Photo: UNDP Climate.
Myrto Tilianaki, Food Sovereignty and Climate Officer at CCFD-Terre Solidaire – CIDSE’s French member organisation – attended COP26 in November to follow the negotiations on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. In this interview, Tilianaki reflects on nature-based solutions and the controversy surrounding their implications for the preservation of biodiversity and the rights of indigenous communities.
What is considered nature-based solutions?
The concept of nature-based solutions (NbS) was developed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2015-2016. It is supposed to entail “solutions” linking climate and biodiversity. Although it may sound good on paper, NbS is an extremely vague concept that includes many different practices.
We worked on a briefing note with Réseau Action Climat (CAN – France) which aims to map out practices that are beneficial and others that are harmful to climate and biodiversity and that are often referred to as Nature-Based Solutions.
What is the main problem with NbS?
The unclear definition of NbS is the main problem of this concept, as it allows to promote false and dangerous solutions. There are a few “good” practices that are considered to be NbS such as agroecology. However, most of these solutions, such as climate-smart agriculture, GMOs, among others, have already been called out by organisations, including CIDSE. The word “nature” is used here to justify harmful practices and that is at the core of the problem.
Some of the false solutions promoted under NbS:
- Practices that are not decided with and for the benefit of indigenous peoples and local communities, particularly marginalised groups such as women.
- Practices which aim to calculate and provide offset credits based on capture and storage capacities of natural terrestrial environments. These practices allow for greenwashing and are a dangerous distraction from real and immediate emissions reductions.
- Afforestation and reforestation practices based on monoculture plantations with non-native species are also harmful. They store less carbon than natural and diverse forests, are less resistant to natural hazards and diseases, and put biodiversity at risk. Moreover, countries that consume products causing imported deforestation (e.g. palm oil, rubber, soy) must stop these importations.
- ‘Climate-smart’ agriculture techniques promoting carbon storage and offsets.
- The use of Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS): these technologies remain untested, unproven and potentially dangerous for ecosystem integrity.
- Technologies inspired by nature, as well as certain innovations sometimes using natural materials (e.g. GMOs, synthetic biology, agrofuels).
- Infrastructure projects that are harmful to biodiversity or lead to population displacement, particularly in the energy sector (e.g. hydroelectric dams). In addition to unsustainable energy sectors (e.g. mining, nuclear), some renewable energy projects can also have problematic impacts on biodiversity if not well managed.
- Land artificialisation, which is a determining factor in biodiversity loss and a limiting factor for carbon storage.
It’s also important to note that the biggest promoters of NbS today are transnational corporations, such as Total Energies, which also created its own NbS unit. Offsetting projects – similar to the one Total Energies has put in place in the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) that aims to plant 40.000 hectares of acacias, a monoculture – are put forward under the NbS approach. The NGO Grain has also documented companies promoting NbS such as Nestlé, SYSTEMIQ, Food, and Land Use Coalition co-founded by Yara, Unilever, and Blackrock.
How do the demands on nature-based solutions are related to the work of Catholic organisations?
It’s difficult to answer this question; however, Laudato Si’ refers to solutions coming from the people and calls out corporate and capitalist appetites regarding nature.
As Catholic development organisations, we work with people on the ground and we support local struggles for food sovereignty and just transition, so calling out NbS is coherent with all the work that we have already undertaken on climate-smart agriculture and other false solutions as well as on corporate capture and takeover of global governance.
According to the civil society statement “Real solutions, not net-zero” signed by CCFD-Terre Solidaire and CIDSE: “Show us how you will protect and restore biodiverse ecosystems — not for the carbon they contain to be traded as so-called “nature-based solutions” in offset markets, but because they are the basis of lives and livelihoods and because we must halt biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse.”
Was NbS addressed at COP26?
Nature-Based Solutions were not addressed at COP26, but the term appeared at some point in the draft COP decision. There were no official discussions on NbS as the space for discussions on this was the IUCN. However, NbS was heavily present within the COP through countless side events. This led to the provisional addition of the term “Nature-Based Solutions”, nevertheless, it was soon after removed from the text. The adoption of the term NbS in official UNFCCC statements or COP decisions could have been extremely dangerous as it would be setting a precedent, indicating that the UNFCCC is officially recognizing this concept.
The following type of wording “solutions jointly addressing/linking biodiversity and climate” should be put forward instead. It is clear that we need to address at the same time issues related to climate, biodiversity, human rights, and Indigenous people’s rights.