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Sustainable Cities

Advancing nature-based solutions for sustainable and resilient cities

By 2050, it is projected that two-thirds of us will live in cities (UN 2018). Urban life can provide many social and economic advantages, but our current way of living is unsustainable. Environmental challenges such as flooding, pollution and heat stress are increasingly affecting cities and this is only expected to worsen in the face of climate change.

We are conducting global research to better understand how urban green spaces and waterbodies can help cities adapt to the impacts of climate change and urbanisation. These nature-based solutions have the potential to dramatically enhance urban resilience, whilst also providing a home for wildlife and improving citizen health.

Regional research projects

Complementary research projects on nature-based solutions are taking place in 17 major cities in China, India, North America, Europe and the Middle East, considering both regional climate impacts and local objectives in urban growth and sustainability.

Together with Earthwatch, each project is led by major research institutions in collaboration with regional policy leaders. Our work builds on past research and develops new approaches that help fill key knowledge gaps.

Citizen science and the HSBC Sustainability Training Programme

Earthwatch’s unique approach to research connects individuals with researchers to create citizen scientists. This research is no different and has been made possible through data collected by HSBC employees.

The Sustainability Training Programme, created in partnership with HSBC, is an immersive learning and research programme for HSBC staff. A core part of the programme is training participants to be citizen scientists to collect data for the Sustainable Cities research projects.

This approach has previously been shown to generate a quantity of data that would usually take scientists 11 years to collect, in less than five years. By creating a hands-on experience, feedback has shown that participants feel more connected to, and have a greater understanding of environmental issues and how they can make a difference to be more sustainable.

In November 2018, the programme celebrated its one-year anniversary and in this time:

Over 50,000 data points
have been collected by citizen scientists for the research projects
Over 800 HSBC citizen scientists
have been trained and contributed data to the research
of participants
found contributing to the research a useful experience

What are nature-based solutions?

Nature-based solutions are essentially interventions that use nature or mimic natural processes for the benefit of people and ecosystems. They have huge potential to enhance resilience to environmental change and bring benefits to people’s health and the economy. Our Sustainable Cities research will bring new insights into the benefits that nature-based solutions such as trees, wetlands and bioswales can bring to cities.

It’s vital we look at how ecosystems work within a city to see how nature-based solutions can help us to mitigate the effects of climate change and the urban heat island effect.
In particular, urban areas are seeing a huge increase in flooding and heatwaves. If climate change continues at this speed without intervention, we’ll see flooding incidents triple, affecting up to 54 million people.
Dr Macarena Cárdenas, Research Manager at Earthwatch


Explore our regional projects:

UK and France

Investigating the relationship between land management around urban trees and the ecological services they provide, such as flood mitigation and preventing heat extremes. The research is taking place in London, Birmingham and the outskirts of Paris and will provide new integrated environmental information for improved management of urban trees in support of sustainable cities. The research is in collaboration with the University of Reading, Imperial College London, the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).


Investigating critical aspects of the major water supply area to Mexico City, comparing nature-based solutions to more intensive approaches to water and land management. The results will be used to determine the relative benefits and costs of each approach with respect to building a more resilient water supply to inform local planners. The research is in collaboration with the Mexican Civil Council for Sustainable Silviculture and the The National Autonomous University of Mexico.


Investigating how trees in residential areas of Abu Dhabi affect urban microclimate and thermal comfort levels. The study is examining vegetation, building and planning aspects with respect to the creation of more sustainable neighbourhood environments in Abu Dhabi and similar urban areas across the globe. The research is in collaboration with Masdar Institute.


Three complementary research projects are taking place in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru investigating the potential of nature-based solutions to improve and conserve India’s freshwater ecosystems. The projects aim to support more resilient urban planning and are being led by the Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai; the Institute of Science and Technology at Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University in Hyderabad; and the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru.

Hong Kong

Investigating the relationship between catchment and river management in urban areas and the ecosystem services provided with respect to greenhouse gas emissions and climate regulation. The research will provide insights on the importance of water quality management in urban rivers from the perspective of climate change mitigation. The project is in collaboration with The Chinese University of Hong Kong.


Investigating the relationship between wetland management practices related to agriculture, tourism and conservation, whilst identifying how best to mitigate the adverse effects of land use change and climate change. Comparing different management approaches in two major wetlands near Shanghai and Guangzhou, the research aims to improve understanding on the best way to manage urban wetlands as a nature-based solution. The research is in collaboration with Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and WWF-China.

USA and Canada

Investigating the capacity of bioswales to increase flood protection, support local groundwater recharge and reduce extreme temperature events (i.e. urban heat island effects) across six cities. This research aims to provide new insights into the long-term management of bioswales as a major nature-based solution. The project is in collaboration with Brooklyn College of the City University of New York,  the University of Arizona and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

Get involved. Make a Difference.

Corporate partner

Research partners

  • Imperial College London

    Imperial College London

  • University of Reading

    University of Reading

  • INRA


  • Brooklyn College

    Brooklyn College

  • University of Arizona

    University of Arizona

  • Cary Institute

    Cary Institute

  • UNAM Mexico

    UNAM Mexico



  • Masdar Institute

    Masdar Institute

  • IIT Bombay

    IIT Bombay

  • India Institute of Science

    India Institute of Science

  • Jawarharlal Nehru Technological University

    Jawarharlal Nehru Technological University



  • WWF


  • CUHK


    Images: iStock/JaySi, iStock/bingfengwu, iStock/Dymov, Earthwatch US


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