Why does COP26 remain indecisive on ‘Nature-Based Solutions?’

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The buzzword for this year’s climate negotiations was ‘nature-based solutions’ or NbS. Several negotiations throughout the year discussed the importance of harnessing the benefit of nature utilising nature-based solutions. While the concept is still evolving and being pushed at COP26, its inclusion in the draft proved to be controversial.

The draft initially published by the presidency emphasised “the critical importance of nature-based solutions and ecosystem-based approaches, including protecting and restoring forests, reducing emissions, enhancing removals and protecting biodiversity”. However, in the recently published updated draft, the word “nature-based solutions” was replaced by “protecting, conserving and restoring nature”.

It is widely acknowledged that Nature-based solutions can play a crucial role in climate action, i.e., mitigation and adaptation. In fact, to back the argument, The Nature Conservancy and 15 other institutes highlighted that nature-based solution can reduce emissions up to 37 per cent by 2030 to keep the global temperature on track for a 2° Celsius trajectory. Adding further to the Nature Conservancy Report, research by the OECD highlighted that nature-based solutions could have a significant positive impact on the economy and provide benefits like job creation.

What went wrong with ‘Nature-based Solutions?’

Over the last few years, numerous governments and businesses have expressed their interest in pursuing projects involving NbS. In fact, more than 66 per cent of the countries globally have included Nbs in their nationally determined contributions. Most of these solutions identify forests as the sanguine options for climate actions. This joint interest was also backed at Glasgow, where more than 130 leaders pledged to end deforestation and forest protection by 2030. The pledge is also supported by 95 high profile companies from various sectors and is backed by a USD 20 billion investment.

While the public and private sector recognised this as a welcoming move, the indigenous people and several global south countries have expressed their disagreement over the pledge and the inclusion of NbS. Since the very beginning, the evolution of the concept of nature-based solutions has been ambiguous. Despite the clarifications and descriptive background research by the International Union of Conservation of Nature, the term has attracted much criticism. The reason for this criticism was because of the following:

Firstly, the business connotation of nature-based solutions is often taken to be planting more trees, irrespective of understanding of plant species indigenous to the region. The latter is, unfortunately, not respected enough while thinking of NbS strategies! It is critical to understand here that the natural system is not the same everywhere. A million years of evolution have endowed every ecosystem with a unique identity and characteristics.

Secondly, in a rush to fix the planet, we have done all sorts of harm that could have been easily avoided. The lack of cognisance of the fact that native species play a crucial role in any ecosystem functioning leads to a huge flux of non-native, fast-growing species plantation, which severely hampered ecosystems.

Thirdly, the mere recognition of nature as a commodity meant to serve humanity. Nature is definitely more than that; across the globe, nature is worshipped in several forms. Kim Tam argues that the connection between nature and humans is the key to solving the environmental crisis. While this relationship is often misunderstood, and in several cases, we as humans feel our superiority over the natural systems, the failed recognition of this interaction has resulted in criticism of the NbS concept.

Fourthly, the implementation of projects based on NbS must be done in consent with the local communities. This is a considerable concern for regions where land tenure rights are less stringent and can be infringed.  

Natural systems are critical for the planet; however, their benefit is not limited to being a carbon sink. Instead, it provides multiple ecosystem services, is home to biodiversity, and innumerable other benefits. Additionally, nature-based solutions will provide businesses and governments with an easy opportunity to offset, which they are already pondering. Thus, rather than promoting this nascent idea, the presidency must push the leaders and businesses towards adopting low carbon development pathways and limiting the emissions for a systemic change.

The need for concrete solutions

Despite our high hopes, The COP26 discussions so far are disappointing given what they have been able to achieve thus far. This year’s presidency has presented nothing concrete on the table, and the discussion seems nothing apart from a ‘reverie’. The negligence and lack of seriousness at Glasgow raise serious questions on the vision and will of global leaders towards climate action. What we call for is concentre actions, not mere greenwashing. The action must be radical and must be pillared on climate equity.  

(The author is a researcher at ICRIER. Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of ICRIER )   

Published by Tarun

Just a passionate environmentalist tangled between policies and science.

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