Don't let nature-based solutions be a greenwashing tool




We often look towards technological means as solutions to global challenges, but what if we can find the answer in the natural environment?

By leveraging nature and the power of healthy ecosystems, nature-based solutions (NBS) are touted as a key to tackling the climate crisis. NBS cover a broad range of actions from agroforestry to afforestation programmes and more. IUCN claims NBS can help mitigate one-third of carbon emissions and bring in US$170 billion of benefits annually in ecosystem services.[1]


Nature-based solutions (NBS) (Image source: IUCN)

NBS was at the front and centre of the agenda during COP26, the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. And yet, the Glasgow Climate Pact contains no mention of the term in the final document, being replaced with the phrase "protecting, conserving and restoring nature”. What made NBS so divisive?

NBS unfortunately lacks clear definitions and guiding principles, priming the term for misuse and abuse. Critics argued that the ambiguity of NBS perpetuates unsustainable practices like monoculture plantations and industrial agriculture.[2] It doesn’t help that those who advocate for using NBS to offset carbon are often big polluters themselves.

A eucalyptus plantation in Thailand (Image source: Yale School of the Environment)

Furthermore, poorly-managed NBS inadvertently help drive greenwashing accusations, such as when they fail to put an emphasis on biodiversity conservation or on local rights (we have previously written an article on how tree planting could be done right).[3]In fact, they are regarded by indigenous groups and social justice organisations as distractions for polluters to commodify nature while continuing business-as-usual—i.e., to keep burning fossil fuel.[4]

Despite their current shortcomings, NBS are powerful tools to help address climate change and to protect the ecosystem. After all, a 2020 report estimated that there is a financing gap of as much as US$824 billion per year for biodiversity conservation.[5]But before the world can fully embrace NBS, project proponents need to ensure NBS are equitable in that they foster inclusive and restorative land use governance, and that they respect the rights and livelihood of local communities.

Global mitigation potential across different ecosystems (Image source: UNEP)

Even with that, NBS are not a panacea to climate change. The world has to make drastic cuts to fossil fuel use in combating the climate crisis.



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