Net zero and ‘nature-based’ solutions: corporate greenwashing — Local Futures

Corporations are, without a doubt, the number one obstacle to meaningful action on the climate crisis. These almighty actors have spent the past two decades undermining scientific consensus, blocking meaningful legislation and greenwashing their own responsibility. Even the last ditch Paris Agreement, with its lame voluntary commitment to keep the world to a still disastrous 1.5 degrees of warming, has done nothing to stop corporate greed from taking the planet to the brink.

It was easier for corporations to get away with doing nothing when the climate crisis was not so physically evident as it is today. They also now have to grapple with a growing, youthful climate movement that carries influence over governments and that directly targets corporations, including the bloated financial companies that continue to funnel people’s retirement savings into the worst polluters. And then there’s the covid-19 pandemic, which has blown a hole in the neoliberal consensus and made plain the importance of government intervention to deal with global emergencies. Not to mention that a climate denier no longer occupies the White House. For corporations, there is real risk that governments may finally get serious and start imposing policies and regulations that cut into their profits and power.

Corporations are of course fighting back, big time, with a unified greenwashing campaign to rebrand themselves as the purveyors of solutions. Not a day goes buy without the announcement of a corporate initiative or pledge to achieve the Paris target of “net zero” emissions by 2050. But a look into the net zero roadmaps, blueprints and scenarios that more and more corporations are making public shows that their version of net zero is really just a commitment to maintain the growth of their highly-polluting operations and to (possibly) offset these emissions by paying others to suck carbon out of the atmosphere. The plans are scientifically unsound and place most of the burden and risk on communities in the global South, whose lands will be targetted for these offset programmes.

Net zero is worse than nothing

One of the corporations that BlackRock is heavily invested in is Nestlé, the world’s largest food company and one of the worst corporate GHG emitters outside of the energy sector. BlackRock is Nestlé’s largest shareholder and, despite Nestlés massive climate footprint, the company is an easy fit with the actions BlackRock “expects” from the companies it invests in. The Swiss company is one of the rare dairy corporations to commit to net zero emissions by 2050 from its full operations, including those from its supply chain (known as Scope 3). In December 2020, Nestlé launched its “Net Zero Roadmap”, committing to reduce its emissions by 50% by 2030 and to “net zero” by 2050. The majority of these emissions occur in its supply chain, especially in the sourcing of dairy, meat and commodity crops (coffee, palm oil, sugar, soybeans, etc). Nestlé’s annual Scope 3 emissions are roughly double the total emissions of its home country, Switzerland.

Nestlé’s climate plan does not involve a reduction in its sales of foods based on dairy, meat and other highly-emitting agricultural commodities. To the contrary, its climate plan is based on a projected growth of 68 per cent for both its sourcing of dairy and livestock products and of commodity crops between 2020 and 2030. It claims, however, that this growth in production will be more than compensated by the deployment of climate-friendly technologies and changes to farming practices among its farmer suppliers.

To achieve this hugely ambitious transformation in its agricultural supply chain, Nestlé announced a commitment to invest US$1.2 billion over the next ten years in “regenerative agriculture practices”. To put this into perspective: Nestlé paid out a dividend of around US$8 billion to BlackRock and its other shareholders in 2020. On an annual basis, Nestlé’s big commitment to change the farming practices of its suppliers is a paltry 1.5% of what it pays its shareholders in dividends or three times less what it pays BlackRock in dividends.

Apart from the meagre resources it allocates, the company is also very vague on how it will ensure these regenerative practices are implemented. In the case of dairy and livestock, Nestlé wants to do research on feed additives to cut the methane produced by animals and get farmers to use more sustainably produced animal feed. And in the case of their coffee and cacao they want farmers to get into agroforestry and better soil management. But many of these supposedly climate-friendly technologies are unproved and there is no clear plan on how suppliers will transition to regenerative practices and who will pay for that to happen.

In the absence of any serious commitment to reduce its supply chain emissions, Nestlé’s banking on offsets to salvage its net zero ambitions. “We see enormous potential for the removal of GHG emissions from the atmosphere as a way to counterbalance those emissions that we cannot reduce directly,” says Nestlé in its Roadmap.

Nature-based destruction

Nestlé’s Roadmap is pretty much a carbon copy of the other net zero pledges that have been streaming forth from agribusiness and fossil fuel corporations over the past year or so. All of them are based on the continued growth in sales of their highly polluting products, offset by payments to others to suck carbon back into the ground, primarily by protecting forests that are in danger of being cut down or by planting trees on degraded lands. Corporations are now collectively referring to these offsets as “nature-based solutions”.

The precursor to today’s “nature-based solutions” is the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) programme, which not only failed to reduce deforestation or emissions over the past twelve years, but also badly affected local communities, especially by cutting off their access to agricultural lands and forests and contributing to land conflicts.

At best, this new corporate chorus clamouring for “nature-based solutions” is pure greenwashing, designed merely to distract from and delay real emissions reductions. But if the rapidly growing number of corporate net zero plans do move to implementation, even only partially, it will result in a massive grab of lands, forests and territories of Indigenous Peoples and rural communities in the global South.

All of this for what? There is no way to truly get to a point of net zero emissions, where the amount of GHG being emitted into the atmosphere is no more than the amount being drawn out of the atmosphere, if the emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and other major sources of GHGs are not reduced to near zero. For all of the damage that the coming offset land grabs will inflict on communities in the global South, nothing will be done to stop global warming. As stated in a newly released report by La Via Campesina and a coalition of other NGOs and social movements, the corporate net zero plans and pledges that are coming fast and furiously these days make it crystal clear that “ there is no desire or ambition on the part of the largest and richest in the world to actually reduce emissions. ‘Greenwashing’ hardly suffices as a term to describe these efforts to obscure continued growth in fossil emissions — ‘ecocide’ and ‘genocide’ more accurately capture the impacts the world will face.

The climate revolution will not be financed

We should not be surprised by this new wave of corporate greenwashing. A recent study by a business consultancy came to the embarrassing conclusion that the past two decades of corporate “sustainability” programmes have a 98% failure rate. Corporations are simply not going to take actions that impede their profits, and they will fight against any actors, be they governments or frontline communities, that stand in their way. They will only change when forced to.

While it is tempting to celebrate the recent spate of corporate pledges to address the climate crisis as a victory for social movements, it is more important that we take stock of how these pledges are really just smokescreens designed to maintain business-as-usual. The reality is that corporations will not and cannot be part of the solution.

This is particularly important to keep in mind with the financial industry. Financial corporations like BlackRock and even those that manage pension funds are built to finance corporations. If money is left in their hands, it will always flow to corporations. Corporations may have to make net zero pledges to access that money, but this is not going to drive down emissions and will take a huge toll on communities that have done nothing to contribute to the climate crisis. There is no victory for people or the climate if a financial company is shamed into shifting its holdings from Exxon to Nestlé. This is not to dismiss the significance of divestment campaigns, which can have important impacts on a range of issues. But there’s a difference between demanding financial companies divest and calling on them to invest in solutions.

Solutions must be developed and defined by people, not corporations. When it comes to food and agriculture, peasants and other small-scale food producers have already articulated a vision for food sovereignty and solutions to the climate crisis that excludes these huge corporations altogether. There is no place in this vision for Nestlé’s Roadmap, Unilever’s “nature-based solutions” or BlackRock’s empty environmental promises.

We have to confront the rising tsunami of corporate, greenwashed solutions with clarity and solidarity. Offsets must be rejected full-stop, as must any scheme that makes allowance for them, such as “nature-based solutions”. The focus needs to be on system change; just substituting one energy source for another, or one technology for another, only changes corporate squabbles for control over new energy sources and technologies and displaces the site of the damage. Imagine the amount of land, water and natural resources or “nature based solutions”, including with the use of fossil fuels, needed for the production of agrofuels/biofuels or the installation of hydroelectric plants or wind farms to replace the current and future global demand for fossil fuels? We need to stop any kind of extractivism, including the extractivism of industrial agriculture and fisheries.

The problem we are confronted with is not how to get the BlackRocks or Nestlés of this world to invest in solutions to the climate crisis. It is how to take back control over the funds, resources and governments that are currently captured by corporations in order to support genuine solutions to the climate crisis that serve the needs of people.

This post is from a report by , issued March 17, 2021.

Image: Greenwash Guerillas, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

According to OECD Stat, Switzerland’s 2018 GHG emissions were 46.3 MT CO2e, while Nestlé says its 2018 emissions from its “value chain” were 92 MT CO2e. See:

FOEI, “Chasing Carbon Unicorns: The deception of carbon markets and “net zero””: February 2021: . See also TWN and ACB, “Nature-based solutions or nature-based seductions?” September 2020: ; Jutta Kill, “New name for old distraction: Nature-Based Solutions is the new REDD,” WRM, January 2020: ; GRAIN & Grupo Carta de Belém, “Clima, tierra y soberanía: narrativas climáticas sobre los territorios del sur global,” November 2019: .

Originally published at on March 17, 2021.



A pioneer of the new economy movement, Local Futures has been raising awareness for four decades about the need to shift direction — away from dependence on global monopolies, and towards decentralized, regional economies.

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