Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Memo to Rio+20: 'green economy' doesn't mean monetising nature

Hannah Griffiths in the PovertyMatters blog at the Guardian (UK): ...As the Rio+20 anniversary conference approaches, a battle rages over the definition of another term: "green economy". "A green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication" is a key conference theme. It sounds good, but what does it mean?

According to one of the official preparatory documents...: "Several delegations proposed the valuing of ecosystem services and internalising of environmental externalities as key elements of a green economy, as well as green accounting (pdf); while some delegations cautioned against further marketisation of nature's services."

The jargon masks some diametrically opposing views. On one side, many northern governments are saying we trash the natural world because we don't value it properly. So far, so good. But they go on to confuse "value" with "price", which is where it all starts to break down. They argue that to conserve or protect the resources and functions we need from nature, we need to ascribe a financial value to them and bring them into the market. Then we will pay the proper price for nature and stop destroying it.

...A market-based approach to dealing with natural resources is not an entirely new concept. The idea behind the UN's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation programme (Redd), for example, is that if the carbon stored in forests is valued and quantified, forests will be seen as more valuable standing than they would be cut down.

But by allowing companies to "offset" their logging by planting tree plantations, Redd has opened the door to the legal destruction of rainforests. It has also led to the confiscation of land from people who often do not have formal ownership deeds to the land they have used in common for generations. For example, in Uganda more than 22,000 people were evicted from their land, allegedly at gunpoint, to allow the New Forests Company, a UK firm, to plant trees to earn carbon credits....

Deforestation in the Usambara Mountains in Lushoto District, Tanga Region, Tanzania. Shot by Mohsin S. Karmali, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license

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