Agriculture Business Climate Community Development Food

Nature-based solutions: another way to obstruct food system transformation?

Molly Anderson

By IPES Food


With international climate negotiations in Egypt fast approaching (COP27), and food systems high on the agenda for the first time, the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) is warning that a growing number of green buzzwords are being used to obstruct food system transformation. 

Our new briefing, ‘Smoke & Mirrors: Examining competing framings of food system sustainability’, looks at recent international summits.

It reveals that, in the battle of ideas for the future of food systems, one controversial idea, ‘nature-based solutions’, is rapidly gaining traction. But the term lacks an agreed definition, and a transformative vision, and is being used to maintain agribusiness as usual. It is often bundled with unproven and risky carbon offsetting schemes that entrench big agribusiness power. 

By contrast, ‘agroecology’ is a term given formal definition through democratic and inclusive governance processes, backed by years of scientific research and social movement legitimacy – but has been much less invoked in international food, climate, and biodiversity governance spaces.

‘Regenerative agriculture’, though less used in global policy spaces, is used by many sustainable food system actors to emphasise regenerating natural resources. But it is increasingly prominent in corporate-led sustainability schemes, and risks being narrowed to a limited focus on soil carbon. 


Molly Anderson, IPES-Food Expert says COP27 faces crucial decisions on agriculture. Rapidly transitioning to more sustainable and resilient food systems is vital if we are to limit global warming and prevent mass crop failures. Yet in our study of international negotiations, undefined terms like ‘nature-based solutions’ are being deployed to keep the focus on vague aspirations – it’s really just another form of greenwashing. True food system solutions emerge through global, deliberative, democratic processes, and agroecology is the best solution that meets that criteria today.” 

IPES-Food is recommending rejecting solutions that lack definitions, exploit ambiguity and mask agribusiness as usual, while ensuring inclusive global processes to deliberate on socially and environmentally sustainable food system solutions.

Follow IPES-Food as it makes the case for food system transformation at COP27 – as part of the Food4Climate pavilion.

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende