Don't let nature-based solutions be a greenwashing tool
| Policy Research and Advocacy Team, Friends of the Earth (HK)
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.
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
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. 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).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.
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.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
Global mitigation potential across different ecosystems (Image
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.