A response from the European Commission

For those of you who signed the letter to the European Commission, you may be interested to see the response we got.  We are pleased to have gotten a response, if the detail is very much lacking.

Hannah Moway, FERN

Dear Ms Mowat,

Commissioner Potočnik has asked me to answer your letter of 17 October 2014. The Commission’s on-line consultation on a future EU no net loss initiative served to collect stakeholders’ views on a broad range of issues related to no net loss of biodiversity. We are pleased to see that so many used this opportunity to express their opinions. We also welcome Fern’s and associated organisations’ contribution on this important topic. We will evaluate all the contributions we have received and take them into account when deciding on the further actions to be taken at EU level to achieve no net loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Yours Sincerely,

François Wakenhut, Head of Unit

EUROPEAN COMMISSION
DIRECTORATE-GENERAL ENVIRONMENT
Directorate B – Natural Capital
ENV.B.2 – Biodiversity

New paper: “the dangers of commodifying our natural world”

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Friends of the Earth Europe has produced a new paper stating that the group believes “nature is not for sale”.

Proposed EU policy would introduce new systems of biodiversity offsetting as a theoretical way to secure “no net loss” of biodiversity.  Friends of the Earth Europe’s paper summarises and explains the problems with this approach.

You can read the report on the Friends of the Earth Europe website.

Making Dreams Come True – New Film

Biodiversity offsetting, making dreams come true from Global Motion on Vimeo.

Biodiversity offsetting makes dreams come true. It is the license that can make bad developers’ dreams a reality.

Across the world offsets already justify the destruction of irreplaceable ecosystems to make way for mining projects, motorways, pipelines …

Europe is the new frontier for biodiversity offsets.The European Union is considering new legislation that permits biodiversity offsets.

Tell the EU that nature is not for sale by responding to their public consultation before 17th October 2014 and sign our letter to the EU.

Background information

Last year more then 140 organisations signed on to the ‘No to biodiversity offsets declaration’. Read all about it here

‘Biodiversity offsetting, making dreams come true’ is a film by the following organisations:

  • Counter Balance
  • Fern
  • Re:Common
  • Carbon Trade Watch
  • WDM

2nd Forum – Report from London

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A brilliant array of speakers joined the 2nd Forum on Natural Commons in London last week:

You can read what they had to say and records from the evening on the Fern website here.  Photos of the event are also available at this link.

A big thank you to everyone who participated and made it such an engaging evening.

Invitation: 2nd Forum on Natural Commons

Where and when drawing animals

Invitation

The UK government appears hell-bent on pushing through biodiversity offsetting – which will allow wildlife and habitats to be destroyed across the country, so long as it is ‘replaced’ elsewhere.

The policy is inherently flawed: biodiversity offsetting ignores the difficulties in recreating ecosystems, it overlooks the uniqueness of different habitats, and it disregards the importance of nature for local communities. Once a harmful development project goes ahead, communities lose access to it forever.

We believe it’s time to make space for nature and communities. At the 2nd Forum on Natural Commons, we bring together NGOs, academics, activists and the general public to discuss nature as a common good that benefits us all. Join us!

Why now?

This June, the UK Government is teaming up with an international collaboration of companies, financial institutions, government agencies and civil society organisations called the the Business and Biodiversity Offset Programme (BBOP), and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL London Zoo) to host the ‘first global conference’ on biodiversity offsetting, “To No Net Loss of Biodiversity and Beyond”.

The London-based summit involves more than 300 people from mining, finance, corporate, NGO, international agency and research sectors. It signals a real intensification of global policy efforts, championed by the UK government, to roll out biodiversity offsetting around the world.

What’s the problem?

We are concerned that the knowledge created and shared at this Summit will serve to reinforce what we believe is a dangerous and harmful policy, as it is currently being envisioned.

What are we doing about it?

We believe it’s time to make space for nature and communities. At the 2nd Forum on Natural Commons, happening in Regent’s Park, opposite the official summit, we bring together NGOs, academics, activists, journalists and the general public to challenge biodiversity offsetting as a flawed policy and will discuss how to protect nature as a common good that benefits us all. Join us!

Agenda

Panel 1: New directions in conservation: a closer look at ‘value’ and offsetting.

fon2A new conservation paradigm is emerging among policy makers; that in order to properly protect nature, it must be given a ‘proper value’. This usually means setting up ways to measure ecosystems and biodiversity in terms of pounds, dollars and euros so that nature, industry and economic growth can all appear on the same balance sheet.

This potent narrative underwrites much of the political energy that is currently directed at developing systems of ‘biodiversity offsetting’ around the world. Central to the concept is the idea that the ‘value’ of any particular item of biodiversity can be assessed against others and units of biodiversity value can be added up, divided and shifted around like figures in a spreadsheet. This is at the heart of the thinking behind ‘no net loss’ initiatives. It is an appealing (but fundamentally flawed) idea because it divorces the ‘value’ of biodiversity from the complex ecological, social and geographic relations that allow that biodiversity to exist.

Where did this new narrative for ‘value’ come from and how is it being engineered? Why is it treated as self-evident by policy makers and what does it conceal? This panel explores the new directions in global conservation policy, the difficult question of ‘value’ and its emergent role in environmental governance.

Facilitator: Sian Sullivan

Confirmed speakers:
o    Jutta Kill, World Rainforest Movement
o    John O’Neill, Manchester University
o    Morgan Robertson, University of Wisconsin-Madison

o    Mike Hannis, Bath Spa university and The Land magazine

Panel 2: Biodiversity offsetting and community rightsdrawing bulldozer

Access to nature is important for people’s well-being, health, prosperity and happiness. Whether shale gas, a new road or a large housing development, new development projects have an undoubtable environmental and social impact.

Biodiversity offsetting propagates the myth that people and nature are completely separate, by promising to neutralize the environmental impact of development by protecting or improving biodiversity elsewhere. This may lead to an increase in developments that infringe on community rights and access to nature. Land set aside for conservation within an offsetting scheme could lead to further land grabbing, taking land out of the hands of communities in order to serve corporate ‘environmental’ interests.

Nature is not something we can have elsewhere: it is not separate from people – this is the myth that offsetting propagates. We need to learn to live sustainably, meaning we need to challenge unneeded development, and make sure that development that does happen is as sustainable as possible.

What are the impacts of biodiversity offsetting likely to be on the ground, and what will it mean for communities struggling against development proposals? Owen Paterson MP said that offsets should be an hour’s drive away – but how far is too far? And is this really the point? This panel explores the implications of biodiversity offsetting on people, and how community rights are articulated in the global North and South.

Facilitator: Fred Pearce, Journalist

Confirmed speakers:
o    Ian Scoones, co-director STEPS Centre
o    Peter J Howard, Member of Landscape Research group
o    Kathryn McWhirter, resident of Balcombe and Shale Gas campaigner
o    Sylvia Kay, Transnational Institute
o    Sarah Walters, woodland manager, Alvecote Wood

There will be a small cocktail after the event until 20h30

A photo exhibition from 13 different photographers can be visited in between and after the panel discussions. It aims to explore how natural areas cannot be offset and showcases just a few examples of brave community resistance from Romania, Brazil, Ecuador, France and the UK.

You can already visit the on-line version of the exhibition from here

Putting a price on nature would be disastrous

Plans to apply market values to forests and waterways to protect them could lead to the destruction of everything nature gives us
By Nick Dearden, originally appeared on the Guardian on 27/11/2013
A spoof ‘Great Nature Sale’ protest at the Edinburgh meeting of the World Forum on Natural Capital. Photograph: Colin Hattersley

As UN climate negotiations rumbled on in Warsaw, big business came together with conservation groups in Edinburgh last week at the inaugural World Forum on Natural Capital to put a price on nature.

The idea goes back to the Rio+20 conference in 2012, when a group of investorsdrafted the natural capital declaration. It argues that if we price everything nature gives us (wildlife, plants, forests, waterways, pollination, you name it), companies would think twice before destroying them.

Like advocates of the market for more than 200 years, the drafter of the declaration cannot abide the idea of “the commons” – commonly held resources whose reproduction and use is not subject to the laws of finance. The English enclosures, starting around the 15th century, and the Scottish clearances, from the 18th century, turned most common land in our country into private property, generating the profits that fed the Industrial Revolution.

In its quest for new markets today, finance is again intent on privatising the “global commons”. The first step, as is clearly expressed in the natural capital declaration, is to start thinking of the environment as if it were capital, and to price it accordingly.

Surely few of the conservation groups gathered in Edinburgh last week would welcome the wholesale selling-off of nature. But either through desperation at the scale of the environmental crisis, or in ignorance of the political implications of the project, many are going along with this first step of putting a price on nature.

As one delegate told me: “We’re just trying to value nature better.” Ironically, it took an investment professional to point out the dangers that seemed to have escaped so many NGOs. “Be very careful,” he warned. “Once you put a price on nature in order to protect something, you will find someone will pay that price in order to destroy it.”

Even for market specialists, pricing nature is no easy task, as a representative of a French investment bank told the Edinburgh forum when explaining the problems of trying to compare different species. Butterflies seemed to cause him particular difficulty, as it’s tough to track how many of them are flying around.

But the benefits of doing so became clearer when a former head of Puma told us: “Yes I fly a lot, but by the end of my life I hope I will have had a ‘positive net impact’ on the planet.” The logic runs, it doesn’t matter how much damage you do, as long as you make up for it by investing in some good deeds elsewhere.

For a frequent flyer, you can buy an offset that funds forest plantation. A market in nature would allow a mining company to keep destroying the environment in Bolivia as long as it supports a green and pleasant land somewhere in South Africa.

Leaving aside the difficulty of creating species to replace the ones you’ve wiped out, this also means imposing property rights on land being used by the people in that paradise, who you might have to turf off their land. But that is also beneficial to investors, because you’ve just expanded the potential commodity markets. What’s more, you have bought an indulgence and your sin is wiped out – so you no longer need to focus on reducing your environmental destruction.

To grasp the absurdity of the argument, consider setting up a financial market in human rights crimes. Presumably, if I want to torture or murder one group of people in one place, I could do this as long as I invest in protecting – or simply not harming – a group of people somewhere else. Maybe I could buy a credit from Amnesty International.

This is great news for the likes of Rio Tinto, whose representatives treated us to a presentation about a beautiful project it is working on in Australia. We didn’t see, and no one thought to ask, about the destructive mining it was also engaged in, which this project supposedly makes acceptable. It’s not relevant. What’s important is Rio Tinto’s “positive net impact” on the world.

This is about much more than greenwash. Because the “good” activities have a mirror in the “bad” activities in the market, the more good stuff you do, the more bad stuff you can also do. More butterflies in Italy means you can mine more in Bolivia. Meanwhile, financiers will make a killing betting on whether a butterfly species will die out, allowing you to hedge your risks.

Many people asked me: “So what’s your alternative then?” I recommend removing finance from the world, rather than promoting it. Five years after financial markets and their “innovative” products sent the global economy into a tailspin, few people outside the political establishment would put them in charge of our environment.

A packed counter-forum in Edinburgh, organised by the World Development Movement and other campaign groups, attracted several participants from the official event. This forum heard that people on every continent are reclaiming the commons from finance – re-municipalising water, supporting the food sovereignty movement, setting up local, renewable energy schemes. Anyone claiming to want a better world should be betting on them, rather than on the market.

‘Managing the Risks’ event at the Scottish Parliament

eveLast year at the Forum on Natural Commons there was a call from people in Scotland to resist the financialisation of nature.

Now the Scottish Parliament is listening at this event:

Natural Capital – Managing the Risks
The Scottish Parliament
Tuesday 28 January 6-8pm

Patrick Harvie MSP and Jamie Hepburn MSP are jointly hosting the event which they hope will be an open and frank discussion on the topic of natural capital involving a wide range of interested parties including MSPs, the business community and NGOs.

Jonathan Hughes (Scottish Wildlife Trust and IUCN Councillor) and Nick Dearden (World Development Movement) will be debating some of the key issues, followed by questions and discussion from the floor.

This event is free but registration is strictly mandatory. You can register by clicking here. You are advised to arrive 30 minutes early to give time to register and complete any security checks required.