Africa’s leadership in nature-based solutions: Is language creating a barrier in showcasing the continent’s best efforts?

Africa's leadership in nature-based solutions: Is language creating a barrier in showcasing the continent's best efforts?


An interactive interrogation of the impacts of jargon on how we profile, implement and respond to nature, biodiversity and climate initiatives in Africa.

Does language matter? Urbanisation and climate change impacts on society and the environment call for an urgent response from cities and governments to enhance urban sustainability and resilience. The use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as an adaptation strategy has grown significantly, more recently, the benefits are being recognised globally as a key leap towards sustainable cities. The evolution of concepts and approaches to using nature for solving global challenges related to biodiversity loss and climate change has brought about much misperception. The introduction of the concept of Nature based Solutions (NbS) and its multifunctionality has caused much confusion and has led to a wider language gap between researchers, practitioners and policy makers globally. Debates have focused on how to choose the best solution and what relationship NbS has with existing concepts such as Ecosystem based Adaptation (EbA). Africa has a long history of using solutions dependent on nature to solve human and societal challenges. However, the language used is not always consistent with global terminology, thus creating the assumption that most parts of Africa have no knowledge of NbS or the role nature plays as an adaptive measure to global challenges. This session seeks to create provocative dialogue on the issue of language to understand the implications it has on implementation and willingness to take up these concepts and most importantly, whether language creates a barrier to showcasing Africa’s strides towards sustainable communities.


Le leadership de l’Afrique en matière de solutions basées sur la nature : La langue constitue-t-elle un obstacle pour la mise en valeur des meilleurs efforts du continent ?

La langue est-elle importante ? Les impacts de l’urbanisation et du changement climatique sur la société et l’environnement appellent une réponse urgente de la part des villes et des gouvernements afin de renforcer la durabilité et la résilience des villes. L’utilisation de la biodiversité et des services écosystémiques en tant que stratégie d’adaptation s’est développée de manière significative. Plus récemment, les avantages sont reconnus au niveau mondial comme une étape clé vers des villes durables. L’évolution des concepts et des approches visant à utiliser la nature pour résoudre les problèmes mondiaux liés à la perte de biodiversité et au changement climatique a donné lieu à de nombreuses erreurs de perception. L’introduction du concept de solutions basées sur la nature (NbS) et de sa multifonctionnalité a provoqué une grande confusion et a conduit à un écart de langage plus important entre les chercheurs, les praticiens et les décideurs politiques au niveau mondial. Les débats se sont concentrés sur la manière de choisir la meilleure solution et sur la relation entre les solutions basées sur la nature et les concepts existants tels que l’adaptation basée sur les écosystèmes (EbA). L’Afrique a une longue histoire d’utilisation de solutions dépendant de la nature pour résoudre les défis humains et sociétaux. Cependant, le langage utilisé n’est pas toujours cohérent avec la terminologie mondiale, ce qui laisse supposer que la plupart des régions d’Afrique n’ont aucune connaissance de la NbS ou du rôle que joue la nature comme mesure d’adaptation aux défis mondiaux. Cette session vise à créer un dialogue provocateur sur la question de la langue pour comprendre les implications qu’elle a sur la mise en œuvre et la volonté d’adopter ces concepts et, surtout, si la langue crée un obstacle à la présentation des progrès de l’Afrique vers des communautés durables.


Host: ICLEI Africa

Prof. Pippin Anderson

Associate Professor, University of Cape Town

Prof. Shuaib Lwasa

Associate Professor, Makerere University

Jessica Kavonic

Head of Implementation (Africa), C40 Cities

Franklin Kirimi

Senior Design Associate, Kounkuey Design Initiative

Veronica Fortune

Chief Administrator, Bo City Council

Dr Pearl Gola

Ecological Infrastructure Coordinator: Greater uMngeni Catchment, South African National Biodiversity Institute

Session Summary

This engaging and insightful session was moderated by Pippin Anderson who began the session by posing the question ‘how does the story of language (and terminology) speak to how Africa is positioned in the nature based solution space?’.

A key theme that emerged through this conversation was the argument that Africa is already utilising nature based solutions but may be falling short in showcasing these practices.
Shuaib Lwasa argues that for a long time, Africa has been utilising various nature based solutions even though they may not be recognised on a global scale. He discusses the exclusionary nature of global literature in this field which terms many African micro-level studies as ‘noise’. Franklin Kirimi later suggests that perhaps local languages and terminologies for nature based solutions are simply not understood or introduced on the academic/global stage. Jessica Kavonic reiterates that African nature based solutions have been around for a long time but argues that perhaps they are occurring mainly at a smaller scale. She questions if these solutions are really mainstreamed or embedded at a larger scale and calls for a scaling up of these initiatives. Pearl Gola supports this observation and raises the idea that scaling is a much more complex process with various forms – depth scaling, horizontal scaling and vertical scaling.