by Mumta Ito (with permission).
The World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Index shows that, due to human impacts, the species on the planet have declined by 50% in just the last 40 years. Our governments and banks recognise that environmental regulation has failed. However their “solution” is to leave the future of our ecosystems – and therefore the lives of our future generations – in the hands of market forces. Realising that the value of nature has been left out of economic equations, the components and functions of nature, including biodiversity, are priced according to their utility value and assigned an economic value which forms the basis for the creation of financial instruments that can be traded on the primary and secondary capital markets. The instruments are acquired by corporations to offset their overuse, degradation or pollution of the environment and they can further profit from trading them. Pollution permits, natural capital bonds, biodiversity banks and offsetting already exist. Essential prerequisites for financialisation are pricing nature, characterising nature’s functions as “ecosystem services” and redefining nature as “natural capital”. This approach has several drawbacks that could seriously accelerate the rate of destruction:
- Ecosystems are living systems – each one is unique and interconnected. It is not possible to destroy one and mitigate by restoring another somewhere else without destabilising the whole.
- Offsetting speeds up the planning process – so long as mitigation credits can be bought, environmental impact assessments are not required. This gives citizens even less of a say in environmental matters and less grounds to protect nature.
- Segregation and pricing of the interconnected components of an ecosystem is an artificial construct. It does not reflect the reality of how ecosystems operate, their cumulative function or their true value in the web of life.
- The system favours the status quo by legitimizing environmental destruction. Instead of encouraging corporations to change their ways, it allows the same actors to make additional profits through financial speculation.
- Decision rights over how to live in a territory and manage the ecology there are increasingly transferred from the local sphere to multinationals and financial institutions. Communities are often violently displaced.
- It leads to profit driven speculation. If a company stands to profit from the price of clean air going up, then it will invest in activities that ensure that clean air is more scarce and in high demand in the future. In the case of biodiversity, investors can profit from speculation on the extinction of species, as if it were a game.
- All markets are susceptible to crashes – in the case of nature based financial products, crashes could have disastrous consequences for the underlying “conservation” project when the land is repossessed.
- Conservation policy is decided by what is more profitable rather than what is best for the ecology as a whole.
- Carbon credits and REDD (similar mechanisms) have been ineffective in halting climate change or deforestation.
Through the years – with nature being property under the law – there have been different forms of the commoditization and privatization of biodiversity – such as the policies that privatize biodiversity itself and other tools like intellectual property mechanisms that lay claim to genetic or biochemical elements. Today we are witnessing a new wave of privatization through the application of financial mechanisms. In this context, large corporations are pushing for reforms in international and national policies to enable their control of biodiversity. This new wave of privatisation of nature cannot be controlled under the existing structure of law. We need fundamental and systemic transformation. We need the rights of nature enshrined in law – as a powerful counterbalance to corporate excess.
For an introduction on the Rights of Nature you can listen to a talk by Mumta Ito, the lawyer coordinating the ECI (EU Citizens’ Initiative). Or you can read her Being Nature article in the Ecologist. In 2017 the Rights of Nature ECI will be launched to get one million statements of support across 7 member states which will enable us to put the collective rights of nature on the legislative agenda of the EU.
If you would like to stay informed on this campaign then sign up to the mail list at http://www.rightsofnature.eu/. If you would like to get involved in the Rights of Nature Initiative you can send an e-mail to email@example.com.