Commercializing Nature?

The Bolivian government has taken a strong stance against the international REDD+ mechanism, mainly because it reduces forests to a simple commodity to be traded in international carbon emissions markets. This would not only imply trading an invisible product (CO2 emissions), but – even more complicated – trading the lack of the invisible product (reduced CO2 emissions). Keeping track of the lack of this invisible product is so obviously difficult that both transaction costs and corruption associated with an international REDD+ mechanism would likely be enormous, thus leaving few benefits for the forest, the forest communities, and the global climate.

However, as President Evo Morales expressed in his letter of October 2010 (see box), there are many other ways of empowering local communities to protect their forests. Bolivia is currently formulating an alternative proposal for reducing deforestation through a Joint Mitigation and Adaptation Mechanism for the Integral and Sustainable Management of Forests.

This mechanism would not be financed through carbon emissions trading, but rather through an international Green Fund, which would receive funds from developed countries that recognize their climatic and environmental debt to the world, and wish to support an additional effort against deforestation rather than just shifting emissions from one country to another.

The mechanism would provide technical and financial assistance to help communities and individuals protect their natural heritage while improving their living standards. This involves the recognition of services that were previously provided for free (protection of forest and all its functions). However, it should not be considered “commercialization of nature.”

The phrase “commercialization of nature” has been somewhat abused in Bolivia lately, condemning all mechanisms that provide incentives for protecting forest instead of converting it into cropland or pasture. But, in reality, the ultimate commercialization of nature is to burn forests in order to allow foreigners to produce and export crops for a few years until the fertility of the soils are exhausted.

Empowering people to care for the forest is the exact opposite of “commercialization of nature”, so let’s start discussing how we can construct a fair and effective mechanism which will successfully reduce deforestation while simultaneously improving human well-being in Bolivia.

Do you think that financial incentives are necessary to tip the balance in favor of forests? Leave a reply below.

Lykke Andersen is the Director of the Center for Environmental Economic Modeling and Analysis (CEEMA) at the Institute of Advanced Development Studies (INESAD), La Paz, Bolivia.

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  1. Hi, great article, very informative of a significant and pressing issue. The thought came to mind that both land and labor were artificially turned into commodities when the idea of a self-regulating market came along. At that point, humans themselves, including socialization, became subordinated to the economy, and so was the land. The artificiality of this lies in that neither humans nor nature, labor and land, are “produced” as objects for the purposes of being attached a price and be bought and sold. Early human societies subordinated economic and survival-type activities to the primacy of the society itself, that is, to social relations. Economists at the time of the industrial revolution, like Adam Smith, posited that humans were primarily, by nature, economically inclined. This neoliberal theology, however, just happened to ignore in a matter of 9 generations the previous 65 thousand years, all of which contains our real nature and origins. Since the 70s, poverty, inequality, isolation and segregation have continued to escalate. Needless to say, the idea of further commercializing nature can probably only dig us further into the hope of an artificially generated market which needs to perceive everything under the sun as a commodity and, thus, is ultimately incompatible with nature.


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