The commodification of nature? — article in BIODIV’2050

As I have already announced in my lat­est post, the lat­est issue of Mis­sion Économie de la Biodiversité’s “BIODIV’2050″ (No. 6 — April 2015) is out. Beside the pre­vi­ously men­tioned arti­cle enti­tled “Think­ing out the appro­pri­ate frame­works: bio­di­ver­sity off­sets and safe­guards” another arti­cle asks “HOW CAN THE PRIVATE SECTOR CONTRIBUTE TO RESOURCE MOBILIZATION TO REACH THE AICHI TARGETS?” It is high­lighted that there is a lack of inter­na­tional con­sen­sus on the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the pri­vate sec­tor and on the financ­ing mech­a­nisms, e.g. with regard to the “com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of nature”:

The com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of nature?

The eco­nomic approach to bio­di­ver­sity, the mobi­liza­tion of inno­v­a­tive finan­cial mech­a­nisms and the involve­ment of busi­nesses in nat­ural cap­i­tal con­ser­va­tion are con­tro­ver­sial issues. One argu­ment is that these approaches may lead to the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of nature, the cre­ation of bio­di­ver­sity mar­kets and/or the appro­pri­a­tion of nature by the pri­vate sec­tor. In other words, species, habi­tats and ecosys­tem ser­vices would be assim­i­lated to mer­chan­dise, like any other, and would be mon­e­tized at the daily rate to be “bought” or “sold” by com­pa­nies or finan­cial insti­tu­tions spec­u­lat­ing for profit. But this vision is far from real­ity on the ground.

Pay­ing a physi­cian does not imply com­mod­i­fy­ing health. Pay­ing com­pen­sa­tion in case of a life-threatening acci­dent does not mean putting a price tag on human life. Sim­i­larly, cal­cu­lat­ing the eco­nomic value of bio­di­ver­sity does not mean pric­ing its value.

Eco­nomic val­u­a­tion of bio­di­ver­sity aims at recog­nis­ing that bio­di­ver­sity is use­ful and rare, and that deci­sions, (pub­lic or pri­vate) con­cern­ing ter­ri­to­r­ial devel­op­ment or pro­duc­tion have been taken up to now with­out giv­ing suf­fi­cient heed to the value of bio­di­ver­sity and hence has been detri­men­tal to the ecosys­tems on which the eco­nomic activ­i­ties depend. The vision of nature adopted in this approach, thus, is very anthro­pocen­tric. How­ever it doesn’t not imply the “pric­ing” of species for sale on any mar­ket dri­ven by sup­ply and demand. And were such “mar­kets” ever to exist, stan­dard eco­nomic the­ory tells us that for pub­lic goods such as bio­di­ver­sity or ecosys­tem ser­vices, mar­kets of this type would not be effective.

With regard to eco­nomic instru­ments, often assim­i­lated to so-called market-based instru­ments, expe­ri­ence, here again, is far dif­fer­ent from prej­u­di­cial opin­ions, one way or the other. In the case of bio­di­ver­sity off­sets or pay­ments for envi­ron­men­tal ser­vices (PES) for instance, it is not the species or the ecosys­tem ser­vices, which by def­i­n­i­tion can­not be appro­pri­ated, that are bought or sold, but rather the con­ser­va­tion or restora­tion actions that bring about changes in prac­tices on lands where peo­ple have user rights. Quite con­trary to the idea of com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion, when these actions are con­nected to the intro­duc­tion of con­ser­va­tion ease­ments, privately-owned lands, in a way, could been seen as being part again of the pub­lic domain serv­ing gen­eral inter­est. Fur­ther­more, the con­text of imple­men­ta­tion of those instru­ments is strictly reg­u­lated by pub­lic author­i­ties, guar­an­tors of the robust­ness of defined con­ser­va­tion and restora­tion actions, as defined and implemented.

Last, busi­nesses that engage in bio­di­ver­sity action are mostly encour­aged to incor­po­rate the value of ecosys­tem ser­vices in their decision-making process in order to recog­nise the impact and depen­dence of their activ­i­ties on bio­di­ver­sity. The pri­mary goal here is to limit the cost of these activ­i­ties to soci­ety and con­struct busi­ness mod­els that com­bine devel­op­ment and bio­di­ver­sity conservation.

You can read the arti­cle and down­load the full issue here (open access). For more infor­ma­tion see also the abstract and table of con­tents of the issue below.

Abstract of the issue

The cur­rent inter­na­tional sit­u­a­tion offers us a robust, poten­tially promis­ing frame­work that is well adapted to a vari­ety of approaches. But due to insuf­fi­cient invest­ments and finan­cial resources it can­not be well imple­mented and the Aichi bio­di­ver­sity tar­gets, that aim to put an end to bio­di­ver­sity degra­da­tion by the year 2020, are still far away. The chal­lenges and stakes of bio­di­ver­sity need to be made bet­ter known and inte­grated at all lev­els. Because of this sit­u­a­tion, busi­ness enti­ties are in the front line. They have the tech­ni­cal and finan­cial abil­ity to con­tribute to this col­lec­tive momen­tum, and their con­tri­bu­tions may often be a source of oppor­tu­nity. Fur­ther­more, strong social demand is dri­ving busi­nesses – pro­vided that a coher­ent frame­work be put in place – toward biodiversity-enhancing development.

Table of con­tents of the issue

CHALLENGES                                                                                                       4

The Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diver­sity: stakes, chal­lenges and prospects stem­ming from the COP12

  • The inter­na­tional com­mu­nity focuses on bio­di­ver­sity by cre­at­ing a robust yet com­plex mechanism
  • Resources assess­ment and mobi­liza­tion: lessons learned from COP12

OPINION                                                                                                           10

Strat­egy for resource mobi­liza­tion: stakes, chal­lenges and the pri­vate sector’s contribution

Inter­view with Car­los Manuel Rodriguez — Chair­man of the CBD High-Level Panel on Global Assess­ment of Resources — and Dr. Naoko Ishii — CEO and Chair­per­son of the Global Envi­ron­ment Facility.

UNDERSTANDING                                                                                                15

How can the pri­vate sec­tor con­tribute to resource mobi­liza­tion to reach the Aichi targets?

  • Mobi­liz­ing resources to achieve the Aichi Tar­gets: what are the stakes?
  • How does the pri­vate sec­tor con­tribute to resource mobilization?
  • Pri­vate sec­tor invest­ment for resource mobi­liza­tion: bar­ri­ers and drivers

OPINION                                                                                                           24

The role of eco­nomic val­u­a­tion of ecosys­tem ser­vices and bio­di­ver­sity in resource mobi­liza­tion and pri­vate sec­tor involvement

Inter­view with Pavan Sukhdev — Fouder-CEO of GIST Advisory.

INVENTING                                                                                                        27

Think­ing out the appro­pri­ate frame­works: bio­di­ver­sity off­sets and safeguards

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