Financialization of Nature | Food & Water Watch
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Blog Posts: Financialization of Nature

October 9th, 2014

Global Ocean Grabs Privatize Oceans, Harm Fisheries, and Threaten Fishing Communities

Fair_Fish_Logo copyBy Elizabeth Nussbaumer

Our common resources come under threat of degradation, exploitation and destruction daily. The recent trend known as “land grabbing” has continued to spread and our oceans now face similar threats. Land grabbing is characterized by a shift from small-scale, labor-intensive uses to “large-scale, capital-intensive, resource-depleting uses such as industrial monocultures (single-crop operations), raw material extraction, and large-scale hydropower generation, integrated into a growing infrastructure of global industries and markets.”

Similarly, the increasing spread of ocean grabs threatens our common access to the oceans. To raise awareness about the risks and repercussions of ocean grabbing, the Transnational Institute (TNI) recently published “The Global Ocean Grab: A Primer.” This comprehensive report offers thoroughly considered answers to many questions surrounding this issue. Read the full article…

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October 1st, 2014

Offsetting: Financial Hocus-Pocus Posing as Conservation

By Eve Mitchell

What Is This “No Net Loss” Concept?
  • Greenwashing of environmental destruction
  • Financial hocus-pocus masquerading as conservation
  • A false assumption that nature exists to serve us
  • An effort to put a price tag on nature
  • An attempt to sell biodiversity offsetting to a skeptical public
  • A critical call for you to write the European Commission and tell them, nature is not for sale!

The EU No Net Loss Plan
Is Just No Good

Stand Up for YOUR Natural Heritage Now

 Write NOW
(Before 17 October Deadline)


You can’t end up right if you start out wrong. At least it’s awful hard (and takes a big helping of blind luck).

The EU is showing every indication of making a very bad turn indeed on biodiversity offsetting, and you can help us put on the brakes. Biodiversity offsetting is all the rage lately because it offers a seemingly easy way for governments to allow habitats to be destroyed by companies that can afford to pretend to make up for the damage somewhere else. It doesn’t work.

Offsetting is getting a lot of attention, including from esteemed organisations like the London Zoological Society. The zoo hosted a conference on offsetting in April attended by a host of representatives of companies that make money from this kind of thing. They were addressed by no less than the (now former) UK Minister for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Patterson offering official support.

An extreme version of the erroneous biodiversity offsetting is the No Net Loss concept. No Net Loss (or NNL in the jargon) says you can somehow recreate the nature you destroy without really causing any “damage” at all, even if you don’t “replace” like-for-like (so destroying a salt water marsh and replacing it with forest of the same “value” equates to no overall damage done – it’s mind boggling).

We’re not buying it and neither should you. Here’s how you can help: 

The European Commission is holding a consultation on adopting NNL as a key principle in Europe. The consultation is part of implementing the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2020 (which “aims to halt biodiversity loss and to conserve ecosystem services”). The Strategy’s Action 7 is “to ensure no net loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services”. The Commission proposes to use NNL and biodiversity offsetting to do it.

The Commission says the purpose of its consultation is “to gather views” about that proposal. We need to tell them we don’t like it one bit.

Nature Not For Sale has written a letter to the Commission we can all sign. Please do.

The letter explains our reasons for rejecting offsetting.

It tells the Commission, “Nature is a common good that all share rights to and have responsibilities over.” You get the idea. Please help us tell the Commission to get the EU headed in the right direction. I did.

July 11th, 2014

Six Books Our Staff are Reading This Summer

By Elizabeth Walek

Nothing beats lounging by the pool with a really great book! Summer is a perfect time to get caught up on reading that you’ve been putting off for weeks. Plus, books are a great way to learn more about the issues Food & Water Watch handles every day. I asked around our offices to find out which socially, politically and environmentally conscious books our staff love lately. Check out our top picks, and share your own summer reading recommendations in the comments!

Read the full article…

April 15th, 2014

You Get What You Pay For

By Mitch Jones

I’m glad to see that the leaders of three powerful and influential global organizations have decided to highlight the importance of fighting climate change. Last week International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim used a meeting of finance ministers from governments around the world to push for a movement to stop climate change. Unfortunately, the method they chose to endorse will do little to help.

All three leaders are pusing carbon pricing as the means for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We frequently hear that pricing carbon is the only way we are going to solve the problem of emissions and avoid catastrophic climate change, but policies that seek to rely on pricing to control pollution have a terrible track record.

Large corporations across the economy are planning for carbon prices, whether in the form of a cap-and-trade program or a tax. The reason for this could be that, of the main options for fighting greenhouse gas emissions pricing, carbon pricing is the easiest way for a company to pass on costs to consumers. Major investments in renewable fuels would undercut the business of some of these corporations, while regulations against carbon pollution will be harder to foist off on clients, customers and consumers.

In the absence of any serious and enforceable cap on pollution – that is, a regulation – pricing schemes are just a means of allowing major polluters to pay-to-pollute. Carbon pricing avoids strict enforcement to stop polluting without exceptions; it relies on market signals to magically fix our environmental crises. Pricing carbon, in any of its forms, is just a pay-to-pollute policy that does nothing to truly alter the behavior of financial and corporate interests. Instead, it lets them pay for the “right” to continue their environmental degradation and exploitation.

So, while it’s good that the heads of three important institutions recognize the importance of fighting climate change and are willing to speak out on the issue, they needs to change their tune. Instead of false solutions designed to let polluters keep on polluting, we need to vigorously move beyond reliance on the fossil fuel industry, invest in truly sustainable renewable energy, and place real enforceable limits on pollution. 

March 28th, 2014

Species Extinction on the Installment Plan

By Mitch Jones

Yesterday, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) announced its decision to list the lesser prairie chicken as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act. The decision was in recognition of the increasing threat to the species from the ongoing drought in the Southwestern United States—and the main threat of habit loss and fragmentation—much from oil and gas development. In 2013, the lesser prairie chicken population fell more than 50 percent from 2012, leaving fewer than 18,000 of the birds living in its historic range.

While it is certainly good news—long overdue good news—that the FWS has listed the lesser prairie chicken, there’s a big caveat. Included in the listing is a loophole allowing oil and gas industry to “avoid further regulation” of their activities, so long as they enroll in the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ (WAFWA’s) range-wide conservation plan. In other words, the oil and gas industry has an out from regulation if they make a financial contribution to “offset” the damage down to the lesser prairie chicken’s habitat.

Such plans are growing increasingly popular and are part of the broader push to financialize nature. Known as Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES), the idea seems simple enough. Supporters argue that paying a landowner to preserve a particular natural feature—in this instance rangeland, but it could be forest or wet land—offsets damage done by industry in other areas. Through PES, a gas company wanting to drill can continue to do so and will be allowed to kill—or “take”—lesser prairie chickens so long as it pays into the plan. It’s species extinction on the installment plan.

Such plans really just undercut strong protections for endangered and threatened species. But even with this giant loophole, it could have been worse. A consortium of industry and nonprofit groups, lead by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), has been pushing a “habitat credit exchange.” While somewhat similar to the plan adopted by the FWS, the habitat exchanges would go much further in pushing the financialization of nature. Instead of merely establishing a means for landowners to be paid to offset industrial destruction and disruption of lesser prairie chicken habitat, the exchange would allow for trading of conservation credits, and for the eventual price fluctuation that comes with commodity exchanges, as well as the temptation to hedge and speculate on those changes in price.

Instead of allowing oil and gas companies to pay-to-endanger threatened species, the Fish & Wildlife Service should enforce strict rules to preserve habitat and protect those species.




December 23rd, 2013

A Year of Victories


Earlier this month, the entire Food & Water Watch staff gathered to map out our work for 2014. We planned to briefly celebrate our victories from 2013, too… but from local fracking bans to protecting our food from arsenic, it took us over an hour just to list them all! 

These victories are all thanks to you, and we made this infographic to show you all you’ve done in 2013.

 Read the full article…

December 13th, 2013

It was a Bad Idea in 1489…

By Eve Mitchell

Some things get better with age — fine wine, farmhouse cheese. Some just don’t.

It’s all the fashion these days to talk about a “new” way to ensure that companies involved in food production are held accountable for the environmental damage they do. Often called natural capital accounting or offsetting, the theory is that if we attach a notional price to, say, healthy soil and clean water, then companies can use that information to account for any damage they do, or be somehow rewarded for avoiding this damage.

Among the several difficulties with this approach are that (a) it isn’t new and (b) it doesn’t work.

To the folks promoting this stuff: please convince me that this isn’t an extension of the Enclosures and Clearances on a global scale, because it sure feels like it. Read the full article…

November 21st, 2013

No Accounting for Taste: Natural Capital Accounting and the Financialization of Nature

Putting a price on nature will not save it.

By Elizabeth Nussbaumer

If you lie awake at night wondering what can be done to better manage the environment, the latest and greatest economic solution for doing so — natural capital accounting — might give you nightmares.

This week in Edinburgh, Scotland, corporate and financial interests will meet for the World Forum on Natural Capital to discuss this latest green washing initiative. Featured participants include representatives from the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Nestle, The Coca-Cola Company, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Standard & Poor’s, Veolia Water, the World Bank Group and several other major international corporations and organizations.

The claim behind natural capital accounting goes something like this: nature is destroyed because it does not have a monetary value, and companies, countries and financial actors do not know its worth and cannot account for it in their activities. By assigning a price to nature, these actors can better see its value and then account for what gets destroyed via inputs to production or other economic processes. Thus, nature and its use can be accounted for as inputs and outputs to a country’s GDP or a company’s bottom line, and ultimately be sustainably managed. In other words, nature will be better managed by giving control of it to the very actors destroying it. Read the full article…

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September 25th, 2013

Will Ecuador’s President Correa Shoot the Trees in Yasuni National Park?

By Ron Zucker

Photo provided by Sageo at Wikipedia Commons.

Ecuador hosts the Parqué Nacional Yasuni, a 3,800 square mile park of singular beauty and biodiversity and home to many indigenous people. Remote and situated at the intersection of the Andes, the Amazon region and the equator, this rain forest is one of the world’s wildest places. Unfortunately, it also sits on top of a bed of oil that, in 2007, was valued at $7 billion. That made it potentially worth more to Ecuador devastated and drilled than it was as a park. So President Rafael Correa came up with an idea.

There is a lot of talk, particularly at the World Bank and other world economic leaders, of “Payments for Ecosystem Services.” Under this theoretical framework, we’ll turn our natural resources into a bank and actually pay Ecuador for not drilling. You heard that right. To protect a national park, citizens would need to pay-off those those who seek to destroy it for profit. Read the full article…

California’s Shell Game Begins

By Elizabeth Nussbaumer

pollution tradingOn September 17, 2013, the California Air Resources Board announced they would begin issuing offset credits as part of their cap-and-trade market, which launched in January 2013.

Under California’s cap-and-trade market companies can meet their pollution targets by directly reducing emissions at the source, updating technology to be more efficient, or by purchasing excess emissions credits from a company with a surplus of credits.

Each company participating in the market is allowed to emit a certain amount of pollution and allocated an equivalent amount of credits to do so. However, if they want to emit more than what they are allowed, the company must purchase “unused” emissions credits from other polluters. But, these companies can also purchase offset credits.

What is an offset and what does it have to do with emissions reductions? An offset credit allows a company in California to pay for an emissions reduction that can happen elsewhere in the United States, instead of reducing emissions at the source in California.

A polluter in California could pay a landowner in Oregon to preserve the forest on their land. This is considered an offset because trees take carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere. When trees are cut down they release CO2 so, according to the general rules of carbon offsets, not cutting them down counts as a prevented emission, which allows the company in California to qualify for an emission reduction. Read the full article…

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