Tag Archives: COP-10 Nagoya

Capitalism to Save Biodiversity?

–Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project Executive Director and North American Focal Point for the Global Forest Coalition.

Today’s blog post was inspired by two side events at COP-10 today.  The
first was entitled, “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB):
Mainstreaming the economics of Nature.”  The lead presenter was Pavan
Sukhdev, Study leader — TEEB and Special Adviser and Head — Green
Economy Initiative UNEP

The second was called REDD: Who Benefits and Who Pays, and very critically
explained the social and ecological impacts of REDD.  The model of REDD,
as a scheme of payment for ecosystem services, is one of the main models
for TEEB.

There were some very fascinating statements made by the presenters at the
TEEB side event.  A selection of those include:

• TEEB is about economic solutions, not market solutions, but uses the
market as a tool. [!??!]

• Nature belongs to everyone and to no one, but must be “captured” to save

• What nature provides is invisible: we must make nature’s values visible.

• Countries must inventory their “natural wealth” since “You cannot manage
what you do not measure.”

• 10-20% of a country’s GDP is in “ecosystem services.”

• “Most of the benefits [from TEEB] will flow to the rural poor.”

• “Ecosystem services are a lifeline for the poor.”

TEEB recommendation: Within the UNFCCC process, REDD+ should be
accelerated for implementations: pilot projects, and capacity building in
developing countries.    “We’re Working toward Cancun where there WILL be
a REDD+ agreement” [emphasis added–Note: REDD is still extremely
controversial and has not yet been agreed upon in the UN Climate

“Cancun will be significant opportunity for TEEB and mainstreaming the
economics of nature.”


These people are serious.  They want to develop a whole new “Green Economy.”

But while they natter on and on about how this will protect biodiversity,
they neither explain exactly how this is the case, nor how Indigenous
Peoples’ rights fit into the picture.  Indigenous Peoples’ lands, on the
other hand, are those lands globally that are richest in biodiversity.

But rather than ensuring Indigenous communities have control over their
lands so that they can continue to caretake the lands on which they
depend, the TEEB theory is that we have to put a dollar value on nature
and put it in the market, if we want it to be conserved.  And as Tom
Goldtooth, Executive Director of Indigenous Environmental Network points
out, assigning an economic value to something implies ownership, and
property is a concept that contradicts traditional Indigenous

There is also no consideration to the root causes of biodiversity loss.
We are somehow going to magically end biodiversity loss while doing
nothing to reduce consumption [the things we consume, by the way, start
out as natural resources, i.e. biodiversity].

So TEEB, therefore, can be seen as a red herring that is designed to
distract us from the real drivers of biodiversity loss. It waves magical
equations in our faces to lead us into the land of economic fairy tales.

So here’s how I see TEEB playing out:

Natural ecosystems will be assigned a dollar value.  The economic law of
supply and demand says that as more natural ecosystems are destroyed by
unsustainable global consumption (which is not being addressed by TEEB),
those ecosystems will go up in value.  Investors, being the profit-savvy
bunch they are, will figure this out pretty quickly.

Therefore, TEEB will cause the already frightening global land grab to
accelerate–perhaps even exponentially.  The Indigenous Peoples and the
world’s poor who live in these ecosystems often do not have clear title to
their lands.  TEEB will likely result in them being marginalized even
further, and even displaced from their lands.  And this displacement will
be justified by blaming these rural poor communities for biodiversity
loss.  The World Bank, for example, blames poverty for 40% of global
forest destruction.  How can you protect biodiversity unless you kick out
the humans?

Under TEEB, the “captor” of an ecosystem will have the right to demand
compensation for leaving that biodiversity intact.  And if TEEB follows
the REDD model, the amount of money demanded for NOT destroying
biodiversity will have to be equal to the profit that COULD have been made
from doing so.  Where exactly will all of this money come from?  And what
if nobody pays?  Then the captor would be free to sell that ecosystem to
the highest bidder.  For logs, for pharmaceuticals, for monocultures, for
soy fields, whatever will make the biggest profit.

This is, after all, the essence of Capitalism and why it is so dangerous
and stupid to put nature into the market.  Capitalism is about maximizing
profits.  Investors will get their financial return one way or the other,
regardless of the consequences.  If there is any lesson that we can draw
from the financial crisis, that is it.

This quote by the head of TEEB gives an idea of the mentality of its

“Economics is merely weaponry.  The direction you choose to shoot is the
ethical question.”

Unfortunately, with regard to nature, there is no way to predict how that
weapon will be used.  The Precautionary Approach (enshrined in the CBD)
should mean we do not put nature in the sights of that weapon to start with…

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