“Nature Positive” is more focused on saving a failed economic model than on protecting biodiversity.

Biodiversity lovers and anyone following the Biodiversity COP15 that kicked off in Montreal this month may have noticed the term “Nature Positive” floating around. It’s in the news, on social media, finance pledges, in corporate advertisements, and most recently, it has appeared in COP15’s draft text agreement.

But what does “Nature Positive” mean?

Good question – no one really knows. That’s the problem.

Let’s break it down: “Nature Positive”. What does “nature” mean?

There’s no straightforward answer here. For the official UN biodiversity negotiations at COP15, “biodiversity” is a technical term, with clear definitions for ecosystems, habitats, and species.

But there is no definition of nature in the UN biodiversity negotiations at COP15, and the definition put forward by those selling “Nature Positive” as a concept includes things that are “natural” but not biodiversity, such as geology and mono-cropped plantations.

Aerial view of forests in Brandenburg, affected by the lack of spring’s rainfalls. © Ruben Neugebauer / Greenpeace

If “Nature Positive” is incorporated in COP15’s final text, then different actors could use nature to mean anything they wanted. The lack of proper differentiation in terms is important for technical texts. Not all things have the same impact on biodiversity. 100 trees planted in a line on a palm oil plantation are all natural, but they do not carry the same network of biodiversity as a natural growth forest rich in ecosystems that interlap and support each other and us.

So, “Nature” is unclear. What does “positive” mean?

That’s where things get really scary. The term “positive” here is very shaky.

The idea of something being “Nature Positive” in any measurable sense assumes that it’s possible to reliably calculate the deficit and surplus of biodiversity between two different ecosystems – and that you can trade a deficit here and a surplus there as if they’re just variables.

Likewise the “positive” in “Nature Positive” implies a net positive via all these iffy calculations – that some destruction of biodiversity is unavoidable but can be compensated by ecological restoration elsewhere.  

Trying to better quantify and understand biodiversity is a good idea – but it’s precarious to start stockbroking ecosystems when we don’t even have a fair idea of whether we’re able to measure their value to biodiversity.

Why is anyone advocating for “Nature Positive” then?

Proponents of “Nature Positive” point to three key measures: zero net loss of nature starting from a 2020 baseline, net positive improvements in nature as early as 2030, and full recovery of nature by 2050. 

That’s very vague, and further inspection will show you that these measures lack both credible indicators for their measurement as well as a scientific basis to substantiate them. The indicators put forward for these measures – carbon stored in nature and the extent of existing habitats – do not accurately cover the complexity of biodiversity as it exists in ecosystems.

The use of “net” in these targets reflects a principle of “net gain,” which would allow for biodiversity offsetting. For example, a mining operation could say destroying one forest is the same as destroying another, and that it’s possible to offset the detriment of destroying one by protecting the other. (It’s not!)

Greenpeace Canada activists drop a 46-foot tall banner inside Montreal’s l’Anneau structure, on the heels of the opening of the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15). © Toma Iczkovits / Greenpeace

What are the potential repercussions of “Nature Positive”?

The “Nature Positive” agenda promotes the financialisation of nature – that there is a monetary value to nature, that this dollar figure could define all that nature means to us, and that we can start trading plots of nature like tokens and feeding into an ecosystem service that only benefits some people, in particular economies. 

The vagueness of “Nature Positive” doesn’t sit well with the grand promises made – as proponents paint it as the biodiversity example of the 1.5 degrees Celsius target for limiting global warming. The idea is easy to sell, but it is a promise too big for the vague measures and their lack of accounting methodology. 

So, what should governments do at COP15?

Governments should take “Nature Positive” completely off the discussion table. It is too risky to include ill-defined terminology with no metrics into the final agreement text, especially if you’re inviting money into the picture. Instead of further empowering private lobbies and financial markets, governments should step up, create appropriate conservation policies with explicit recognition of the rights and role of Indigenous Peoples, and do their job to curb biodiversity destruction. 

COP 27 People’s Plenary. © Marie Jacquemin / Greenpeace

The decision makers for all of this would be the exact same industry players and politicians who are destroying nature for profit now. “Nature Positive” would be a bag of tricks for them to distract, defer, and obscure their harm for nature: “destroying your forest is okay, because we’re not destroying someone else’s.” This is not only greenwashing, it is dangerous.

Marília Monteiro Silva is a Senior Portfolio Manager with Greenpeace International.