Capitalism is desperate for no-cost solutions to climate change and it is a bonus if it also makes money for investors. Businesses, therefore, advertise their net-zero credentials. sounds great, eh? It is all very simple. Nature holds the solutions to the various environmental crises by creating Protected Areas and increasing carbon sequestration within them (that is, planting trees or restoring forests). A magical solution that does not rely on significant changes by large economies and their major industries, that doesn't involve burning less fossil fuel and changing our consumption patterns.
The claim is that a third of global climate mitigation can be achieved through Nature-based solutions (NbS).
It is the usual market-based approach, a re-labelling of what used to be called carbon offsets. "Nature" is considered a capital or an asset, something to put a price on and trade on the stock exchange and financial markets.
For example, Shell (one of the big supporters of NbS) is releasing X amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. In order to claim that it's respecting its climate commitments, Shell can carry on releasing exactly the same amount of CO2, as long as it also supports the creation of a Protected Area that stocks the same amount of CO2, or plants some trees that are supposed to absorb the same amount of CO2. This exchange, of course, is carried out in the financial markets, through the creation of carbon credits. And this is what governments mean by "net zero": they don't really intend to reduce their emissions to zero, they will simply claim to "offset" those emissions somewhere else. Transforming nature into a form of capital (in this case, as carbon ), that can then be sold in the market.
The conservation industry pushes NbS because they can make huge sums selling carbon credits from the Protected Areas they manage in order to fund new Protected Areas (and pay the million-dollar plus salaries of their CEOs).
The most effective known way of pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere is by planting trees. Indeed, according to the 2017 estimates, afforestation accounts for nearly half of the potential for climate mitigation through NbS. But achieving this potential would require planting trees over an estimated area of nearly 700 million hectares, almost the size of Australia. Where is that land going to be found? Certainly not in France or the United Kingdom (among the supporters of NbS). The clear risk is that many indigenous peoples and local communities, among those least responsible for the climate crisis, lose their lands.
The creation of so-called Protected Areas, such as the EU Commission new biodiversity initiative called NaturAfrica, treats conservation areas as a massive carbon sink, that can "provide interesting opportunities to generate revenue streams for communities through carbon credits".
Several human rights organizations and independent investigations have shown for years how the creation of Protected Areas, especially in Africa and Asia, are done without the consent of Indigenous or local communities, who lose total access to their ancestral lands, and are accompanied by an increased militarization and violence. Protected Areas destroy the best guardians of the natural world, indigenous peoples, in whose lands are found 80% of biodiversity.
So in the end, Indigenous peoples, small farmers, local communities, fisher-folks, will lose their lands for a climate crisis they didn't cause. A small price worth paying for if it saves the planet?
Not at all.
First, many of the tree projects claimed as a path to climate mitigation plant fast-growing trees like eucalyptus and acacia, to make money. This can actually increase rather than reduce carbon: existing vegetation has to be cleared and the new plantations are more susceptible to fires. Most such plantations are harvested in a few years to make things like paper and charcoal which quickly return all the captured carbon back to the atmosphere. Real forests of native trees would need to grow for decades before they start absorbing much carbon. Finally, large scale tree plantations destroy biodiversity and indigenous peoples' lands.
Secondly, quite apart from the disastrous impact on human diversity, there is no scientific evidence that doubling Protected Areas will actually be good for nature. Of the 20 targets in the previous global action plan on biodiversity, covering 2010-2020, the only one achieved was to increase to 17% the area of Earth designated as Protected Area. Yet biodiversity is said by the conservation industry itself to have declined ever faster during the same period. A 2019 study, looking at more than 12,000 Protected Areas across 152 countries, found that, with some individual exceptions, such conservation reserves have done nothing over the last 15 years to reduce human pressure on wildlife. Indeed, inside many, the pressure had worsened compared to unprotected areas. Many Protected Areas invite mass tourism, and are often home to trophy hunting, logging, and mining operations.
Thirdly and most importantly, the finance industry has never solved any of our problems and won't do it this time. Leaving it to the market to decide what is important and what is not, according to "economic value" is likely to turn out to be catastrophic. Is an indigenous territory, a forest, a grassland only worthy of protection because of the carbon it stores? What about the people living in that territory and the unquantifiable diversity they represent? It is, precisely, the exploitation of natural resources for profit and the commodification of nature that helped produce the global warming emergency. The finance industry wants to make money, not to protect our planet.
NbS are supported and implemented by the largest and most polluting corporations in the world and by the conservation industry, as a way to avoid the drastic changes really needed to tackle climate crisis. Among the supporters of NbS we find: Nestlé, BP, Chevron, Equinor, Total, Shell, Eni, BHP, Dow Chemical Company, Bayer, Boeing, Microsoft, Novartis, Olam, Coca-Cola, Danone, Unilever, etc.
Offset schemes have already failed to prevent climate change. Expanding these schemes massively and re-naming Nature-based Solutions will also fail.
Opinion | Why Nature-Based Solutions Won't Solve the Climate Crisis—They'll Just Make Rich People Even Richer | Fiore Longo (commondreams.org)
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