Do We Need Natural Capital or Nature Without Capital?

Written by Amanda Starbuck

Topics: Finance

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squeezing money from the earthAs the Rio+20 ‘Earth’ summit gets underway, we’re hearing a slew of ‘sustainability’ pronouncements and declarations from the business sector, to illustrate their planet-saving intentions.

One of these is the ‘Natural Capital Declaration‘ (NCD), launched on Saturday by more than 35 financial institutions. They claim that this marks the first time the world of finance explicitly has made the protection and preservation of natural ecosystems a priority for CEO-level consideration and action.

RAN has been campaigning for many years for the financial sector to take serious responsibility for the impacts on critical ecosystems caused by the corporations, projects and industries that it underwrites. However, we have some big concerns about the NCD…

BankTrack (a network that RAN is a member of) put out the following response statement, which we agree with:

BankTrack welcomes any initiative by the financial sector that unequivocally acknowledges the inherent value of nature, as well as the limits posed to their business activities by the environmental carrying capacity of the earth. We equally welcome any sufficiently ambitious, credible initiative of the sector to factor this fundamental recognition into their business and investment decisions.

BankTrack considers the Natural Capital Declaration not such an initiative, but a false and disturbing response of the financial sector to the profound ecological crises of today. It is based upon a fatally flawed understanding of the root causes of these crises (imperfect valuation of ‘Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services’) and proposes an equally flawed solution to them (proper pricing).

The Declaration claims the fundamental right of business, and the adopting institutions in particular, to enter every realm of nature and the environment and to identify, price and subsequently market whatever ‘stock’ and ‘service’ can be identified there, under the pretext that this commodification process will help end the ongoing plunder and exploitation of nature. As such, the Declaration is another attempt to promote the liberal, market based ‘green economy’ model sought by business as outcome of the Rio conference.

BankTrack believes that the manifold ecological crises need a wholly different response: instead of expanding the scope of markets to every domain of nature, creating a true green economy would start from the opposite; reversing the tide of commodification and financialization, reducing the role of markets and the financial sector, acknowledging the limits of business versus other spheres of life, and recognizing the collective responsibility of all people for, and strengthening the democratic control over the worlds’ ecological commons. Rather than a Natural Capital Declaration we need more Nature without Capital.

Instead of launching a vaguely worded voluntary initiative with no immediate discernible impact on everyday investment decisions, we call upon the financial sector to withdraw itself from where it has no rightful place, to adopt strict no-go standards for all business activities that wreak havoc upon nature, climate, the environment and people, and to throw its full weight behind those sectors and initiatives that help preserve, protect and restore the life giving capacity of the earth.

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