Nature based solutions a wolf in sheeps clothing image

The concept of Nature Based Solutions – being touted by corporations, business associations and governments ahead of COP26 – is a dangerous deception and distraction from the real solutions to the climate crisis, says Friends of the Earth International in a new report. As the clock ticks towards 2030, keeping global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees means taking real action now to cut carbon emissions at source and transition to renewable energy.

Nature Based Solutions: A Wolf in Sheeps Clothing, published by the global grassroots environmental organisation in the run-up to this year’s UN climate summit in Glasgow, UK, exposes the disastrous consequences that lie ahead for swathes of the worlds population if the claims being made for Nature Based Solutions are accepted uncritically – notably for small scale food producers, Indigenous Peoples and local communities in countries much less wealthy than the UKThe report traces the origins of the concept, how it is manipulated by big business, and what is driving it as countries head towards the UN climate summit.

Under the guise of Nature Based Solutions, big business and governments continue to expand climate and nature-trashing operations, including industrial agriculture and fossil fuel extraction, while claiming to address their climate impacts through investment in activities such as mass tree planting.

  • Shell’s climate plan includes an “extensive scale-up of nature based solutions”, including planting trees over an area approaching that of Brazil, or 35 times the size of the UK.
  • Italian fossil fuel giant Eni’s climate plan includes using 30 million tons a year of carbon offsets from forest conservation projects.
  • Nestlé’s climate plan is based on projected growth of 68% in the sourcing of dairy and livestock products and commodity crops between 2020 and 2030 while offsetting its emissions via Nature Based Solutions.(1)

Yet, to mitigate carbon emissions at the scale suggested by its promoters, afforestation would require almost 700 million hectares of land – an area nearly the size of Australia. Not only would that mean kicking farmers and communities off their lands, destroying their livelihoods and razing local wildlife, but the amount of land claimed by the sum of the hundreds of corporate tree-planting strategies just doesn’t add up.

What’s more, says Friends of the Earth International, Nature Based Solutions allow corporations and governments to continue with business as usual while failing to cut carbon emissions at source.

Concept created by big business as a new form of greenwash

Friends of the Earth International’s research finds that the concept of Nature Based Solutions threatens to co-opt and corrupt genuine solutions from social and peasant movements which practice genuinely close-to-nature farming approaches, such as agroecology and community forest management. It is being used to justify the expansion of agribusiness, with numerous schemes planned or under way – from tree plantations to gene drives – now being referred to under this new umbrella term Nature Based Solutions. But they are neither solutions nor natural.

The authors find that adoption of the idea of Nature Based Solutions is likely to:

  • prevent real action to tackle climate emissions at source or stop the drivers of biodiversity loss
  • lead to more monoculture tree plantations, intensive agriculture and land grabs
  • undermine peoples’ sovereignty and rights
  • facilitate corporate profits
  • give rise to more offsetting
  • fail to cut climate-changing emissions
  • fail to halt the decline in biodiversity.

Co-author Sara Shaw, Friends of the Earth International, said:

“Nature Based Solutions is a bad idea dressed up in acceptable terminology and beautiful imagery – a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The term sounds good but is so broad and vague that it can refer to anything – from real solutions such as indigenous-based ecosystem restoration to damaging activities like monoculture tree plantations. Much of what is being done in the name of Nature Based Solutions is little more than a repackaging of previously discredited market-based approaches such as REDD and REDD+.(2) Companies must cut carbon emission at source, not go in for greenwashing and displacement activities.”

(1) Page 8, Nature Based Solutions: A WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING, 2021
(2) Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). See REDD+ The Carbon Market and California-Acre-Chiapas Cooperation: Legalizing mechanisms of dispossession.


The report is available in English, French and Spanish, here.

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For comments on Wednesday 28 October, contact:
Kirtana Chandrasekaran, Food sovereignty programme coordinator, kirtana[at], +44 7961 986956
Nele Marien, Forests and biodiversity programme coordinator, nele[at], +32 488 65 21 53