By Chris Lang
In May 2020, 60 organisations and experts signed on to a statement calling for Four Principles for Nature-Based Solutions. The first signatory is Christiana Figueres, Co-founder, Global Optimisim and the second is Thomas Crowther, Crowther Lab, ETH Zurich. Among the other signatories are representatives from The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, WRI, IUCN, WWF, Nature4Climate, Birdlife International, Trillion trees, Plant for the Planet, and the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation.
“The world is ready to take Nature-Based Solutions to scale,” the statement tells us. The evidence for this, according to the statement, are the trillion tree initiatives, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the Bonn Challenge, the New York Declaration on Forests, and “others”.
Let’s put aside for a moment the obvious fact that all these initiatives have utterly failed either to stop the destruction of the world’s forests, or to make a dent on the world’s ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. At least REDD isn’t included on the list.
It would be easy to criticise the four principles for nature-based solutions statement. The principles look a lot like a list of safeguards to be tacked on as an after thought to a top-down so-called “solution” to the climate crisis.
But the point of this post is to ask a simple question: Do these four principles mean no offsets?
The four principles statement suggests that nature-based solutions should not be an excuse to allow continued climate pollution elsewhere – which should mean no offsets:
Nature-Based Solutions cannot be used as a reason to defer ambitious cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, cover for investments that lock-in high-carbon resources, nor an excuse to lift environmental protections. It’s important that nature-based activities be complemented by emissions reductions at source, comprehensive climate policies and proper accountability.
And the first first principle is to “Cut Emissions”:
Nature-Based Solutions are powerful tools to capture carbon from the atmosphere, but they are not a substitute for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. From a climate change perspective, we must rapidly cut fossil fuel emissions, decarbonize economies and also maintain, sustainably manage and restore ecosystems.
That also should mean no offsets. The best way to ensure that nature-based solutions are not a substitute for cutting greenhouse gas emissions is to say no to offsets.
So do these four principles mean no offsets?
I left a comment on the statement of the four principles: So, do these four principles mean no offsets?
I didn’t get a reply.
Only one person replied – Jean Francois Bastin, the lead author of the 2019 ETH-Zürich paper in Science magazine on the potential of tree planting to address the climate crisis. After a series of technical comments published in Science, Bastin et al. published a correction.
“Implementation of Nature Based Solutions cannot be used as an argument to allow emissions. It is not restoration OR cutting emissions. It is BOTH,” Bastin replied.
I pointed out that his answer doesn’t really answer my question, and that it would be very helpful if Bastin gave a yes or no answer:
Yes = no offsets;
No = offsets.
Bastin didn’t reply.
Nature-Based Solutions = Offsets
Last year Shell announced that it would spend US$300 million on nature-based solutions. The Nature Conservancy has been working with Shell since 2009. Shell states on its website that, “Carbon credits are at the centre of Shell’s nature-based solutions.”
The Nature Conservancy and its polluting palls at Shell have no doubt that Nature-Based Solutions are a great way of greenwashing continued pollution.
Meanwhile, carbon trading firm Verra is setting up “an external working group focused on forest carbon innovations”. Verra states that,
As is the case with other Nature-Based Solutions (NBS), finance for such approaches has been slow to materialize. Carbon credit sales would help drive funding to nature based solutions and thereby assist in addressing this barrier.
The four principles have had no impact whatsoever on using Nature-Based Solutions to greenwash one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gases on the planet – at least before the Coronavirus brought it grinding to a (temporary) halt. CORSIA puts no cap on emissions from the aviation industry. It is cap-and-trade without the cap.
A paper published in Science recently by William Anderegg of the University of Utah and colleagues points out that forest offsets (like all other offsets) will worsen the climate crisis. “The further you get from offsets and the closer to reductions as such, the better,” Anderegg told The Week.
Ryan Cooper, a journalist with The Week, summarises the problems as follows:
Most importantly by far, climate change itself poses a dire threat to forests around the world, for several reasons. First is increased fire, which has been seen around the world thanks to climate change, notably in California, Australia, and Russia. Second is drought, also closely linked to climate change (indeed, the Southwest U.S. has seen the worst drought since the 1500s thanks to warming), and predicted to get worse the more warming increases. Third is “biotic agents” like beetle infestations — pine bark beetles, for instance, have devastated forests across the American West and Canada in part because winters are no longer reliably cold enough to kill them off. Fourth, general climate disruptions — stuff like extreme weather, rising oceans, or changes in the biosphere — can obliterate forests. Finally, human activities like logging or clearing forest for farmland must of course be taken into account.
PHOTO Credit: Shell on Twitter.