'Nature Is Not for Sale' Forum Challenges Corporate Push to Financialize the World

Photo: World Development Movement Manchester/cc/flickr

'Nature Is Not for Sale' Forum Challenges Corporate Push to Financialize the World

While one corporate-heavy gathering in Edinburgh hopes to a price tag on biodiversity and ecosystems, counter-forum challenges approach that 'guarantees extra profits to the few'

Rejecting the push for the commodification and financialization of nature, an upcoming gathering is offering a counter-narrative to a corporate heavyweight-backed forum on "Natural Capital" that critics charge follows a "vicious paradigm of disaster capitalism."

Backed by its headline sponsor of the Royal Bank of Scotland, recently under fire for backing mountaintop removal, the World Forum on Natural Capital will hold its inaugural conference in Edinburgh, Scotland from Nov 21-22.

Among the organizations heading to conference are BP, Shell, Nestle, Coca Cola and the Inter-American Development Bank, where attendees will talk about putting a price tag on "biodiversity and ecosystems, in order to manage these risks and opportunities and enable a better future for all."

As organizers explain:

"[T]he Rio Earth Summit saw the launch of the Natural Capital Declaration, a global finance-led initiative convened by the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative and the Global Canopy Programme.

By signing the Declaration, CEOs at the helm of 39 banks, investment funds and insurance companies announced their commitment to understanding their impacts and dependencies on natural capital, and to incorporating natural capital considerations into their products and accounting. The United Nations Environment Programme is one of the key partners in the World Forum on Natural Capital, which will mark an important step in moving the debate further towards action.

In an op-ed published in The Scotsman on Wednesday, Jonathan Hughes, conservation director at Scottish Wildlife Trust, which organized the forum, writes that "corporate giants are beginning to understand, and even embrace, nature conservation," and, he continues,

By valuing natural capital in a similar way to financial, manufactured, social and human capital, we can make decisions on the management of our environment based not just on the vitally important moral case for saving nature, but also on hard-nosed economics.

But for years climate activists have charged that putting a price tag on nature is the wrong approach to protect the environment.

'Once a price is put on nature, all of our common resources can be bought, sold and packaged.'To highlight why, a concurrent "counter forum," entitled Nature Is Not for Sale, has been organized by the World Development Movement, Counter Balance, Re:Common and Carbon Trade Watch in Edinburgh, because, the groups say:

Following the launch of the Natural Capital Declaration, promoted by major global banks at the occasion of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Rio in June 2012, business and governments are working to assign monetary value to services provided by nature's different services, under the banner of the so-called "Green Economy". [...]

We believe nature's value is priceless and has to be protected. That's why we reject this new wave of commodification and financialization of nature promoted by governments, corporations and banks. Putting a price on nature will not save it from pollution and destruction. To the contrary, these new commodities will only guarantee extra profits to the few, while leaving the environment at risk in the long-run.

Ecosystems and their services are common resources and must not be enclosed for private gain. Compliance with existing environmental regulation would be replaced with financial compensation. Instead of saying that a polluter does not have the right to pollute our common resources, markets sell that right. Once a price is put on nature, all of our common resources can be bought, sold and packaged. Worse, as we have seen in the recent financial crisis, a market can be manipulated, repackaged and resold as financial derivatives, bonds and other products.

Ultimately, accounting natural capital will result in increased exploitation of natural resources instead of protecting them.

In 2010, when the UN climate talks were taking place in Cancun, Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International, warned against "Commodifying Nature in an Age of Climate Change." He wrote, in part:

One problem with the workings of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the ongoing negotiations is that it bases a chunk of its reasoning and framings on the market logic. This follows the path created by the mindset that has built a vicious paradigm of disaster capitalism, in which tragedy is seen as opportunity for profit. What do we mean by this?

Rather than take steps to curtail emissions of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, some people are busy devising ways of making every item of nature a commodity placed at the altar of the market. Through this, everything is being assigned a value and many others are privatized in addition.

What makes this offensive is firstly that you cannot place a price on nature, on life. Secondly, speculators are hyping the utility of the carbon market as a means of fighting climate change. Some of the ways this manifests is through the carbon offsetting projects by which polluters in the industrialized countries continue to pollute, on the calculation that their emissions are being compensated for elsewhere.

As Friends of the Earth International stated in a recent media advisory, "Carbon trading does not lead to real emissions reductions. It is a dangerous distraction from real action to address the structural causes of climate change, such as over-consumption. Developed countries should radically cut their carbon emissions through real change at home, not by buying offsets from other countries. Carbon offsetting has no benefits for the climate or for developing countries - it only benefits developed countries, private investors, and major polluters who want to continue business as usual."

Delving further into why carbon markets don't help the climate crisis, the agro-ecology-advocating groups GRAIN, ETC Group and La Via Campesina wrote earlier this month:

Carbon trading has totally failed to address the real causes of the climate crisis. It was never meant to do so. Rather than reducing carbon emissions at their source, it has created a lucrative market for polluters and speculators to buy and sell carbon credits while continuing to pollute. Now the pressure is increasing to treat farmland as a major carbon sink which can be claimed as yet another counterbalance to industrial emissions. The governments of the US and Australia, the World Bank and the corporate sector have long argued for this, and for the creation of new carbon markets where they can purchase land-based offsets in developing countries. Agribusiness is well positioned to profit from these, and some developing country governments hope that offering their forests, grasslands and farmland to polluters in the North could earn them revenue.

Watchdog group Food & Water Watch concluded in a recent report, "We cannot afford to bet the health of the environment or our access to water on the Wall Street casino."


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