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Nature-based Solutions and their Roles in Malaysia’s Tourism Industry


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Written by: Chien Wen Siow, Farzana Rosaidi, Fathi Rayyan, Hegabisek Kumar, Nurafiqah Sahar

Edited by: Kah Yau Lim and Yun Qiu Wong

The world is facing unprecedented climate challenges. Many of these challenges are directly attributed to anthropogenic activity such as burning of fossil fuel, deforestation, unplanned urbanisation, overfishing, excessive mining and many more.

Since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, concentrations of key greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have all increased due to human activities. The Earth’s atmosphere currently contains higher levels of these greenhouse gases than any time in the last 800,000 years (National Research Council, 2020).

Thus, as humanity, how can we act more responsibly, help reduce the level of greenhouse gases and address the issue of rising risk faced by environmental change for the benefit of our current and future generation?

The answer lies in our natural ecosystems. There is growing evidence that indicates that nature-based solutions (NbS), which refer to the utilisation of natural systems or processes, have the significant potential to address societal challenges such as climate change, mitigate its impacts and promote a wide range of sustainable goals.

What is Nature-based Solutions (NbS)?

According to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), NbS is defined as:

“Actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.”

From the above definition, IUCN further clarifies some of the common terms used in defining NbS framework:

Term Definition
EcosystemsRefers to and addresses all types of ecosystems, including natural and modified ecosystems
SocietalNbS explicitly addresses societal challenges. The solutions are not aimed at addressing only environmental challenges or minimising only environmental impacts, although these may be part of what the NbS is targeting.
ActionsRefers to the need for active solutions to major societal challenges. All NbS interventions are nature- or ecosystem-based solutions, and do not include interventions that are merely inspired by nature, such as biomimicry
Table 1: Clarification of terms used in the NbS definitional framework (Cohen-Shacham et al., 2016).

The NbS concept is relatively young and its definition may still evolve. The IUCN has considered NbS as an umbrella concept that covers a number of different ecosystem-based approaches. These NbS approaches include:

i) Ecosystem restoration approaches;

ii) Issue specific ecosystem-related approaches 

iii) Infrastructure-related approaches 

iv) Ecosystem-based management approaches

v) Ecosystem protection approaches

In short, NbS involves multiple ways to work with ecosystems rather than relying solely on conventional engineering solutions. A well-designed NbS can deliver multiple benefits to society. For example, protecting and restoring habitats in coastal areas or upstream regions can play a crucial role in adapting to climate change. These measures not only protect communities and infrastructure from flooding and erosion but also enhance carbon sequestration and preserve biodiversity.

Figure 1: A conceptual diagram of NbS as an umbrella concept encompassing a number of different ecosystem-based approaches. Source: Cohen-Shacham et al. (2016)

Figure 2: Various applications of NbS. Source: Chee S.Y. et al. (2021)

Status of NbS 

As NbS becomes an increasingly well-known solution to our climate crisis, more projects have been kickstarted in countries worldwide. From mangrove rehabilitation to the prevention of deforestation, NbS has been used to address issues on biodiversity loss and societal challenges. More than 130 countries have included NbS in their climate action plans, and it has been estimated that NbS has the potential to help us reach 37% of the mitigation needed until 2030 to achieve the Paris Agreement targets. 

In Malaysia, NbS had been practised as efforts that used nature to address social challenges in marine and coastal environments (Chee et al., 2021). This effort is really crucial and somehow impacting the tourism industry itself as the beauty of nature is also one of the attractions or assets to the visitors. Another way around, the existence of the tourism industry had naturally encouraged the implementation or enforcement to practise NbS. For instance, the presence of tourists in natural areas can protect wildlife by providing an extra eye on the ground (Bra, 2020). As the wildlife might be a unique creature in their eyes, they will be more alert and alert should anything happen to nature. The connection of NbS and tourism works in a loop as both are influenced by each other. 

Implementation of NbS in Malaysian Tourism Industry

NbS approach in tourism is essential to achieve regenerative tourism, allowing guests to carry a transformational experience back home inspired and bring a positive outlook on their travel while making sure that the local cultural heritage and traditions are conserved from one generation to the next (Reymond, 2023). 

There are five key principles guided by NbS that lead to regenerative tourism including Center Community Needs First, Improve Ecosystem Integrity and Biodiversity, Embrace Diverse and Inclusive Business Models, Develop Transparent Governance Structures Accountable to All Stakeholders, and Enhance Regenerative Partnerships (Combs, 2022). 

Malaysia is well-known as a country that is rich in culture and biodiversity which have made attractions for tourists to visit Malaysia. In fact, tourism is one of the economical sources for our country and hence NbS approach should be implemented for a continuity growth of regenerative tourism simultaneously the economy.

Regenerative tourism in Malaysia is quite a new subject compared to the ecotourism term that has been widely used for environment preservation. It differs from the regenerative which is more holistic, with the involvement of the community as part of the social responsibility. With that being said, regenerative tourism status in Malaysia is yet to be clearly defined, but a few of the tourism industries in Malaysia are known to be operating with the five NbS approaches as the guidelines. 

Centering Community Needs First can be concluded as the involvement of the community as a collective way forward in any tourism execution in an area (Combs, 2022). Malaysia has driven this approach through Community Based Tourism (CBT) in a few states and the one in Lower Kinabatangan, Sabah has remarked a successful journey through the establishment of a community-based cooperative (KOPEL).  This KOPEL managed to address the critical issues of planning and empowerment, awareness and training, collaboration with other stakeholders, and the impact of rural tourism through active collaboration with government agencies, local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and private organisations (Kunasekaran, 2021).

Improving Ecosystem Integrity and Biodiversity is important in tourism as one of the assets to attract tourists to one area for its richness and uniqueness in biodiversity. Penang Hill is among the well-known visitor attractions with the magnificent rainforest as an offering to the visitor. The founder, The Habitat Penang pledged that the profits generated by the park will be channeled to their foundation that act as a fund to support conservation efforts. As featured in their website of The Habitat Foundation, there are a lot of grants offered to ensure the conservation effort keeps improving including Developing Native Tree Nurseries with Local Jahai in Royal Belum State Park.

Embracing Diverse and Inclusive Business Models is a long-term success in which the business is developed with social responsibility, equity, conservation, and profit equally prioritized to become protected against potential threats (Combs, 2022). Penang Hill again is exemplary in embracing diversity of culture as observed by tourists from the temple and mosque located there. The preservation of culture and sustaining nature are the synergy strategies to the long-term success of Penang Hill (Salman et al., 2021). The pandemic issue of COVID-19 turned out to be an opportunity for Penang Hill as people are more conscious and aware of the importance of protecting the environment despite the lack of profit generated at that time (Salman et al., 2021).

Developing Transparent Governance Structures Accountable to All Stakeholders highlight the importance of the inclusion of all parties in a decision making regardless of the social status. Tourism in Cameron Highlands has opened up opportunities for the local residents including the indigenous community that reside within the tourism hub (Mohd Idris & Mohd Saleh, 2018). The growth of tourism in Cameron Highlands has opened up employment opportunities for the local and family economic growth are increasing (Salleh et al., 1900). This inclusion of locals in tourism is one of the responsibilities that should be taken into account to ensure a win-win situation for both the community and the tourism provider.

Enhancing Regenerative Stakeholders should bridge the communication between the communities and government to enhance social and ecological regeneration (Combs, 2022). The strategic collaboration between the Yayasan Sabah Group, Danum Valley Management Committee, and the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) was reported to be extended with the renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Danum Valley Rainforest Research and Training Programme (Olivia, 2023). This enhancement of regenerative stakeholders offers continuity of contribution toward scientific advancements and developing effective mitigation strategies to address the climate change issue (Olivia, 2023). Danum Valley is among the top eco-tourism offers in Malaysia that offer exceptional experiences for guests to get immersed in nature. The best offering had been proven achievable with collaboration between parties involving government and responsible parties.

Challenges of NbS in Malaysia

However, implementing NbS in Malaysia does not come without challenges.

The knowledge gap concerning NbS needs to be addressed. To create effective policies and plans, there must be a clear understanding of how NbS works; otherwise, the extensive adoption of NbS in local industries may fail. For instance, in the Netherlands, limited understanding of NbS assessment tools led to inaccurate results recorded in their urban cities, even described to have been ‘problematic in use’ (Dorst, 2021). The effects of this limited knowledge led to unclear goal-setting by the government and businesses involved in NbS projects. This would weaken visions and objectives shared between different stakeholders on a national level (UNEP, 2022). A suggested solution is to ensure that scientific and technical knowledge is disseminated via education and training programmes to increase awareness on this issue with both citizens and policymakers (S.Y. Chee, 2021). That way, we can ensure that NBS projects being executed are of high-quality and with high success rates. 

Funding NBS projects has also posed a challenge. Finance is necessary where infrastructure needs to be built and maintained, or where people need to be relocated for the adoption of NBS (Seddon, 2020). Projects are usually funded by debt-financing instruments such as green bonds, or market-based solutions like payments for ecosystem services (PES) and REDD/REDD+ (A. Thompson, 2023). However, studies have shown a gap in funding in order to achieve NBS targets (Deutz, 2020). Public finance by governments is the most relevant source, but this funding is difficult to mobilise and may not be readily available in developed and developing countries, including Malaysia (Toxopeus and Polzin, 2021). Encouraging private funding has also proven to be tough, given that the benefits of NBS are not easy to quantify and are incapable of being capitalised by a single beneficiary (Seddon, 2020). Yet, to achieve our climate goals, investments in NBS projects need to triple by 2030, according to Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme. 

To tackle this issue, the Malaysian government has kickstarted the Ecological Fiscal Transfer (EFT) initiative, which places federal funds to states based on the area of conserved protected territories. This will hopefully encourage participation by stakeholders to implement more NBS projects in the country (S.Y. Chee, 2021). In May 2023, Petronas also signed an MoU with Malaysia Forest Fund to develop NBS projects in Malaysia, allowing the private sector to directly provide funds towards such projects. 

Through the combined efforts of both the public and private sectors, we may hopefully be able to overcome such barriers to implementing NBS projects in Malaysia. 


Nature-based solutions offer significant, varied, and often overlooked benefits. They can improve resilience in nature and communities to natural disasters and climate change. If done right, it can also stimulate innovation and strengthen the local economy. There is now an unprecedented opportunity to address overlapping environmental and socio-economic crises through Nature-based Solutions, which can be done with the following actions: 

  • Put the right policy in place: By putting in place the right policies and enabling conditions, governments can play a crucial role in unleashing the potential of these solutions. For instance, incorporating NbS into country-level climate policies sends a strong signal to the private sector, NGOs, local communities, and international partners, whose support is needed for the long-term success of the initiatives
  • Engage local community: NbS efforts would all mean nothing if we don’t ensure the well-being of the very immediate people around it. Indigenous communities are most likely to be hit first and hardest by the impacts of climate change, and are the best placed to manage their lands for climate benefits – so it is crucial that conservation efforts involve them, and took into account their lives and livelihood.

It’s worth highlighting that while NbS is valuable, it’s not a universal solution for all environmental issues. To effectively tackle the complexities of climate change, it’s essential to complement NbS with a range of strategies, in transitioning to a low-carbon economy. This involves implementing a combination of renewable energy sources, energy-efficient practices, promoting clean mobility, and establishing sustainable infrastructure projects.


Bra, K. (2020). How Tourism Benefits Nature & Wildlife. Blog, Nature & Wildlife. https://sustainabletravel.org/how-tourism-benefits-nature-and-wildlife/

Chee, S.Y., Firth, L.B., Then, A.Y.H., Yee, J.C., Mujahid, A., Affendi, Y.A., Amir, A.A., Lau, C.M., Ooi, J.L.S., Quek, Y.A. and Tan, C.E., 2021. Enhancing uptake of nature-based solutions for informing coastal sustainable development policy and planning: a Malaysia case study. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 9, p.708507.

Cohen-Shacham, E., Walters, G., Janzen, C. and Maginnis, S. (eds.) (2016). Nature-based Solutions to address global societal challenges. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.CH.2016.13.en                                                                   

Combs, A. (2022). Nature Based Solutions: The Key to Regenerative Tourism. Solimar International. https://www.solimarinternational.com/nature-based-solutions-the-key-to-regenerative-tourism

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National Research Council. 2020. Climate Change: Evidence and Causes: Update 2020. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25733.

Olivia, M. (2023, July 28). Yayasan Sabah Renews MoU on Danum Valley Program. New Straits Time. https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2023/07/935871/yayasan-sabah-renews-mou-danum-valley-programme

Reymond, N. (2023). Regenarative Tourism-A holiday mind shift beyond sustainability. EHL Insights. https://hospitalityinsights.ehl.edu/regenerative-tourism-a-shift-coming

Salleh, N., Othman, R., Hajar, S., & Idris, M. (1900). The Indigenous Community’S Perceptions of Tourism Development in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia: a Preliminary Study. Jthca.Org, 77–87. http://www.jthca.org/Download/pdf/V4 IS1/chap 5.pdf

Salman, A., Jaafar, M., Mohamad, D., & Malik, S. (2021). Ecotourism development in Penang Hill: a multi-stakeholder perspective towards achieving environmental sustainability. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 28(31), 42945–42958. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-021-13609-y


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