Implemented in river landscapes, Nature-based Solutions (NbS) have the potential to reduce flood risk, while also playing an important role in restoring many of the ecosystem services that are lost as result of human interventions and global warming. A barrier to succesfull implementation of NbS is the lack of a global and common framework with guidelines for its implementation and evaluation. In response, the IUCN Global Standard for NbS was published. Even though the IUCN Standard has been designed to be applicable to NbS in all sectors and over the entire globe, knowledge on its applicability and usefulness for specific sectors remains limited at present. Therefore, this study aims to identify the challenges that occur in ex-post application of the IUCN Standard to river restoration projects with a focus on flood risk mitigation, and the added value that this application may provide.
At first, a literature study is conducted in which the content of the IUCN Standard is related to twenty-two other assessment frameworks for NbS and compared in-depth to the three most relevant frameworks. These comparisons indicate that that the IUCN Standard has a broad scope of application, provides limited flexibility in assessment to its users and is descriptive. Furthermore, the comparisons reveal that the IUCN Standard can be used as a tool to evaluate the extent to which the essential processes of a NbS, established by the IUCN, have been incorporated in the project (i.e., process-oriented framework). The standard can, however, not be used to evaluate project results, including biophysical and social results.
In the next part of the research, the IUCN Standard is applied to three case studies of river restoration projects with a focus on flood risk mitigation, of which at least two differ significantly in the surface area, position in the catchment, kinetic energy of the river, data accessibility, resources and the type of riverine NbS measures that were implemented. The selected case studies are the Eddleston Water Project, the “Room for the River” Deventer Project and the Missouri River Levee Setback Project. Despite facing challenges in the interpretation of indicators, data accessibility, a relatively coarse scale for evaluation, and tensions between the project objectives and the use of the IUCN Standard, the standard is successfully applied to all case studies. The case study results consist of (1) a total percentage match to the IUCN Standard and a statement on being in adherence to the standard, which may provide credibility to the project processes, (2) the strenghts and weaknesses of a project, which may be used to guide projects and strengthen (future) projects, and (3) a radar chart, which may provide possibilities to compare to and learn from other projects. Based on these results, it can be concluded that, despite of a few challenges, the IUCN Standard is applicable to river restoration projects with a focus on flood risk mitigation, and that application of the standard may provide added value in various ways, although restricted by the limited evaluation of flood risk mitigation.