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An international coalition is warning world leaders that corporate-backed "nature-based solutions" are scams that will lead to "dispossessions" while failing to help mitigate the climate emergency. (Photo: tcareob72/Shutterstock)

Beware Industry-Backed 'Nature-Based Solutions' Scam, Warns Global Climate Coalition

"What corporations and big conservation groups call 'nature-based solutions' is a dangerous distraction."

Jessica Corbett

As a global climate summit continued in Glasgow, Scotland on Tuesday, an international coalition of advocacy groups warned world leaders that corporate polluters are pushing for "nature-based solutions" to capture planet-heating emissions so they can "keep burning fossil fuels, mine more of the planet, and increase industrial meat and dairy production."

"The purported solutions will result in 'nature-based dispossessions.'"

The coalition announced that a sign-on statement on the issue—which is open for signature through the end of 2021—has so far been endorsed by 257 groups and 78 individuals from 61 countries.

"What corporations and big conservation groups call 'nature-based solutions' is a dangerous distraction," the statement says, blasting companies from Microsoft and Nestlé to Shell, Total, and Unilever for "peddling a dangerous scam" that "is dressed up with unproven and flawed data."

As the coalition explains:

When corporations and big conservation groups talk about "nature," they mean enclosed space devoid of people. They mean protected areas guarded by armed rangers, tree plantations, and large monoculture farms. Their "nature" is incompatible with nature understood as territory, as a life space inseparable from the cultures, food systems, and livelihoods of the communities who care for it and who see themselves as intrinsic parts of it. What's more, behind a marketing front of genuine agroecology and natural regeneration initiatives, backers of "nature-based solutions" are preparing to advance yet more harmful practices such as monoculture tree plantations and industrial agriculture.

Rather than helping the world tackle the climate emergency, the coalition continues, "the purported solutions will result in 'nature-based dispossessions'" that negatively impact Indigenous peoples, peasants, and other forest-dependent communities.

Businesses and some nonprofits are advocating for such "scams" at the Scotland summit—COP26—and beyond to "buy another decade or two of unrestrained corporate profiteering from fossil carbon extraction and industrial agriculture while increasing outside control over community territories," the statement warns, urging governments to instead listen to the "growing movement of frontline communities, organizations, and activists for climate justice."

Echoing a Monday letter supported by over 700 groups worldwide demanding "real climate solutions, not net-zero promises," the coalition's statement asserts that "only a rapid, time-bound plan to leaving the remaining coal, oil, and gas reserves in the ground and industrial agriculture overhauled will avert catastrophic climate chaos."

On Tuesday, Focus on the Global South, one of a dozen organizations that launched the coalition, distinguished between industry-backed "nature-based solutions" and locally informed efforts to care for lands and waters.

"Forests, soils, ecosystems, and biodiversity must be restored and protected for sure," the group said. "But to meaningfully address the havoc wreaked by industrial agriculture, globalized industrial food systems, and global trade, we need systemic transformation such as agroecology, local sustainable food systems, short supply chains, and territorial markets."

Focus on the Global South also reiterated that "the climate damage caused when corporations keep releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere cannot be offset through planting trees, protecting forests, restoring soils, or tweaking industrial farming practices."

In the lead-up to COP26, signatories to the statement and other critics of greenwashing have tried to warn global leaders against such "dangerous" distractions. Last month, Friends of the Earth International (FOEI)—the world's largest grassroots environmental federation and another coalition initiator—put out a position paper on nature-based solutions.

Such false solutions are "a bad idea dressed up in acceptable terminology and beautiful imagery—a sheep in wolf's clothing," said Sara Shaw, co-author of FOEI's paper. "The term sounds good but is so broad and vague that it can refer to anything—from real solutions such as Indigenous-based ecosystem restoration to damaging activities like monoculture tree plantations."

"Much of what is being done in the name of nature-based solutions is little more than a repackaging of previously discredited market-based approaches," she said, pointing to the example of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+). "Companies must cut carbon emission at source, not go in for greenwashing and displacement activities."

Fiore Longo, a research and advocacy officer at coalition member Survival International, made similar arguments in a recent opinion piece for Common Dreams, emphasizing the need for climate solutions rooted in justice.

Emissions offsetting schemes such as nature-based solutions, Longo wrote, "should be abandoned, and instead governments should put in place real regulations over companies and finance to tackle the real causes of environmental destruction: exploitation of natural resources for profit and growing overconsumption, driven by the Global North."

"We also need to decolonize our approaches and stop marginalizing and silencing Indigenous peoples and other local communities, who have been protecting our planet for generations," she argued. "Finally, we need a radical change of our economic structure and of our way of living."


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