and governance of nature-based solutions
Exemplar research questions include (but are not limited to):
Contextualisation of nature-based solutions
- how do NbS interact with systems/environments they are located within, including grey, green and blue infrastructures and local ecological, policy, social and economic settings?
- how does the efficacy and impact of NbS vary between environmental, cultural and socio-economic contexts? How and where do they work?
- what knowledge and evidence are needed to enable context-driven and context-specific implementation of NbS?
- what are the context specific gaps in knowledge around how NbS can be scaled up for example, for different climate hazards, ecosystem-types, urban/rural settings, agri-systems and governance systems?
- how can research foster the integration of NbS into local policy contexts and existing government frameworks at appropriate scales?
Scalability of nature-based solutions
- how can the impacts of NbS at different scales be assessed, including identifying that some are not scalable?
- how to enable systemic evaluation and monitoring of the realistic costs and benefits of NbS implemented at scale (monetary and non-monetary, including valuing nature, quantifying and communicating uncertainty and recognising the cost of no action)? How can both research and traditional knowledge be incorporated?
- what are the implications of upscaling and out-scaling NbS from local to national levels, and to new rural, urban, coastal or informal environments, including consideration of connectivity between landscapes?
- what are the limits of NbS in mitigating climate risks for vulnerable ecosystems and local communities in current and future climate scenarios for example, capacity to withstand extreme weather events?
- how can NbS be mainstreamed across sectors and environments for example, mobilising resources from the private sector to scale up NbS and for community-led implementation and maintenance?
- how do different NbS interact within and between ecosystems and land use types, what are the compound benefits and trade-offs of NbS?
Community-driven approaches and governance of nature-based solutions
- how can NbS be optimised to bring maximum co-benefits and outcomes for justice, including exploration of equity of costs and benefits across scales and contexts?
- how to protect and upscale traditional NbS already utilised by local communities – how can research support and learn from this and what are the barriers for example, political economy, threats to land rights?
- how can sustainable NbS maintenance approaches be optimised to maintain value, including building on traditional knowledge and practices?
- how can research help to enshrine bottom-up, community-driven NbS in policy and law to enable greater ownership of local interventions and catalyse sustainable community-level capacity?
Two underpinning ‘threads’ that cut across the programme are ‘Equity’ and ‘Temporal Sustainability’, which all projects will be expected to consider alongside the themes above.
Your application should demonstrate how you will identify and address issues of equity. The term ‘equity’ can be interpreted in a number of ways by different NbS stakeholders in different contexts.
Key considerations are integration of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLC), Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) and knowledge mobilisation. Projects should foster transdisciplinary knowledge production and integration to enhance the acceptability and longevity of NbS. Projects should look to consider two key aspects of equity:
- Equity in how the research and implementation is carried out, from research to practice, for example:
- equitable decision-making and research design, including roles, responsibilities, access to resources, ownership of outputs and benefits
- building on existing local knowledge and experience from other projects, both formal and informal knowledge
- need for examples of good equitable case studies to inform future approaches
- openly available research for all to access, communicated in appropriate format, style, language for all users, including diverse formats such as creative arts
- integrating IPLC terminology and knowledge into peer-reviewed literature
- recognising that relational tools required (for example, to build trust) and optimal engagement processes will differ across landscapes and cultural contexts
- Equity in terms of the outcomes of NbS interventions and the environmental/social/economic impacts of NbS, for example:
- evidencing the context-specific needs of ecosystems, agri-systems and people
- value of NbS (benefits, costs, trade-offs) to all stakeholders, including applying appropriate compensation for local trade-offs
- transparent governance and decision-making
- community science and wider benefit monitoring
Your application should also describe how you will identify and address issues of temporal sustainability.
Long term, sustainable NbS require consideration of physical longevity of impacts under climate change and land-use change scenarios. However, to underpin sustainability and enhance the impact of research beyond the programme duration, other factors should also be taken into account, such as how to secure long-term finance for NbS, understanding policy and regulatory contexts, maintenance requirements (and community capacity) for NbS, natural evolution of NbS and the need for long-term partnerships.
Your project should look to consider one or more of the following:
- understanding and prediction of climate change impacts on local ecosystems, including agri-systems, and communities
- financial solutions for NbS
- assessment of long-term NbS impacts under current and future climate change scenarios (and evolution of natural systems)
- potential of larger-scale NbS mosaics to cope with climate change extremes
- NbS in rapidly developing contexts
- knowledge mobilisation to decision-makers and IPLC through long term partnerships
- sustainable maintenance schedules (emergency maintenance, routine, and full overhaul)
- policy and regulation requirements within the different contexts
Excluded from this programme are applications aiming to:
- explore NbS for the primary purpose of climate change mitigation for example, carbon sequestration
- utilise NbS to primarily support ecosystem restoration, or primarily enable the sustainable use of natural resources (information around FCDO and Defra-led funding opportunities focusing in these areas are available in the Additional info section of this page)
This programme forms part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment, and will be awarded in a manner that fits with ODA guidelines.
Research partnerships should be transparent and based on mutual respect. Partnerships should aim to have clearly articulated equitable distribution of resources, responsibilities, efforts and benefits. Partnerships should recognise different inputs, different interests and different desired outcomes and should ensure the ethical sharing and use of data, which is responsive to the identified needs of society.
All partners need to be appropriate, involved in the scoping and delivery of the research, and add value. Project teams must consist of a UK-based project lead and an SSA-based project lead (but listed as project co-lead), supported by UK and SSA-based project co-leads, researcher co-leads, project partners and research and innovation associates, as appropriate for the research.
When applying to this funding opportunity it is important that you ensure your application is ODA compliant. It must be clear how the application is ODA eligible as defined by “administered with the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries as its main objective”.
Applications may relate to any SSA country or countries on the DAC list except those that are flagged as likely to graduate from the list during the course of the proposed project. If a country is flagged as likely to graduate it cannot be the primary focus of an application, although it can be included as an additional case study or comparison.
ODA provided by UKRI must comply with the requirements of the International Development (Gender Equality) Act 2014, which states, the “desirability of providing development assistance that is likely to contribute to reducing poverty in a way which is likely to contribute to reducing inequalities between persons of different gender.” All applications have to address this requirement and detail how meaningful, yet proportionate consideration has been taken as to how the project will contribute to reducing gender inequalities.
It is expected that some projects will have less impact on gender and gender relations and professional judgement of the applicants should be exercised to ensure appropriate consideration of the context and intended aims of the project. You can reference other parts of your application within this statement, if relevant.
Read UKRI guidance on gender equality compliance.
UKRI condemns all forms of harm and abuse, including bullying and harassment. We take a zero-tolerance approach to harm and abuse to any individual employed through or associated with our programmes in all contexts. This is whether in humanitarian or fragile and conflict-affected settings, in other field contexts, or within the international or UK research and development community which we fund.
We expect institutions to promote the highest standards in organisational culture and have in place the systems and procedures required to prevent and tackle all incidents of harm and abuse. Your application must detail how they will identify and manage safeguarding risks and what policies and procedures will be in place to enable reporting and investigation of allegations when they arise.
All ODA projects must be underpinned by a strong research ethic based on mutual respect and understanding for different cultural, ethnic, social and economic beliefs and practices. Solutions to any development challenges must be rooted in, and acceptable to, the institutions, communities and societies where they will operate.
Ethical issues should be interpreted broadly and may encompass areas where regulation and approval processes exist as well as areas where they do not.
You must ensure that the proposed research will be carried out to a high ethical standard and must clearly state how you have considered any potential ethical and health and safety issues and how they will be addressed, ensuring that all necessary ethical approval is in place before the research commences and all risks are minimised.
More guidance can be found in the ESRC Framework for Research Ethics.
UKRI strongly encourages all applications to this funding opportunity to identify research capacity-building activities as part of, and not separate to, the stated research approach. The focus should be on the quality and impact of the research, and how increasing capacity contributes to this. Examples of building capacity include:
- opportunities for those with relevant skills who have not previously worked on development relevant research projects to orient their research towards global issues
- support and mentoring for more junior team members
- co-design of research and implementation with developing country partner staff
Successful applicants will be required to report research outcomes on ResearchFish in line with standard UKRI Terms and Conditions. This is required annually and continues for up to five years after the end of funding.
Monitoring, evaluation and learning will be a key component of the programme and project teams may also be required to participate in a mid-term review and respond to ad hoc reporting requests from UKRI or FCDO.
Project teams will be expected to participate in programme-wide activities such as one-day knowledge exchange workshops, likely at kick-off, mid-term and finale stages.
There will also be opportunities to network with projects funded through the FCDO-led CLARE and REDAA and Defra-led GCBC programmes (read more in the Additional info section), to identify synergies and build greater collective impact.
The duration of this award is three years.
Projects must start by 12 February 2024. This date is fixed and non-negotiable.
The full economic cost of your project can be up to £2.25 million.
We will fund 80% of the full economic cost (FEC) with the following exception:
- eligible costs for PcL(I) involvement would be funded at 100%
What we will fund
The maximum project size is £2.25 million cost to UKRI (including overheads and any UKRI facility costs), with UK institutions eligible for 80% FEC and overseas organisations eligible for 100% direct project costs.
We will automatically reject any applications that go over the budget of £2.25 million.
UKRI will not provide additional funding to cover fluctuations in exchange rates.
UK and non-UK research organisational budgets are indicated as follows:
The costs requested for each organisation should be itemised separately under the participating organisation.
UK research organisations will receive 80% of the FEC. We will fund under all headings except equipment.
For Norwegian or IIASA project co-lead involvement, we will fund 100% for eligible direct costs only (enter these as exceptional costs):
- co-lead or other staff costs
- directly incurred travel and subsistence
- directly incurred other
We will not fund equipment, indirect or estates costs.
For SSA co-lead involvement, we will fund 100% for eligible direct costs (enter these as exceptional costs):
- co-lead or other staff costs
- directly incurred (DI) travel and subsistence
- directly incurred (DI) other
You can request indirect costs of up to 20% of the total direct cost. You should enter this as ‘DI other’.
Funding available for project partners
For third sector organisations (for example, NGOs, charities, and other non-profit civil society organisations), we will fund a modest contribution towards their costs on the project at 100% of direct costs. Any non-staff costs must be reasonable: indirect costs and overheads are not allowed. All staff costs must be based on basic salaries (that is, not day rates).
You should enter all costs as an exception on the lead organisations finance table, but fully itemised by organisation, country, and cost breakdown in the justification section.
You can request costs for procurement of goods and services, including for businesses and government departments. The costs for subcontractors are tied to the country managing the sub-contract, for example, if a SSA country research partner organisation is managing a subcontract it will be awarded at 100%. If a UK partner is managing a sub-contract, it will be awarded at 80%. The most appropriate country should be chosen to manage the sub-contract based on the overall governance arrangements.
For applications involving international applicants, project partners or collaborators, visit Trusted Research for more information on effective international collaboration.
What we will not fund
We will not fund PhD studentships.
Requests for equipment of £10,000 and over are not part of this funding opportunity. You should request smaller items of equipment (under £10,000 individually) under ‘Consumables (other directly incurred costs)’ in your application.
You must adhere to the NERC data policy.
For details of NERC data centres, see the NERC Environmental Data Service.
We will pay the NERC data centre directly for archival and curation services, but you should ensure that you request sufficient resource to cover preparation of data for archiving by your research team. Additional services from the data centres, such as database development or a specialist in project data management during your project, must be discussed with the relevant data centre prior to submission and the costs included in your application.
Where other specific types of data are also collected, you must refer to relevant council guidance for archiving such specific data.
Services and facilities
You can apply to use a facility or resource in your funding application.
You should discuss your application with the facility or service at least two months before the funding opportunity’s closing date to:
- discuss the proposed work in detail
- receive confirmation that they can provide the services required within the timeframe of the funding
The facility will provide a technical assessment that includes the calculated cost of providing the service. UKRI services and facilities must be costed within the limits of the funding.
You should not submit the technical assessment with the application, but you must confirm you have received it.
Read the full list of NERC facilities that require a technical assessment.
High Performance Computing (HPC) and the large research facilities at Harwell have their own policies for access and costing.
Through our funding processes, we seek to make a positive contribution to society and the environment. This is not just through research outputs and outcomes but through the way in which research is conducted and facilities managed.
All NERC grant holders are to adopt responsible research practices as set out in the UKRI-NERC Responsible Business Statement.
Responsible research is defined as reducing harm or enhancing benefit on the environment and society through effective management of research activities and facilities. Specifically, this covers:
- the natural environment
- the local community
- equality, diversity and inclusion
You should consider the responsible research context of your project, not the host institution as a whole. You should take action to enhance your responsible research approach where practical and reasonable.