[Marxism] Rio+20 ideology

Patrick Bond pbond at mail.ngo.za
Tue Jun 19 05:58:58 MDT 2012

(Any suggestions on how to do this kind of critical interpretation in 
easier-to-understand language - or how to better address the 'natural 
capital' challenge from bourgeois economists? Running off now to hear 
Gus Speth debate Nick Stern.)


*Values versus prices at the Rio+20 Earth Summit *

By Patrick Bond, 18 June 2012

RIO DE JANEIRO - Given the worsening world economic crisis, the turn to 
?Green Economy? rhetoric looms as a potential savior for footloose 
financial capital, and is also enormously welcome to those corporations 
panicking at market chaos in the topsy-turvy fossil-fuel, water, 
infrastructure construction, technology and agriculture sectors.

On the other hand, for everyone else, the Rio+20 Earth Summit underway 
this week in Brazil, devoted to advancing Green Economy policies and 
projects, appears as an overall disaster zone for the people and planet.

Meanwhile in Mexico, the G20 meeting of the real powerbrokers this week 
included a Green Economy session. But more serious distractions for the 
elites include ongoing Southern European revulsion at harmful public 
policies cooked up by bankers, and potential war in the Middle East.

Perhaps a few environmentally-decent projects may get needed subsidies 
as a result of the G20 and Rio talkshops, and we?ll hear of ?Sustainable 
Development Goals? to replace the fatuous UN Millennium Development 
Goals in 2015.

But the overarching danger is renewed official faith in market 
mechanisms. No surprise, following the logic of two South African 
precedents: the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in 
Johannesburg (Rio+10) and last December?s Durban COP17 climate summit. 
There, the chance to begin urgent environmental planning to reverse 
ecosystem destruction was lost, sabotaged by big- and 
medium-governments? negotiators acting on behalf of their countries? 
polluting and privatising corporations.


*Description: C:\Users\User\2012\Zapiro COP17 b.png*


*Market fixes to market failures?*

It?s useful to interrogate the eco-governance elites? assumptions. I?m 
here in Rio at the International Society for Ecological Economics 
conference <http://www.isee2012.org/> (ISEE) within a critical research 
network ? the Barcelona-based Environmental Justice Organisations, 
Liabilities and Trade <http://www.ejolt.org/> (EJOLT) ? whose leaders, 
Joan Martinez-Alier andJoachim Spangenberg, issued a statement 
appropriately cynical about the Green Economy: ?The promises are 
striking: conserving nature, overcoming poverty, providing equity and 
creating jobs. But the means and philosophy behind it look all too 

Description: EJOLT-rgb

Unfortunately, after the original 1992 Rio Earth Summit, multinational 
corporations increasingly dominated the emerging terrain of global 
environmental governance. The United Nations Environment Programme came 
to view ?the sustainability crisis as the biggest-ever ?market failure?? 
? a dangerous distraction, according to the two political-ecologists, 
because ?Describing it this way reveals a specific kind of thinking: a 
market failure means that the market failed to deliver what in principle 
it could have delivered, and once the bug is fixed the market will solve 
the problem.?

Martinez-Alier and Spangenberg reverse this logic: ?Unsustainable 
development is not a /market failure/ to be fixed but a /market system 
failure/: expecting results from the market that it cannot deliver, like 
long-term thinking, environmental consciousness and social responsibility.?

In the same spirit, Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and 
Environment in Delhi chastised ISEE?s conventional economists in a 
plenary: ?There are a million struggles in India against pollution that 
Martinez-Alier calls the ?environmentalism of the poor?, in contrast to 
the Green Economy which is the environmentalism of the rich.?

Narain contined, ?The issue is not the price of nature, it?s /rights/ 
and it?s the values of democracy, of governance, of society, of 
humanity. Let?s be very clear: in today?s Green Economy as it is being 
shaped in Rio Centro and by many economists, these principles will not 
help us move ahead. Let?s not get lost in yet another shallow, empty 

It?s critical to pose the Green Economy from this class-analytic and 
eco-centric standpoint, especially because inside the official Rio 
Centro, negotiations on a bland pro-market text continue through 
Saturday. There, progressive civil society strategies to insulate basic 
human and natural rights ? e.g. to water ? are being foiled by 
negotiators and by the host neoliberal Brazilian government which is 
channelling reactionary positions from Northern negotiators, especially 
from Washington, Ottawa, Tokyo and Tel Aviv, the main saboteur-regimes 
when it comes to water justice.

According to Anil Naidoo of the Ottawa-based Blue Planet Project, ?the 
new negotiating text is out and it is terrible!We expected the attacks 
to continue as we have made strong gains through our pressure, but 
clearly we must again fight for our human right to water and 
sanitation.? In spite of excellent anti-privatisation activism by 
Naidoo?s allies in dozens of cities across the world, water 
commercialisation remains a major threat, especially thanks to the World 
Resources Institute?s mapping of scarcity on behalf of thirsty 
transnational corporations.

Also within the rubric of the Green Economy, corporations are seeking 
new technological ?False Solutions? to the climate and other 
environmental crises, including dirty forms of ?clean energy? (nuclear, 
so-called ?clean coal?, fracking ?natural gas?, hydropower, hydrogen, 
biofuels, biomass and biochar); dangerous Carbon Capture and Storage 
experiments; and other whacky geoengineering gimmicks such as 
Genetically Modified trees to sequester carbon, sulfates in the air to 
shut out the sun, iron filings in the sea to create algae blooms, and 
large-scale solar reflection such as industrial-scale plastic-wrap for 
deserts. **

*From African ?natural capital? to pricing to markets*

Crazy corporate tactics aside, the philosophical underpinning of the 
Green Economy needs wider questioning. The precise wording is terribly 
important, as Africans began to understand after last month?s ?Gaborone 
Declaration? hosted by Botswana president Ian Khama. He brought together 
leaders from nine other African countries ? Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, 
Liberia, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa and Tanzania ? to 
?quantify and integrate into development and business practice? what 
ordinary people consider to be the innate /value/ of nature.

But these leaders and their conference sponsor Conservation 
International mean something else, devoid of eco-systemic, spiritual, 
aesthetic, and intrinsic qualities. The Declaration insists, 
?Watersheds, forests, fisheries, coral reefs, soils, and all natural 
resources, ecosystems and biodiversity constitute our vital natural 
capital and are central to long-term human well-being, and therefore 
must be protected from overuse and degradation and, where necessary, 
must be restored and enhanced.?

There are good sentiments as far as they go, yet by relegating our 
environment to mere natural capital, the next step is to convert value 
into /price /and then sell chunks of nature on the market. All manner of 
financialisation strategies have emerged to securitise ?environmental 
services?, most obviously in carbon markets which continue failing 
miserably to deliver investor funds to slow climate change.

For some institutions we can term yuppie-green due to their pro-market 
ideology, faith continues in spite of emissions trading?s descent to 
hell. In a joint paper published last week, the World Wide Fund for 
Nature (WWF) and Greenpeace advocated last-gasp reforms to revitalise 
the European Union carbon markets. Like the Chicago exchange in 2010, 
the EU Emissions Trading Scheme is in real danger of dying, what with 
last month?s drop-out announcement from Munich?s leading financiers, who 
cited a fatal degree of corruption and market oversupply.

The 2010 crash of the Chicago Climate Exchange ? and an ongoing civil 
fraud lawsuit against founder Richard Sandor 
? is only the most obvious warning to those promoting emissions trading 
and voluntary offsets. In Africa, we argue based on new research for 
EJOLT, the ?Clean Development Mechanism? (CDM) carbon-trade and offset 
mechanism ?Cannot Deliver the Money? 

The Durban COP17 climate gamble ? that carbon markets could be revived 
as part of a renewed Kyoto Protocol mandate ? was lost by virtue of the 
negotiators? failure to make post-2012 emissions-cut commitments. And 
the Bonn follow-up meetings of the UN Framework Convention on Climate 
Change last month

But the crisis facing the market crew aiming to ?privatise the air? is 
also pushing environmentally-oriented bankers in all sorts of other 
directions. Explained City of London investor Simon Greenspan, whose 
firm won /World Finance /magazine?s ?Western European Commodities Broker 
of the Year? award four months ago, ?At Tullett Brown 
we?ve only ever invested in areas of the market that have truly stood 
the test of time, such as gold and silver and property. When our 
analysts were looking for the next great area of growth it was fairly 
obvious to them. It was the planet, it was the environment.? (Oops, just 
days later, British financial authorities forced Tullett Brown into 
provisional liquidation.)

Reacting to the Gaborone Declaration, Nnimmo Bassey from the Niger Delta 
NGO Environmental Rights Action and Friends of the Earth International 
warned, ?The bait of revenue from natural capital is simply a cover for 
continued rape of African natural resources.? Thanks to inadequate 
protection against market abuse, he adds, ?The declaration will help 
corporate interests in Rio while impoverishing already disadvantaged 
populations, exacerbate land grabs and displace the poor from their 

To illustrate the pernicious way markets undermine nature, Zimbabwe?s 
president Robert Mugabe would say of the rhino and elephant 15 years 
ago, ?The species must pay to stay? ? which in turn allowed him and 
(white) cronies to offer rich overseas hunters the opportunity to shoot 
big game for big bucks. The dilemma about hunt marketing is that it 
doesn?t stop there: black markets in rhino horns and elephant tusks are 
the incentive for poachers to invade not just poorly defended game parks 
north of the Limpopo River, but also now in South Africa.

The alternative strategy would have been to tighten the Convention on 
International Trade in Endangered Species? restrictions against trade in 
ivory. But South Africa?s game-farm owners and free-market proponents 
got too greedy, and by influencing Pretoria to press for relaxation of 
CITES? ban, hundreds of elephant and rhino corpses denuded of horns and 
tusks now litter the bush.

*From prices to values, and from fees to fines*

At best, the Gaborone Declaration commits the ten countries to ?reducing 
poverty by transitioningagriculture, extractive industries, fisheries 
and othernatural capital uses to practices that promote 
sustainableemployment, food security, sustainable energy and 
theprotection of natural capital through protected areas andother 

How, though, is the crucial question. It is well and good to protect 
nature through imposing a prohibitive fine and ban on those who pollute, 
and it is past time for payment of the ?climate debt? from the Global 
North?s companies and government which take too much of the shrinking 
carbon space left in the environment, for instance.

As Kathy McAfee from San Francisco State University puts it, 
?Compensating the poor and other land users for practices that maintain 
healthy, ?service-producing?ecosystems may be an important part of 
strategies for sustainable and equitable development. Serious problems 
arise, however, when such compensation schemes are framed as markets.?

It is another matter, entirely, to treat nature as ?capital? from which 
a fee-for-use ? at Rio+20, termed ?payment for environmental services? ? 
is offered by deep-pocket polluters to continue business-as-usual.

What do we need in coming years? /Valuing /nature and /imposing 
pollution-bans/ and prohibitive /fines/ for ecological degradation are 
the conceptual approach and the strategy required. But given the power 
balance here, we can instead expect the Earth Summit to promote the 
/pricing /of nature based on a pollution-/fee/ system and environmental 
markets, which in effect will give discredited bankers the job of 
regulating world ecology.

Then watch out, people and planet ? you will be swamped by hunger for 

Patrick Bond directs the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil 
Society <http://ccs.ukzn.ac.za/>.

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