by Pip Howard
The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) ‘Making Nature’s Values Visible‘ is a brilliant concept that has been twisted so far by some governments that it risks becoming a major new threat to the environment and the UK coalition Government are at the head of the charge in doing so.
The basic concept that environmentalists should have financial values at their disposal in order to illustrate and engage with economists has been turned over by the UK Government who decided to use an economist to front the development of their home ‘natural capital‘ project: Biodiversity Offsetting (BO).
Carbon trading is without surprise largely dead. Carbon offsetting limps on, but isn’t working, with huge displacements of people from their landscapes at gunpoint. Corruption was inevitable. ‘But corruption couldn’t happen in the UK, could it?’. Yes it could, indeed BO is at a stage where it could easily be designed to be inherently and legally corrupt.
The coalition (Nick Clegg’s speech at Rio +20) and others including ‘Environmental Consultancies’ (have you noticed how these companies now often have large shiny offices with huge car parks?) and NGOs (more on them later) are keen to progress with BO. A Defra commissioned scoping study highlights the many complexities of BO in comparison with few for Carbon trading. This scoping study, as with other BO bumf from Defra, uses case study from North America, Brazil, South Africa and Australia – as with the public forest disposal consultation using such case study is useless. The landscapes and biodiversity within them are simply too different from the situations that BO is destined for in England. A fundamental difference is that all these countries have large tracts of real wilderness. The whole basis for BO in the UK is based solely on the economic case study of these countries.
What is appalling and here there is a parallel to the Forest Sell Off, is that the NGOs appear strangely mute, or are busy writing blogs with a ‘proceed with caution’ air about BO. There is no possible way of BO working, so why pretend there may be? (Whilst BO cannot work it will cause considerable damage and use considerable sums of money before it fails). Walk up to any NGO staff with a spoonful of soil from your back garden and ask them to name every species in it and its value, they would be unable to. Science, thankfully, is not dead but anyone advocating BO must believe that we now know everything and thus believe science has finished. The brokering of nature as these NGOs are ‘interested in’ doing is despicable.
Development is needed and cannot be halted. The solution to good development has to be local. With proper public engagement solutions can be found and developers could be adding hugely to any community by way of environmental and social schemes where they have developed. Indeed with good design biodiversity could be increased on the development site itself. BO prevents all of this, it is selling your landscape, your place and you can’t say or do anything about it.
As with the Forest Sell Off it is quite clear that only grassroots can or will fight this. And as with the Forest Sell Off many esteemed academics, scientists and other professionals will be on our side.