Monday, October 20, 2008

The 'win-win' solution failing the rainforests

Guardian (UK): On paper, the idea looks like a conservation masterstroke. Take a huge swath of pristine rainforest, put a price on the rainfall it produces and other "services", and sell these off to rich philanthropists with a conscience. That's precisely the rescue package dreamt up by investment house Canopy Capital. And it's working. The London-based firm has persuaded 10 wealthy individuals to buy into the "ecosystem services" of Guyana's heavily forested Iwokrama Reserve.

…Putting a price on trees' services — climate regulation, biodiversity maintenance and water storage, for example — is the latest in a long list of market-based measures designed to save Latin America's forests. Governments across the region have bought into ecotourism, forest certification, biodiversity offsets and carbon emission trading in recent years.

Market-based mechanisms appeal because they appear a win-win, says Ronnie Hall, coordinator for Global Forest Coalition, an international coalition of environmental groups. "Governments don't have to dip into the public purse so much, and private investors think they can make a profit out of it … It's very skewed. In the end, it's all become about money", she says.

As the world's financial markets totter, Latin Americans are wondering if the business theorists haven't hoodwinked them. "The problems that have been caused by companies with their own rules cannot be solved by the same companies with the same rules," says Ana Filippini, spokesperson for the World Rainforest Movement, a Uruguayan-based conservation group.

… Market-based schemes fail the residents of Latin America's forests as much as the forests themselves, says the Global Forest Coalition. Often complex and poorly explained, business mechanisms frequently leave local inhabitants sidelined and disenfranchised….

Amazon flowing through the rainforest, seen from space. NASA

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