By Chris Lang
A recent issue of the World Rainforest Movement is titled, “‘Nature-based Solutions’: Concealing a Massive Land Robbery”. It’s an excellent collection of articles and well worth reading in full.
The following are my notes on the first three articles. Future posts will look at the remaining articles in this issue of the WRM Bulletin. You can subscribe to future issues of the WRM Bulletin here.
In “Our viewpoint”, WRM points out that the name “Nature-based Solutions” created the illusion that nature is a solution to corporate destruction. In fact these corporate ‘nature-based solutions’ include much of what communities have been fighting against for decades: industrial tree plantations; protected areas; REDD projects; carbon and biodiversity offsets; biofuel plantations and so on.
At the same time, they allow destructive corporate operations such as mining, oil and gas extraction, large-scale infrastructure, and agribusiness to continue.
WRM suggests a renaming: ‘nature-based
solutions‘ dispossessions, and points out that nature-based solutions are in reality another lifeline to the destructive capitalist economy and a dangerous threat to territories, forest populations and the climate.
Simon Counsell traces the history of nature-based solutions back to the 2008 World Conservation Congress, which saw the launch of PACT 2020: Protected Areas and Climate Turnaround. PACT 2020 aimed to,
Ensure that protected areas and protected area systems are recognised as an important contribution to climate change adaptation/mitigation strategies for biodiversity and human livelihoods.
In 2009, IUCN published two documents on Nature-based solutions. The first was a position paper for the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen (COP15) and the second was a 130-page report titled, “Natural Solutions: protected areas helping people cope with climate change“.
Nature-based solutions were a way of increasing funding for protected areas, through carbon markets and private sector investment.
In 2016, hot on the heels of the Paris Agreement, The Nature Conservancy launched a campaign that described “Natural Climate Solutions” as “The Forgotten Solution”.
Also in 2016, IUCN adopted a definition of nature-based solutions at the World Conservation Congrees and published a report titled, “Nature-based solutions to address climate change“.
In 2017, a paper titled “Natural Climate Solutions” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The lead author, Bronson Griscom, and more than one-third of the authors worked at The Nature Conservancy.
While the paper’s central claim that “Natural Climate Solutions” can deliver 37% of emission reductions has been repeated ad nauseam, Counsell notes that the figure is based on “highly implausible or outright impossible assumptions”.
In 2021, nature-based solutions could be pushed into the COP26 climate negotiations to be held in Glasgow, as well as the Convention on Biological Diversity. And nature-based solutions could help fund the conservation industry’s plans to increase the area of protected areas to 30% of the planet by 2030 (30×30).
Michael F. Schmidlehner looks into the discourse of ‘green’ capitalism. He notes that the term “green economy” is promoted as a new economic model featuring a wide range of technologies from solar energy to carbon trading. The “green economy” discourse conveys the idea that capitalist economy is not a problem, but the solutions.
Nature-based solutions are driven by interests in environmental and climate compensation. Schmidlehner writes,
Environmental and climate compensation extract commercial value from nature by ‘virtualizing’ it. The so-called ‘ecosystem services,’ once quantified, are considered interchangeable. By this means, without anything being physically extracted or produced, ‘financial assets’ are created from the land in the form of certificates.
The foundational logic of such projects is not only flawed (since pay-to-pollute is not a solution), but also deeply inhumane, once it ultimately aims at the criminalization and eviction of traditional peoples from their land.
Schmidlehner notes that nature-based solutions lump together a wide range of initiatives, from predatory offset programmes to small-scale agroecological projects. The common label suggests that all these initiatives “strive in the same direction and must ultimately have the same goal, namely preservation of the environment and climate”.
Schmidlehner refers to the French anthropologist Philippe Descola’s book, Beyond nature and culture, in which Descola describes the dichotomy between culture and nature in Western society. Schmidlehner writes,
This naturalism – the assumption that ‘nature’ exists as its own domain of being, determined by causal laws and separated from ‘cultural’ reality, which in turn would be governed by human’s self-determined action – guides both our common sense and our scientific principle.
Amazonian Indigenous Peoples coexist with the land, the forest, the river, the plants, the animals and their spirits. They do not have this anthropocentric concept of “nature” and tend not to discriminate between human beings and non-human beings.
The new ‘nature-based’ discourse involves a romanticisation of nature. Nature as an exploitable resource goes hand in had with the veneration of untouched ‘pure’ nature.