–Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project Executive Director and North American Focal Point for the Global Forest Coalition
Nagoya, Japan–Today was the opening day of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s tenth Conference of the Parties (COP-10). 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. It is also the year by which the UN CBD had tasked itself with achieving a set of “Millenium Development Goal” (MDG) targets with regard to staving off biodiversity loss.
As you can probably imagine, these goals came nowhere close to reality.
At this CBD COP, however, the Parties are pledged to create a new 10 year strategic plan. Over the course of the next two weeks, the details of this plan will be discussed word by painful word.
The Opening Ceremony of the COP-10 took place this morning. Part pep rally, part hand wringing, the presentations by the Big Wigs went on ad nauseum. They went on so long in fact, that the environmental groups present–which had spent a couple of days preparing a 3 minute opening statement to the COP–were not allowed to present it. No time…
But after all this taking “a hard look at” itself, the CBD has decided NOT to look at the root causes of this failure, but rather to commit itself to buddying up with business in order to devise a win-win that will supposedly protect biodiversity while promoting the interests of industry.
The logic of this green capitalist model is fascinating. I will share with you a few choice quotes from The Little Biodiversity Finance Book (available in great piles here at COP-10):
“The English playwright Oscar Wilde once commented that the cynic knows the price of everthing but the value of nothing. Today’s cynics are those who claim biodiversity is priceless, yet are not prepared to pay for it…In the UN year of Biodiversity a quiet revolution is occurring. Whilst the Millennium Development Goals for stemming biodiversity loss may be missed, the financial crisis is forcing a re-think of how products and services are valued. Investors are thinking, ‘if we got it so wrong with one property, what else out there is incorrectly valued?’ There is a growing realization that wealth creation cannot continue based on financial and social capital alone, but must recognize natural capital too–for without this, national accounts, business accounts and consumer accounts–long term, are ultimately built on sand.”
“[Biodiversity financing] is a natural follow on from REDD, which is essentially valuing one such service, namely the carbon cycle…Such a utilitarian view of biodiversity should not be allowed to erode the inestimable value biodiversity has for the human spirit but should secure it for future generations…This new economy could see the emergence of ‘biodiversity superpowers’ rich in natural capital and able to bargain their ecological muscle for aid or trade.”
Whew. Where to start with logic like that…
Premise One: Biodiversity is priceless, therefore we should put a price on it.
Premise Two: If you disagree with this oxymoronic-logic, you are a “cynic.”
Premise Three: The lesson from the financial crisis is that “property” was valued incorrectly. [Wow, that is definitely NOT the lesson I took away from the financial crisis…]
Premise Four: Ongoing wealth creation depends on “natural capital.” Well duh. Isn’t that kind of the essence of “CAPITALism”–transforming natural “resources” into capital? But what’s that got to do with protecting biodiversity?
Premise Five: A utilitarian view of nature is a good thing as long as we combine it with a reverential view. [Again with the oxymoronics.]
Premise Six: Valuing biodiversity appropriately will create “biodiversity superpowers” who can hold their biodiversity hostage for aid or trade. “Give us your money or the forest gets it.” And this is a good thing?
Of course, this premise also ignores the reality of things like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund which have forced so-called “developing” countries into debt for decades by conning them into huge development loans, then using those loans as leverage to force them to sell off their vast natural resources to the lowest bidder–part of the process called “structural adjustment”. Structural adjustment programs are part of what has made the comfortable overconsumptive lifestyles of those of us in the North possible.
But under the premise in this little book, all of a sudden, the rich countries will pay the poor countries in exchange for them protecting their natural wealth. Hmmm, that sounds familiar. Debt for nature swaps–oh yeah, that was a smashing success.
Look, let’s face reality, shall we? One cannot continue to live under a global economy that demands endless growth and simultaneously protect biodiversity. And one cannot employ the very same economic strategies that have devastated biodiversity to now protect that same biodiversity by merely tweaking them slightly. Putting a dollar value on nature simply means the rich will be able to control that nature.
And since the author brings up REDD, yes, let’s look at REDD as an example of what to expect from putting a price on biodiversity. Because REDD puts a dollar value on standing forests, it has launched a major global land grab with investors, companies and others buying up forests in the hopes of future profits. The peoples who live in those forests–and are largely responsible for the fact that they are still standing, I might add–are being displaced. Kicked out. Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?
Then there was the World Forestry Congress in October 2009. The World Bank came to this huge gathering of timber industry executives and Big Greens to tell them about all of the profits to be had from forests under REDD. By the time they were done, the timber executives were practically drooling. The World Bank explained there would be around $45 billion in profits to be had under REDD, and that REDD would be very “beneficial for forestry.” Yes, that’s right, the scheme ostensibly designed to protect forests will mean billions in profits for the very industry that thrives on cutting them down.
In exactly the same way that putting a price on carbon has meant billions in profits for the world’s worst polluters. And so, commodifying biodiversity will in turn mean vast profit-making for the worst destroyers of biodiversity.
That, my friends, is what COP-10 is all about.
Business and Biodiversity, hand in hand at last…