Can Nature-Based Solutions Better Protect Cities from Soaring Environmental Risks?

with 🎙️ Marc Barra, Urban Ecologist specializing in nature-based solutions at Paris’ Agency for Biodiversity, in charge of the H2020 REGREEN project.  

💧 The REGREEN Project promotes urban livability through fostering nature-based solutions in Europe and China using evidence-based tools and improved urban governance to accelerate the transition towards green, equitable and healthy cities.

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This episode is part of my series on Nature-Based Solutions (check it out 😉)

What we covered:

🍏 How we’re experiencing a shift of paradigm in engineering practices, from grey approaches to blue-green and hybrid solutions

🧮 How nature-based solutions shall be evaluated on their ability to deliver one-to-one equivalent results to hard engineering

🌱 How REGREEN aims at quantifying the welcome side-effects of nature-based solutions in cities 

🔍 How Urban Living Labs support the scientific approach towards REGREEN

🍎 How Paris’ international and domestic image may differ when it comes to ecology, biodiversity, and climate action

🧮 How we shall move beyond the monetary quantification of nature-based solutions

🌱 How we shall pave the way towards the economy of limits and biosphere, through economic and market incentives

🧮 … And how regulations may still be a surer way to complete the transformation than market incentives

🍏 How there’s a lot of technology in Nature’s functions and processes, and how it’s crucial to understand and grasp it

🌱 How you will have to embrace uncertainty and accept that Nature rules overall

🍏 But also Veblen Effect, Over-Confidence in Hard Engineering, Ecology beyond the buzzword, Carrying the message across, and much more!

🔥 … and of course, we concluded with the 𝙧𝙖𝙥𝙞𝙙 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙚 𝙦𝙪𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨 🔥 

Teaser: Nature-Based Solutions


🔗 Check the REGREEN Website

🔗 Send your warmest regards to Marc on LinkedIn

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Infographic: Nature-Based Solutions


Quotes: Nature-Based Solutions


Full Transcript:

These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂

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Antoine Walter: Hi, mark. Welcome to the show. Hi. So we have a traditions with those episode, which is to open with a postcard and I let you decide where you sending your podcasts from, because you’re not directly within Paris. You’re next to Paris. So what can you tell us about your place of Paris that I would ignore by now?

Marc Barra: Yeah. I live in a city called , which is a funny name of seating in French. And it’s just a nearby Berry. It’s this part of that we call it the first crown of of Paris, which has been urbanized in the last year. And that’s that’s a nice city to live in where where there’s a lot going on the, on social events, a lot of animation and a great atmosphere.

But that’s, that’s also a picture of how Paris is a concentrator being an urbanizing in that place.

Antoine Walter: I think we may come back to the, this, this small Chrome at some point in the discussion, because I’ve seen that you had some activities around that, but now I’m a bit spoiling what we might be discussing in the deep dive, right?

You’re French. I’m French. Your job title is equal log in French, which I tried to translate. And in, in English I could have ecologist or environmentalist. What would be your definition?

Marc Barra: Actually, I always struggle to translate it in English. That’s true. So usually I say that I’m an ecologist or an ecology scientist, and to be maybe to be more precise, I say that I’m an urban ecologist and I study urban ecology, which is the, and the study of urban ecosystems.

So my work actually on a daily basis is to produce knowledge and science-based evidence on an expertise on how to integrate nature based solution in.

Antoine Walter: So nature based solutions is going to be our deep dive. And I was just wondering right before we dive into it, you know, we are part of a series of a trilogy of three interviews.

And I was discussing that with James Moray and we were opposing hards engineering with nature based solutions, not opposing in the fight sense of the name, but still posing. And you know, I’m a hydraulic engineer. So I’m a bit wondering because I may be on the hard engineering side. So what’s your take here is it’s really one against the other.

Do both work together or is one supposed to replace the other on the long run?

Marc Barra: That’s a good question where yeah, actually we could feel that there is like, this fight, between, uh, ecologist and hard engineering, well, soft engineering and hard engineering, actually in the reality, I think it’s more a combination of of nature.

And when we talk about nature based solution, it’s often a combination of civil engineering and soft ecological engineering. And I work a lot with with engineers and hydraulic engineers and I liked them. I, I think, I think it’s a fight actually with. The how the engineering profession at the moment what’s happening with ecology is that some hydraulic engineers are turning back actually to a century of hygienic ideology where nature was sent outside the CT when rivers were dive on the  ground and on the urban river where channeled, buried and sanitized.

So I think that’s some engineers have still this. Excessive confidence in, in, in technology and control of nature railroads, some other now are kind making a U-turn from what they learned at school mentality are changing. And now they understand that the use of infrastructure, can be green and that we can use plants and souls and green spaces for stormwater management uh, flooding management, and that this need is increasingly in cities.

So, so actually I would say that and classic engineers or hydraulic engineers are partnering at the moment, but there are some conflict conflicts within the profession of engineers at the most.

Antoine Walter: I can relate to that. I can really relate to that. And that’s a discussion we had regularly on that microphone, because for sure, it’s hard to change what you’ve been doing for decades, especially when, from Europe point of view, it’s just fine.

I mean, you tend to something which is broken it’s harder to change something that appears work, but we’ll dive a bit deeper into this appear to work in a second, you mentioned this, this, this re greening, which offers me a very smooth transition towards regrowing which is the program, which is going to be at the center of our discussion today.

Can you define it? What is the.

Marc Barra: Ray green is is a four year of project and H 2020 program, on nature based solution in urban areas. And it’s it’s a project involving almost 20 partners from Europe and from China. And well, the overall goal of this project is to show that nature-based solution can solve.

Many urban issues and sometimes replace a gray infrastructure to ensure climate change adaptation and also biodiversity recovery in cities. That there’s a lot going on in, in this regreen project, through the different work packages. There’s a work packages that deals with children and youth experience and wellness of nature-based solution.

There’s also people working on. Quantifying and modeling ecosystem services and challenges under the different ULS monitoring values also about nature based solution and nature in the city. Another work package working on the systems of governance and planning and how we mainstream nature based solution into these the, these, these governance.

And of course a lot going on about exchange of knowledge, about experience, about training in the different urban living lab and what we call it. Urban living lab is usually a city or a province where all these work package apply and where we do demonstrators as well as uh, of the project.

So we are three in, in Europe, Aarhus in, in Denmark, which is a medium-sized city Velika Goricain Croatia, which is more city near. And the Paris region which is a combination of cities, it’s the province scale and it’s the larger ULN in the projects. And so we have different types of city where we can show different things and different approach about about nature based solution.

And of course there is also the Chinese partner with differential Alliance, like, Beijing, Shanghai, and Ningbo which are quite large cities. So the challenge are not exactly the same, but that’s always interesting to look at the differences between those continents in terms of nature nature-based solution approach.

Antoine Walter: How did happen that you were working with China? What was the rationale behind.

Marc Barra: Well, actually that’s something that is asked by the European commission to find a an international partner outside of uh, of Europe. And I think the researchers that we are working with have a very good relation with research in ecology, in, in China and research in forestry.

So that, that, that made sense from the beginning to work with those people. And there are very good and, uh, and people working in mapping that help us to do some more packages. And there’s also I think in China nature-based solution, or always in very large project with a lot of density in in, in the project.

So that’s also for us another way to see how we could implement nature based solution on the big surface.

Antoine Walter: We’ve been discussing on that microphone with Michael Stanley Gallisdorfer around the, the sponsored cities in China, which is a really large scale application of somehow nature based solutions.

It’s not only nature-based solution, but that’s a broad part of it. So if you’re interested to dive a bit deeper into that and recommend you, that, that specific discussion, my question is. What do you want to demonstrate with regreen? Is it that’s nature-based solution work is it’s to further develop them or is it to measure what they can do so that you have hardcore proof that would then be useful for future developments?

Marc Barra: I think we want all of this actually, and that’s why we took part on, on, on this project. Of course I hope that the. The production phase and the different technical reports and tools and products uh, will provide us with more evidence, more arguments about the efficiency of nature based solutions and help us to visualize also because there’s a lot of mapping on this project.

So help us to visualize where we can implement nature based solution in the Paris region. We, we also look for wild of seeing the communication power of this kind of European project and hope that regreen, we’ll we’ll highlights what we’ve been doing in the Paris region, but also help us to convince and prove that NBSR efficient to our local government.

And th th that’s one of the role of this European project is to give a legitimacy to our work, apart from regreen. We also involved in another NBS project called the autism, which is a life plus project uh, hosted by the French national office of of biodiversity. And so all these European projects are actually.

Powerful to convince the local government is not just our small agency that are working on NBS. It’s a whole bunch of researcher at the European and international level. So it’s more credible

Antoine Walter: let’s focus on one of your urban living labs with the Paris region. You said that you are trying to monitor and to prove what you’ve been doing.

So it sounds like something which happened already in the past and in the re green name, there’s this notion of green again. So I’m just wondering, where are you in that scale? Is it something that’s already well advanced and you’re fine tuning and putting the cherry on the cake or you really on the beginning of that roots and there’s still a lot of concrete to, to replace probably with some blue-green infrastructure.

Marc Barra: It’s difficult to answer. I would say that, yeah, it depends of the people you are talking to. Of course, for some people they’ve never heard about nature based solutions, so it’s quite a new concept for other they have already worked and implement a nature-based solution. But about the Paris region, I think we, we are at the same level than other big metropolitan areas, meaning that uh, there’s a lot of urbanization.

Ecology issues are popping at that time. And then they, they really integrating the political debates. However, I would say that in the Paris region regarding the different. I can say that 25 years ago th the French government was approving a master plan for the Paris region.

And at that time it was really dominated by gray infrastructure. And the, the, the main objective was to develop buildings, power lines roads, railway, switch planes but in 2013, there was this first regional ecological plan that drove, the new, uh, green and blue pathway. What we go, yeah the, the protection and the restoration of reservoirs of biodiversity interconnected by corridors, this green.

Pathway actually, that was the first time on a fairly detailed scale that we have this picture of a green and blue grid that was integrated in, in, in this master plan. So I think it’s we are moving forward. Actually. We still have to confirm that ambition on the field that actually then when we look at the cities level within the Paris region I think it’s, it’s going even quicker about nature based solution.

A lot of municipalities have relayed some, some nice project of ecosystem protection or ecosystem restoration using their own power at the city level, using their own planning document. We just spend the last week, we spend three days of visiting some, a nature based solution project in in Paris area with the rigging team.

And we went, for example, in the Northern part of Paris in a city called center where the municipality has turned the former brown field of 1.5 hectares into an ecological reserve which is made of of nature, of course. But there is this cooling effect, objective behind. There’s also this wildness objective of, of, of biodiversity and that that’s really cool to protect this kind of ecosystem when we know the strong competition.

That there is a, in this kind of place in the Paris area. We also went to another plate called goodness and another city called the sausage where we visited the river restoration project. And the there’s a lot going on actually in in the Paris area about river restoration because there are incentives about the water.

We also visited in Gunness, a flood expansion area that that’s a 12 hectare wetland that has been created in order to mitigate the flood risk. And actually the houses that were nearby this place used to be flooded every year. And this wetland now ensure the mitigation of the flood, but it’s also a place where biodiversity can thrive and also a new green space for people that can go there walking and burning and et cetera.

Right. So, actually at the, yeah, at the city level, I think a more and more project of nature based solution. Now I implemented and that’s a good, new,

Antoine Walter: not to end back in what you just said. Let’s me try to start. What you said is now submitted to go about Paris being somehow in the average of cities.

I had the discussion on that microphone with Claudia Winkler and Alice Schmidt. They wrote a book called the sustainability puzzle and in their book, they were giving some berries example and there was citing any they’ll go as as a political leader, which was having an impact. I’m not taking that discussion on the political level.

That’s not my aim. It’s just, I’m wondering when you’re inside friends which I, I am, sometimes you hear a bit of what you were saying that Paris is probably average and and that there is a lot of communication and maybe not always the same effects in real life. But from, from a foreign perspective, quite often, Paris is seen as still a lighthouse.

I mean, the, the, the Paris treaty and there’s ma many things happening in that field, or at least communicating that feed around Paris. So do you send your points as a, is Paris average, or would you say that. There’s a bit more meat on that bone.

Marc Barra: Yeah, I would keep on, I’m thinking that we are still average comparing to other places, but what you’re saying, I hear it a lot from my friends that live abroad or from other researchers that leave abroad.

And they say that they have this feeling that uh, Politico and elected representatives such as that go in Paris are doing very great. And and that we talk about greening everyday on the news. And that’s actually true. And I think, I need Algoa and other politicians have done the loads to um, to, to talk about ecology on the, on, on their program to set some objectives even if not, all of them are reachable, but to set some objective about uh, great ingraining the city and that’s, I would say that’s part of the.

Actually if politician, don’t take this subject, don’t embrace this subject and don’t set objective. We will never go for one actually, so we need that the politician take the step and then order the services where we will follow actually. And that’s the most difficult because uh, I know the technician of the city of Paris, for example, and from other cities.

And it’s really hard for them when there is a political decision to follow, because you have to, to be, to get organized, you have to change the way you work. You have to find the budget for that. So sometimes the political decision is quicker and the. What you can actually realize on the on the field.

But, but it helps. And a, and I’m really happy that politicians are changing the way they see uh, an ecological strategy.

Antoine Walter: You mentioned that project you visited, which has this cooling effect one of the advantageous being that cooling effect is that the first thing you try to overcome with nature based solution, these this urban heat,

Marc Barra: You mean in the Paris area,

Antoine Walter: Yeah.

If you have to look at the various area, what’s the number one threats is it that’s urban heat and what would be the other one?

Marc Barra: Well, actually the, there are many threats and many challenges about about climate change at the same time in the Paris region. It depends where, where, where you look at.

If you look at a very dense urban area and and the Paris city center, for example, of course that uh, urban heat island is one of the main challenge actually, or according to climate scenarios there will be sharp increase in temperature and sharp increase in the occurrence of heat waves. By the end of the century we talk about an increase of two to four.

Degrees in Paris cities that means more people affected by hit, uh, actually. And what is interesting is that there are strong territorial contrast between the inner suburbs of and between Paris and the nursing homes and the countryside. , which is the reference into methodology says that there’s been in 2003 during the heat waves there’s been between.

Eight and 10 degrees difference between Paris and the countryside. So, so that’s huge and that’s actually a real challenge, but if you look at other parts of the Paris area, the second challenge is of course water. And also the climate say, now you will say that they will be an increase in increasing in flooding and in runoff as well as a shortage in water supply in other parts of the of the years.

Even with a little, an annual changing in precipitation, but stronger seasonal contrast. We have already, we’re actually experienced some flooding, big flooding in the last 10 years. That was four years ago and three years ago. And, uh, there were caused of course by, by climate change. But also by, by the impervious surfaces that is surrounding Paris and in Paris and also the intensive farming that is applying that around power around Paris.

Consider as a artificial elevation. So yeah, I would say that challenges are overlapping everywhere in Paris and and that we have to find against all of that. And even, and I don’t even talk about biodiversity, which is declining at the same time. So that’s a kind of simplification of landscape changing weather standardization of biodiversity.

All the challenges in GS are overlapping. And so that requires a strong political response to, to take on this,

Antoine Walter: which brings me to this other exemplary we’re sharing about river restoration because that will solve a lot. I mean, if you are having a wetlands, it’s solving the urban heats because you have some green again it’s, it’s solving that the floods problem, of course, and it brings back the biodiversity.

But on the other end, it means that you’re losing some, some space, which can be very expensive in the berries region, I guess. And there’s always this tempting solution to say, Hey, if I have flood problems, let’s big. Let’s build big walls around the river. That’s going to solve locally. My problem, probably gonna kill many people in hall, down the river, but but in Paris itself, you would be solving it by putting big walls.

So I’m just my question here, guess, is how would you make this how do you find the middle point? How do you. How would you concile opposites interests when it comes to to greening something, to, to restore a river?

Marc Barra: It’s a very tricky question, but I would say it’s it’s negative negotiation between people between the elected representative and, and, and we sort of come back to your first question about this opposition between hard engineering and ecological engineering, but you pointed out that one of the reason we choose nature based solution is because there are multi-function.

And that when you restore a river you, you, don’t just you don’t just manage the water and the runoff, you also provide a new recreation area for the people you also provide habitats for biodiversity. And that’s exactly the point of nature based solution. Whereas when you build a dam or you build a wall or a concrete stuff, you just answer one issue.

So even if a nature based solution need more space and that’s that’s quite true. And that’s one of the power meter about the price and the cost of NBS solution is that they need some space and space can be expensive depending where you are. So even even about that there are multifunctional and the one visit we visited in sausage in the north of France.

It’s in a very. Part of the city where there’s a growing lack of greenspace from people. So reopening this week, we have seen on the field when we went there so many people using it from young people to adult people to remote people that didn’t have any place to go. And so, so that’s, that’s also profitable for health and wellbeing of people.

Antoine Walter: How do you measure those benefits? Because it’s a fuzzy benefits on that microphone. We were discussing again with Microsoft, at least offer a study from the university of Michigan, which shows that when you put $1 in river restoration, especially if it’s in the city and you’re recreating some area and you add all the outbursts, it’s going to bring you about $4 in return.

So you put $1, you get $4, it sounds like the best investment ever. But the problem is that. It’s not going from the one Spock it’s to the other’s pocket. It’s very diffused it’s less people which have mental health problems because they’re in contact with nature. It’s a less less costly consequences.

The next time there’s a flood. It’s it’s more biodiversity, which means you have less of this. I mean, it’s a series of series of consequences in a of Evans and it’s quite hard to quantify. So how much do you have to zoom out and how do you evaluate the impact of nature based solution?

Marc Barra: That, that’s what most of the project on nature research and try to do actually is try to put a value.

I w I would say, well that there are none monetary value and any economic value, but to put a value on those nature based solution. And I think that the first job is to assess to, to quantify actually the, those benefits in terms of ecosystem services, in terms of contribution to carbon storage in terms of water retention, in terms of biodiversity, that it can host in terms of a cooling effect and the decreasing of temperature.

And and I think by providing this kind of. Quantification, it will be helpful for the public bodies or the private owners to, to invest in nature-based solution. Of course there are some other economies that expect some uh, some monitor revalue uh, about the nature based solution. But I’m, I’m, I’m not sure that that, that it will help actually to, to, to understand the priority of bringing nature back in the nature, back in the city.

There, there there’s been a lot of economic assessment of ecosystem services and of nature, and I’m not sure it has helped actually to mainstream them into into businesses or into cities. What what I feel on the field is that most of the people. Doing or investing in nature based solution.

Do it. Because they want, they wanted for the people they wanted even for their own image, even because it’s fashionable. But it’s, it’s always the, the, the monetary value is not the only one target of nature based solution. That’s what I feel when I discuss with w with people. For example, I studied green roof.

We, we went to 40 green roof in, in the Paris region and most of the green roof we visited having been done because you can save money for the heating in the building because you will save some water from runoff it’s been done because it’s beautiful. And because of aesthetic reasons, because of recreation reasons because it’s part of the fashion of the building.

So I think we’re, we’re getting a little. Out of uh, the, the monetary indicator only to, to, to explore other part of of the benefits.

Antoine Walter: It’s interesting. I think it’s a cool trend, but it’s also a dangerous trends because, you know, if you can afford to do stuff, then no problem. But as soon as you will have to make some choices, and I think it was David Lloyd Owen on that microphone and I’m sorry for the name dropping, but he wrote a book called global water funding and he’s in his book.

He shows that first as a big gap in funding, and especially when you have decisions to take, which is actually the case with the COVID crisis with. Maybe come to an end and then you have to finance the, the, the restart of economies. And then when you have to make some arbitration between a nature based solution or providing a sanitation for all, or making something for the nature and and hard jobs straits for people unfortunately the decision is going to be quite fast and it’s not going to be in favor of nature, even if, then you can debate and argue that on the long run, it’s the stupidest decision you make, but steel, if you’re only on the emotional level and only on the almost identity level.

Well, when it comes to two really simple and hard choices it’s, it’s might push it back on the agenda. Is the risk that you think will simply disappear because our associates you have changed or is it still something that we could be facing in a closed.

Marc Barra: Yes, of course, this is a risk and this is what we, so, during the COVID crisis, the priority where jobs or employment where, uh, taking care of the people and and leave nature way for another time.

But, uh, I would say as a. The other ecological crisis will come in the next month in the next years. And that’s just the beginning of climate change and of biodiversity decline. So, if we always were produced the same pattern saying that, first is the economy and enterprises and business, and then after nature, there will be a point where there will be no more economy because it depends  on nature.

So, so actually I think that w w we can do both I mean, we’re, we’re on the transition towards another economy the economy of limits the, the economy of of, of biosphere. And during this transition we can start to use the, the, the current, Uh, economic incentives and market incentives to orientate our project.

For example, on investment, we could have cross compliance tools, uh, to say that if one year Euro is invested in construction, when you’re already investing on transportation, it has to be done in an ecological way or with if possible nature based solution. That’s the first transition then? Why not think about another economy where, uh, the, the priority is to maintain the, the health of the ecosystem, the health of nature to maintain the climate.

And then the economy is embedded in this vision. So, so that that’s actually. A different vision of, of the economy that we have to pro page. But waiting for that time, of course, we have to use the economy and the tools of economy, the tax system, the incentives, the investments to, um, to foster nature based solution.

Antoine Walter: I’ll keep you on the economic topic. And I’m sorry for that. But quite often in the discussion, natural based solutions are presented as cheaper than part engineering solutions. First is that true? According to you? And second, is that a good argument? Because if it’s cheaper, you know, Because of this Veblen effect, you might be tempted to say, well, more expensive is better.

Like both of the water, which is 100 times more expensive than tap water is probably 100 times better. So that is now my personal benchmark. What’s your, your, your feeling here, because you said some minutes ago that we have to move away from the economic discussion. So would you still be using that argument or is it a dangerous.

Marc Barra: Well, that’s also a tricky question for me as an ecologist. I feel like a I need to be better in economy, but but yeah, I’m very interested in index in that question is it’s of course it’s true, then that are. Than usual on gray infrastructure. There’s several literature about that um, on investment cost as well as on management cost.

It’s, uh, it’s cheaper to have, for example, a bias way than pipes and water tanks to to treat weather, of course. But as I was saying before we have to take into the account, the place that is needed and the surface that it needed for a nature based solution, which can rise considerably the, the costs.

So I think that’s a fact we can rely on nature and nature, be cheaper about the Veblen F. I would say that I think that it doesn’t apply yet for nature based solution which some way, our way are less material than usual conception products, such as a bottle of water or an apple for, for which Veblen actually did.

It’s theory. I think that the problem is mainly culture. About the confidence that we have on a nature based solution. And today, if we don’t want to give a dollar or Euro for a nature based solution, or if we don’t want to invest in nature based solution, it’s because we fear that it is not efficient.

And, um, cities are usually more confident about what they know and what they know is generically technology. They’re generically CVL and hard engineering, and they want to pay the price for it. They don’t know nature based solution. Well, and so they don’t want to pay for it. So we have to wait for our changing mentality.

And, uh, and then naturally I would say that people will go towards nature based solution. And even if it’s cheaper, I think they would apply for it.

Antoine Walter: This change in mentality. I’m an engineer. So to me, it’s very comfortable to think that for whatever problem there is in the world, I can engineer a solution with nature based solution.

I have to rely on nature to be better than what I can do with an excavator and a, and some concrete. So I guess there is a learning curve and in confidence curve to, to build. So that’s the general population believes that what nature has done for 3.8 million years of R and D is probably better than what a human could be.

Building hymns.

Marc Barra: Well, I, uh, I’m not sure I can convince everyone and nobody knows where’s the truth and the truth is, but I would say that I know a lot of engineers from, from industry, from from civil engineering that, that, that, that went to to nature knowledge. And that, that are very interesting about what’s happening in nature.

Because if you look closer at the nature processes, the nature of functions then you understand that there is a lot of technology in it actually. And there’s a lot of engineering. I have a training mate. My training is called ecological engineering. And that means using living organisms, such as plants, such as earth warms, for example and using the environment such as the soil, such as the rocks to build a system and to be on something that is working and that a creator creates some, an advantage and some services.

So I think more and more engineers, I understanding that there is engineering in nature, that there is a lot of knowledge we can have some skills and, and that could make the difference. So, yeah, I teach in a ninja entering school in, in, in Paris. And I can see, um, the, the. It’s a, it’s in a war now by various, it’s an agronomy engineering school.

And I can see that through the years they, they used to be only engineers in agronomy with classic agriculture, et cetera. But today they really interested in, in, in ecology and try to understand how they can bring nature into the system and how it can solve problems. So I think that this is also a matter of generations, I would say.

And, and new people coming in the market have been raised with this climate change issue have been raised with this biodiversity decline issue and are more interesting in nature. So, we have to need for that time. But that’s a

Antoine Walter: message dude to bring across. So some there must still be a way to bring it across because I remember you know, there was a micropolitan trigger removal regulation that came into force in Switzerland five, six years ago.

And they went for ozone and activity Carmen to treat the wastewater. And at the time there were some studies which showed that Reid beds would be very effective as well. But when you say that Reed beds would be very effective first, there’s a belief to build with the people so that they believe that, yes, it’s true.

But then, you know, the image you have is that’s what is going to flow. We plan some reeds and by some magic micro pollutants will be removed. And that is not true at all. You have to have the right sequence of the right plants in the right order with the right soil and with the right current and retention times.

And if you do all of that, right, and you do all your ecological engineering rights, then yes. To remove micro pollutants, That message that it’s incredibly complicated is very reassuring because it shows you that it’s not just, you know, hippie science, which says, Hey, nature is going to deal for it. It’s serious science.

I’m really sorry to make this a position, which now sounds a bit stupid. So my question here is how do you bring them the message across what is the key message you have to give to the general population so that they start feeling that there’s a science.

Marc Barra: Well, I actually, I think you, you said it all, it’s exactly that it’s convincing people, that ecology is not just a, a dream of some political people and that ecology is not political at the beginning.

It’s a science of living organism and of the environment. And there’s a lot of skills behind the end. There’s potentially a lot of jobs for, for people jobs, uh, like you said, on ecological engineering, for example, using plants to treat water, using plants, to treat soil using this knowledge restore ecosystem.

This is actually a Boulevard for jobs. So I, yeah, my message to people is that uh, Being interested in, in, in the science of ecology and also that will be an opportunity for you in the, in the next future to work on it.

Antoine Walter: And how is it usually received? Do you have harsh feedback or is it always very.

Marc Barra: It’s not a waste, very positive. I mean, people want to have always been separated between, between visions and I think you can feel that also on the, on the media and on the price, there, there is this kind of separation between people that rely only on technology and on the control of nature and on the power of men, of our nature, always in a ways.

And there are other people that believe that we have to learn from nature. There is this biomimicry field that is growing, I think, and the and bringing with it all the people that think that we have to learn on nature and also um, have less control. And that nature. I think that the human beings hates when they don’t have control over something.

And that’s the same for nature. They hate the the uncertainty and nature based solution is all about the uncertainty. Of course, we know that it can be efficient for some stuff, but we never know what will happen. But I think this, uncertainty is useful in society. If we master, if we control everything, what is the point?

I mean, so, so, so not everyone will be will be convinced by that, but I think there’s more and more people in interesting in, in, in this

Antoine Walter: issue in re green, you have to communication path one for the adults and one for the children. My rough feeling would be that it must be much easier with children.

Is that true?

Marc Barra: I don’t know. Both are important. Yeah, it’s, it’s kind of true that that communication to adults it’s it’s much more challenging because as as we said, adults have already been trained. They have a background, they have a vision, they have some concrete ideas. So I don’t believe.

The board can change a lot in the, their vision of, of society. And this is the case for children. So of course, by using training and education, we we, we can change it. But I, I get back to my private sensor of I, I think this is not only a generation problem. It’s, um, It’s also a society matter.

And the cultural problem about about, about nature based solution. We, we saw it for example, for green space management in cities, it’s very difficult to turn a loan in, in a city to uh, Mido or to aggressiveness. And it’s it’s difficult for old people, for example wishing this is dirty witching that as soon as there is a flower in the sidewalk, this is dirty, this is cold.

People are not taking care. I’m not managing the city. And it’s quite different with the young people that, that like actually to see a flower on the sidewalk or to see a crazy plants and a kind of why wilderness in in, in green spaces. So here we see that there is a. A generation gap between those people.

Antoine Walter: Does that mean that you should wait for the younger generation to, to take over or is there a more course that you’ve way to solve that, which is probably to come with more regulation and you’re partnering with China, which is kind of, well, it can be a lighthouse or, or, yeah, how to say that.

It can be, something to emulate or something to fear because the Chinese approach of regulating it very much and very strong has very impressive results. I mean, spawn cities are really built out of scratch and when they say that they will reach the target by 23rd year by 2060, I would say, I believe that much more than most of the other countries.

But is it an extreme approach or is it something to emulate this regulate regulatory.

Marc Barra: I think we, we have to find a way in between. I mean to excessive regulation can be bad for democracy or or for people and, and to light regulation, then we never developed the project that we want.

So we, we, we have to find something in between with using the, the market, for example and incentives and education for, for people. But also, regulation. Actually, I think we cannot do it without without regulations. And I know economists hates a little bit the the regulation and prefer market incentives, but um, um, there was that For example, if I take the carbon market it’s been years that we rely on the carbon market and on the price of carbon to for its regulation.

But have we noticed that the carbon dioxide have declined in the atmosphere? No, that I’m not sure. So if we don’t plan a reduction in carbon emissions through regulation, I think it won’t work. It won’t work. It’s my opinion. And it’s the same for, for ecosystem and nature. If we don’t plan protection or restoration into urban policies, into investment, into planning documents it will remain quite little and not not grow actually, as we wanted it

Antoine Walter: regarding that the carbon analogy, I would say that carbon has a very strong assets, which.

Nature-based solutions don’t have today is that everybody knows that when you hear climate change, they associate carbon emissions. It’s really embedded. It’s there’s one single thing to measure and it’s carbon emissions. And then you can debate if that’s the right benchmark or not, but still that’s one that’s passed through the, the general yeah.

Clouds of things that we have around us in terms of information, when it comes to nature-based solution, do you think you can one, when they find such a lighthouse that is going to be the one like biodiversity index or I don’t know at all, actually, which one may be a writing.

Well, you’re completely, right.

Marc Barra: There’s a gap between the awareness on on climate change and the one on the, on biodiversity. And so I’m, I am hoping that one day we’ll address both issues uh, at the same consideration. Actually I I think it’s, it’s moving forward. There, there was this IPB. So the equivalent of IPC four for biodiversity that released the report in 2019.

And so that was the first time we addressed globally this issue of biodiversity. And now they will be a new conference overlapping this IPVs report with the IPC report answers. So I think in the next years, we’ll understand that uh, climate change and biodiversity are the two faces of the same coin and that we have to address them identically, actually, so, so of course, in terms of regulation I think we, we cannot do it tomorrow.

Like this. We have to wait. There is a big need for knowledge and that’s, the role of saying. Providing knowledge about biodiversity, understanding why species are declining, where they are declining and why this, the same job that we did with climate change. And then after that, we could think about regulation.

And that’s kind of interesting when you look at the climate regulation we noticed that some of them are actually it could be harmful for biodiversity. For example, I work on the Nate nature in the city and with the building industry sometimes, and we noticed that some climate regulation that targets the isolation of building and that allows you to make very.

Yeah, very high isolated building. Actually, they quite harmful for birds, for example, which have no more space to put the nest or to, to live in the building. It’s uh, sometimes the regulation to another route to green the wall or green the roof, et cetera. So yeah, we have to understand that those issue must be addressed at the same time.

So if tomorrow we’ll make a regulation for climates, this regulation has to be valid for biodiversity as well. So that’s another level in the complexity actually of the then the ecologic crisis.

Antoine Walter: So that means that you need to have nature as a stakeholder when you’re making B to regulation or beat a new project.

I mean, just to concentrate at some point as a stakeholder, because you’ve, may I wasn’t aware of this this issue of green walls or green roof, which may be forbidden. But it sounds like, you know, uh, a narrow thinking when you focus on one thing, maybe the best solution for that very one thing is not to have a green roof, but if you zoom out and you have a system approach and probably that changes their the position.

So I guess, but that’s more of a philosophical discussion than anything else. What is your horizon with with regreen, what will tell you that you succeeded and, and when do you intend to succeed if you succeed?

Marc Barra: We have two years to go uh, for, for a green. So

Antoine Walter: I said, so you’re three years in.


Marc Barra: It’s uh, it’s a four years program. So we’re two years in a two years to go. So we will see, I don’t know yet. W what I hope is that I talked about this Paris region master plan that th this one is being updated nowadays, well, in the next four or five years with this ambition of Being a regional environmental master plan that integrates the objective of uh, uh, reduction of urban sprawl but also reduction of carbon footprint and et cetera.

And so I hope that regrouping the production of free green will be included in this master plan and that women age to include nature-based solution as a pillar actually of the this master plan. I think that the problem is that today in planning documents, we see biodiversity only for the curation or for battery mono, history.

Uh, so when we say biodiversity, we think about uh, historical, natural places about yeah, natural environments and that we don’t declare. W we don’t integrate, sorry, but diversity into all fields of society including the human activities, the cities, et cetera. And they think that will be the goal, try to achieve this translation of nature issues, biodiversity issues in, into every part of the local government.

And that would be a great horizon for us.

Antoine Walter: I’ve seen that in, and you have a work package around business. Who’s in charge of that. And how is it connected to, to, to the other work packages?

Marc Barra: Yes, it’s a work package, eight about, uh, about business, Andrea, she was waiting that that work package.

So, th the goal actually is to there are several aspect of of this work package. The first one is to identify what we call the nature-based enterprises and try to. Have a kind of a directory of businesses that are working on a nature based solution, or be able to find those enterprises that are involved in nature based solution help them to develop the activities.

That’s um, that’s the first bar. There’s also a part of podcasts as the winner, as we are doing today to, to explain into, to show the business actors that there is an interest for for, for nature based solution. But actually in the green project, we don’t work a lot with enterprises on the field, on the, on the, on nature, basically.

However, I think like, like four jobs. Yeah. There’s a Boulevard for job creation and in the field of ecological engineering, we need so much new enterprises. For example, for supplying seeds, for registering soils, for supplying plants for doing the consultancy of the project, we need the enterprises that monitor.

So we need material for monitoring of the success of nature based solution monitoring the species, for, for, for biodiversity. Actually we need so many people working on a nature based solution and at the moment they are just a few. So they there’s really this this business issue.

Uh, about the business of of nature based solution. I also think that uh, we have to be careful about uh, kind of standardization of a nature based solution into big businesses. For example, they, yeah, I feel like they, some suppliers try, tend to standardize their products. If I get back to this green roof examples 90% of the green roof in in cities, look the same.

And for example, in France, there’s one supplier that has almost 80% of the market and they all look the same. Whereas whether you are in Masi in the south of France or in the Northern part of France green roof out the same and I think that’s the wrong direction. We don’t have to make the confusion between.

A product and a service. And for me, nature-based solution, shouldn’t be a product that you will find on a catalog and that you will install everywhere for market purpose. It should be a service that you will design regarding the local context regarding the people you are working with regarding the climate conditions, the nature condition and, and.

Businesses at the moment are ready for that because it is there. If they want to lower their costs, they have to produce at a great scale, those kind of uh, of solution. So how do we invent a business model that is different from one province to another, that is different from one nature based solution from another.

Otherwise they will be this risk of standardizing nature everywhere in the same way that we standardize. For example building and houses that used to be very different from one culture to another. And now that tend to resemble everywhere.

Antoine Walter: So that means you have to still love to invent maybe green roof as a service or who knows, but it’s a field of creativity, but it’s interesting because it’s somehow close to what you saw, what you see in may.

Many aspects of this blue-green industry, if I may say so, it’s that if you standardize that has some perks, but you also commoditizing and commoditizing can have some caveats as as well. I’m not opening that box because if I do where we are, we have to restart for one hour of deep dive. I propose you to switch to the rapid pro questions.

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Rapid fire questions:

So in that last section, I try to keep the questions short and and I’m not cutting the microphone, but the, the, the goal is for you to have also short answers. My first question is what is the most exciting project you’ve been working on

Marc Barra: and why there are many of them? I would say that we’re working at the moment on uh, D paving, potential.

Project. And it’s so exciting to to think that there’s a huge potential in cities for removing concrete paving, impervious surfaces, such as oversized box schools, building yards unused public spaces. So I really believe in this project show that there, there is a great potential in institutes for re greening.

And I would love to make it happen in one place and and go with, with my hammer and then throw some concrete to plant some trees.

Antoine Walter: You see, in one place you have one specific place in mind

Marc Barra: or for the moment we don’t get the potential by mapping. So actually it’s we work on the computer and we map, and then we want to go in the field and find some specific place.

But there’s a lot of barrier. It can be very expensive. It’s hard to find a place because uh, we need to find a known owner and that is agree, and it’s sit around six around, so that’s quite of a fight, but we will find it.

Antoine Walter: What’s your favorite part of your current?

Marc Barra: My favorite bot is every bot.

I would say that every day is a new one with this job. Th there’s no routine actually. And that’s what I like with my job. I’m working on several projects that can goes from research to teaching, to expertise. I can work, in the office and on the field. I can travel sometimes. So that, that, that’s what I like in, in my job, but it’s never the same.

Antoine Walter: What is the trend to watch out for?

Marc Barra: The trend, well, for my point of view, I would say we were talking about that. I think that there’s a huge potential of FITO desperation of waste water. I would love to see that even more. And I think that’s a trend in countries such as Germany, such as uh, Switzerland, for example, but not yet in, in France.

And I’m very interested in that in that possibility of plants treating water. And as you said is very complex. So we have to be careful what kind of plant we use, how we design the the, the model. But that’s, that’s a huge opportunity to create wetlands in, in, in number burned areas. And they really loved the complexity of that kind of system.

So. It’s trendy for me.

Antoine Walter: I think it’s really trendy. There, there are many places in the word you’ve cited some, but I would add Australia for instance, to the problem quite working in that direction. But there’s, I would guess a link to the space you have, which is a bit more prevalent in Australia than it is maybe in the Paris region.

But nevertheless for sure that there’s much to do. And beside, I mean, it’s everything we discussed in the past hour. So besides just the treatment of wastewater, you have welcomed side effects, you have green spaces, you have biodiversity, you have many additional stuff. What is the thing you care about the most when you’re working on a new project and when is the one you care?

Marc Barra: Well, I would say when I’ve worked on a project, I want to make sure that it has a new utility for people or at least for a current society issue. And that, that’s what we go apply that research actually that’s uh, we’re, we’re somewhere in between the scientific research. We work with them.

We read the article and between a society where we try to provide them the knowledge from the scientists to the field and to translate it into something very concrete. So that’s what I care about. We have to insert a society issues, and I think that biodiversity is a society issue. The least, maybe the way the politics are using the acreage.

It, well, actually I care about that. But I don’t care about the different kinds of discourse around ecology and I like to keep on the technical point of view and on the evidence and on the facts. And I think that. Or a really great political power actually to keep on the facts, to keep on the scientific evidence, to build your political strategy,

Antoine Walter: Jeff sources to recommend how do you keep up with.

Marc Barra: My, my first source is actually scientific literature and an article. So, eh, and I think that we there’s actually a gap today between uh, articles that are written in literature, in scientific reviews and the, the, the society and there’s something to do to vulgarize and to translate the scientific research into something readable for, for the people.

And most of the, the issues that we address now, they all answer actually in scientific articles, but nobody knows him who, who would like to read a PhD? I mean, it’s 1000 pages of um, so, so we, there’s some thing. In between to, to translate this work into something accessible for for the people.

Antoine Walter: Yeah. Is it what you’re able to do with the podcast you were mentioning earlier?

Marc Barra: Yeah, probably yes. Yes. It’s a, it’s trying to synthesize the scientific research and scientific background to, to people. Yeah. It’s part of the,

Antoine Walter: I’m sorry, I didn’t want to cut you off, but it’s a fascinating topic.

Yeah, I’m really sorry because now I cut it. You really? But

Marc Barra: no problem. Yeah, I had finished.

Antoine Walter: And my last question is, would you have someone to recommend me that they should definitely have on that microphone as soon as.

Marc Barra: Whoa. Many people potentially. But, uh, as we were talking about uh, nature based solution and water in particular and those example I gave you this one of goodness the, the new wetland created for what our mitigation, I would definitely recommend you to invite Eric Chanel, which is the director of this that we can call syndicates for hydraulic management in the city of of goodness and other cities in the north of Paris.

He’s, he’s in charge of river restoration and wetland creation. And I think he’s the kind of guy that has understood the importance of nature the importance to work on. With ecologist and hydrologist and different kinds of people. And, and also a guy that remain very pragmatic and very engineer about the efforts that need to be done when considering this kind of ecological engineering and also the time it takes to uh, make people accept this kind of project, the time it takes to to do the management.

So he’s really a guy that I would love to hear on your podcast.

Antoine Walter: Well, that sounds like a no, some recommendations. So thanks a lot. Well, mark, it’s been a pleasure. I think I’d be very interested to to have you again, When you’re brewing project comes to an end to see what would be your conclusions at the end of all of that.

And what’s next because I guess it’s never the end of roads. If it’s the end of the road it’s quite kind of sad and boring. So, you’re welcome back whenever you want.

Marc Barra: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me. I had the little pleasure this catching and I would come back

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