Taking action gives us hope

By Baroness Barbara Young

20th May 2021

To paraphrase a recent twitter thread; “First we had Ecosystem Services, then we had Natural Capital, now it’s Nature-based Solutions.” Professor James Bullock went on to say, “if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig,” arguing that changing labels risks greenwashing the fact that governments are still doing too little in the face of the climate and nature emergencies. I get the cynicism. And I support the clear call from many NGOs that Nature-based Solutions are not a substitute for the rapid phase out of fossil fuels, or excuses to delay urgent action to decarbonise our economies.

But let me have a go at setting out the ways in which I think Nature-based Solutions might take us a bit further, this time. Nature-based Solutions, if used correctly, help us identify and develop solutions to many interconnected challenges facing the world. They require us to think across the whole system, acknowledging that actions on one crisis might have unforeseen consequences on others if they are not transparently and carefully designed. This ‘careful design’ must involve many perspectives and voices, especially with people in seldom-heard communities round the world, most especially marginalized places. And they must work effectively at different scales – from locally-led initiatives to whole ecosystems.

Agroecology is a Nature-based Solution for sustainable agriculture and land use, offering solutions to the interconnected problems that characterise our current global food system. As a science, agroecology is about farming in a way that prioritises regenerative and locally-led actions in a circular economy, removing the need for synthetic chemicals, improving animal welfare, relying on natural solutions to bring balance back to ecosystems, improving soils, recycling wastes and conserving energy. It is also a philosophy and a global movement, emphasising the role that citizens and policy makers can play through transparent and inclusive governance across the whole food system. It prioritises farmer-led innovation, respecting different cultures and traditions, sharing and developing knowledge and skills that are directly relevant to them and their holdings.

Most importantly, it is a pathway, within reach, to real change – instead of more false starts and broken promises.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines Nature-based Solutions as ”actions to protect, sustainably use, manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems, which address societal challenges, effectively and adaptively, providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits”. Research suggests that various Nature-based Solutions have together the potential to provide at least 30% of the cost-effective mitigation needed by 2030 to stabilise warming to below 2C and stay within the Paris Climate agreement.

With Nature-based Solutions a core theme for COP26, there is a danger that the term becomes overused in the coming months. IUCN has set useful criteria to help assess which solutions genuinely deserve the title. In our recent submission to the APPG for Agroecology’s inquiry into agroecology as a Nature-based Solution, FFCC argued that agroecology meets all eight of the criteria. The key points are:

  • Agroecology meets societal challenges by delivering carbon reduction and sequestration and biodiversity gains.
  • It meets the food needs of a growing population and supports diverse and viable farm businesses.
  • It has the potential to deliver at scale from field, farm and farming clusters to communities, landscapes and bioregions.
  • By eliminating costly synthetic inputs, agroecology delivers net gain to biodiversity.
  • It is also economically viable for farm enterprises, the detail of which is set out in Farming Smarter: the case for agroecological enterprise and via the stories of real people taking action now in our Field Guide for the Future.

These criteria, and I have picked out a few, are important because they show us that we have actionable solutions readily to hand. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel or wait for silver bullet technofixes. Nature-based solutions can contribute significantly to tackling the multiple problems of climate, health, and environmental breakdown – but they must be well-designed and effective. Agroecology opens a pathway to delivering on our global commitments, showing that change is possible and within reach.

If governments are to have any chance of meeting the sustainable development goals and Paris Climate targets within this decade, then the global community must seize the moment of COP26 to move beyond targets and take action now.