In the spotlight 1
Red alert: ‘NbS’ and ‘nature tech’ are techno-fix traps!
The idea of ‘Nature-based Solutions’ (NbS) sounds positive and innocuous but is, in fact, neither. NbS is a highly ambiguous term increasingly used to greenwash corporate profiteering via policy arenas that are supposed to be tackling global climate, biodiversity and food crises.
Because of this ambiguity, NbS is being used to promote a huge variety of proposals, from plantations and wetland conservation, through to genetic engineering of plants and soil microbes. Technical and market-based approaches, and a focus on ‘enhancing’ nature (including by excluding peoples from their lands) are the order of the day.
In 2022, NbS was incorporated into a range of intergovernmental agreements including in: fourteen resolutions at the fifth UN Environment Assembly; UNFCCC COP 27 Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan; the Convention on Biological Diversity Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework; and a resolution of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands COP 14. This has been accompanied by a barrage of corporate NbS proposals:
“The…number of corporate ‘NbS pledges’ has exploded. But as there simply isn’t enough nature to go round, companies are pushing for technological means of “enhancing” nature, such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) projects and other geoengineering technologies.” 
The World Economic Forum (WEF) is also insidiously cementing the technofix approach as essential to NbS, arguing that “nature-based solutions can be transformed through nature tech into solutions that are scalable, transparent and trustworthy”. Here the WEF is spinning a carefully worded narrative about positive-sounding ‘nature tech’, to promote techno-fixes as the only way forward. This is not only untrue, but a dangerous distraction from real solutions.
The term ‘technofix’ is popularly understood as a technical solution to an urgent problem. Usually, however, it is nothing more than a ‘fix’ addressing the symptoms but not the root causes of a problem (because the promoters of the technofix would go out of business).
Technofixes may also increase the risks of negative impacts. For example, Solar Radiation Management (SRM) technologies have been proposed to reflect sunlight back into space. This could have untold impacts on weather patterns and food production, but could nevertheless be hard to stop once started, because of the risk of ‘termination shock’—a rapid acceleration in climate change that would make adaptation infinitely more difficult than it is now, including for food producers.
It is alarming that the technofix agenda is gaining ground so quickly, when the consequences could be so severe. This seems to be partly because of technology development being seen as politically neutral and always progressive—even though this is not the case—and partly because of a reckless reliance on corporate actors to deliver technologies for the public good. These power imbalances are rarely disclosed or countered.
We in civil society need to collectively challenge and discredit the use of techno-fixes in all policy fora.
In the spotlight 2
The Global Trade-Investment Regime: formalising theft and destruction
The global trade and investment regime is built on a history of extractivism and exploitation of nature, labour and wealth by corporations largely from the global north, but with increasing numbers from the global south as well. With roots in the colonial era, this regime is a powerful political economic force that is threatening peoples’ food sovereignty, subverting democratic multilateralism and endangering the planet. A watershed moment in global trade architecture was the establishment of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1995, that was lauded by many governments for putting in place a rules-based multilateral trading system. In reality however, WTO rules have favoured the economic interests of wealthy countries, with market access firmly at the centre of all negotiations. Its numerous agreements on agriculture (AoA), intellectual property rights (TRIPS Agreement), industry (Non-agricultural market access negotiations—NAMA), health/safety standards (Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures—SPS), services (General Agreement on Trade in Services—GATS), investment, government procurement, trade facilitation, fisheries, e-commerce, and environmental services are designed to secure corporate control over the goods and services necessary for everyday life through progressive trade liberalisation.
Over the past two decades, the WTO has been accompanied by a new genre of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and economic partnerships that can be bilateral, plurilateral, regional and trans-regional, for example the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and most recently, the Indo-Pacific Framework for Prosperity (IPEF). These agreements are more ambitious than the WTO in terms of enabling foreign corporations to operate in domestic markets, intellectual property protection, investor protection and shaping domestic regulation. TRIPs plus provisions in FTAs allow pharmaceutical companies to own data on the safety and efficacy of medicines, de facto extend their patent periods and create drug monopolies, and significantly delay the production and marketing of generic drugs. They also demand participating countries to join and follow International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) rules, which favour corporate agribusiness and biotechnology companies.
One of the most dangerous provisions of these agreements is investor rights protection through Investment State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms by which investors can sue governments over public policies, laws and regulations that constrain their operations and profits including, for example, taxation, labour, environmental and pollution laws. ISDS arbitrations incur huge costs to taxpayers in legal fees, court appearances and payments for damage, and discourage governments to regulate in the public interest.
The WTO and FTAs are faces of corporate driven globalization, and prioritize opportunities for corporations to profit over the rights and capacities of small-scale food producers, workers, Indigenous Peoples and people. They supersede multilateral conventions on human rights, environment and biodiversity, and distort concepts of sustainability, inclusivity and accountability. The structural failings of this model and its governance regime are evident in recurring food, financial and public health crises, collapsing supply chains, dispossession of small-scale food producers and accelerating climate change. Negotiations are characterized by power asymmetries among countries, opaque backroom deals and coercion parading as consensus. This regime must be dismantled and trade-investment governance embedded in principles of food sovereignty, peoples’ rights, dignity, solidarity, and respect for nature.
In the spotlight 3
Hydra with a Thousand Heads: How corporations privatise international decision-making
Corporate power, the industrialization of agriculture, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture, and market concentration in food systems continue rising. Seizing seats at the decision-making table of various international public institutions has been instrumental to maintain and increase corporate power. How are corporations increasing their influence in UN agencies dealing with important issues related to food sovereignty?
– Seventy percent of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) budget comes from voluntary contributions, including those from philanthropies and corporate associations. FAO does not disclose how much money it receives from the corporate sector.
– FAO has intensified its collaboration with the corporate sector in its strategic framework for 2022-2031. Besides Crop-Life International, it has signed agreements with the International Fertilizer Association, Google and Unilever, among others. Source.
– Coca-Cola was one of the sponsors of the climate COP 28 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. The chief executive of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), will be overseeing the upcoming round of global climate negotiations as president of COP28, hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Source: here and here.
– Crop-Life International participates in technical expert groups of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Business associations such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the World Economic Forum, which include major agribusiness corporations, have established coalitions to promote sustainable solutions that protect corporates’ interests but do nothing for the environment. Examples include offsetting mechanisms (such as ”No Net Loss”, ”Net Gain”, ”Nature Positive” and ”Nature-Based Solutions”), self-reporting, self-regulation and self-certification. Source.
Another way to increase corporate influence in UN institutions is to change the manner of policymaking. Instead of relying on intergovernmental processes of negotiation with clear rules of the game, many forms of multi-stakeholder initiatives with informal policy outcomes and a strong presence of business-friendly networks are mushrooming.
The UN Food Systems Summit in 2021 convened by the UN Secretary General was the biggest of these initiatives so far. Despite not having an agreed plan of action by governments, a UN Food Systems Coordination Hub – hosted by FAO and jointly led by the UN Deputy Secretary-General and the heads of the Rome-based agencies (FAO, World Food Programme—WFP, and International Fund for Agricultural Development—IFAD), WHO and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was created as a parallel structure to existing institutions such as the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS). This Hub enjoys more than double the budget of CFS while the latter continues struggling for funding. National governments are not part of the governance structure of this Hub. In other words, a corporate-friendly UN bureaucracy is de facto deciding which policies to promote.
The FAO World Food Forum (WFF) is a large event trying to match investors and countries. It is organized around three main pillars: the Global Youth Forum, the Science and Innovation Forum, and the Hand-in-Hand Investment Forum. It provides a large platform for corporate actors to promote their business solutions. (See further reading box).
Democratizing decision-making around food systems is at the very core of the food sovereignty movement. We must counter the corporate capture of the United Nations. Building on our vision on food and peoples’ sovereignty and human rights, we need to further develop our proposals and strategies for inclusive global food governance and the democratization of the United Nations in a broader sense.
 Quote from the No to Nature Based Dispossessions statement, March 2022.