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Tagged ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB)‘

The Bankers at the Helm of the ‘Natural Capital’ Sector

January 26, 2017

by Michael Swifte

 

bankers-at-the-helm

Let’s put a spotlight on four bankers who positioned themselves in the ‘natural capital’ sector around the time of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). Let’s have a look at some of their networks.

The reason these bankers have positions at the intersection of big finance and the conservation sector is because of their intimate knowledge of financial instruments and what some call “financial innovation”. They follow the edict ‘measure it and you can manage it’. They are the perfect addition to decades of work – as part of the sustainable development agenda – aimed at quantifying the economic value of nature in order to exploit it as collateral to underwrite the new economy.

Banker 1

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John Fullerton is a former managing director at JPMorgan, he founded the Capital Institute in 2010, in 2014 he became a member of the Club of Rome, he has written a book called Regenerative Capitalism.

“No doubt the shift in finance will require both carrots and sticks, and perhaps some clubs.” [Source]

The first of Fullerton’s key networked individuals is Gus Speth who consults to the Capital Institute, he sits on the US Advisory Board of 350.org and the New Economy Coalition board and is good buddies with the godfather of ‘ecosystem services’ Bob Costanza. He has a long history supporting sustainable development projects and has some seriously heavy hitting networks. He founded two conservation organisations with which he was actively engaged up until 2o12, both organisations continue to support ‘natural capital’ projects among other diabolical efforts.

The second networked individual is Hunter Lovins, an award winning author and environmentalist who heads up Natural Capital Solutions and is an advisor to the Capital Institute. She is a long term cheer leader for green capitalism, climate capitalism, and sustainable development.

Banker 2

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Mark Tercek was a managing director at Goldman Sachs and became the CEO of The Nature Conservancy in 2008, he has written a book called Nature’s Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature.

“This reminds me of my Wall Street days. I mean, all the new markets—the high yield markets, different convertible markets, this is how they all start.” [Source]

One of Tercek’s networked individuals is conservation biologist Gretchen Daily, the person Hank Paulson sent him to meet when he accepted the leadership of The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Daily co-founded the Natural Capital Project in 2005 with the help of  WWF, TNC and the University of Minnesota.

Another prominent figure in TNC is Peter Kareiva, senior science advisor to Mark Tercek and co-founder of the Natural Capital Project, he is also the former chief scientist of TNC and its former vice president.

Taylor Ricketts is also a co-founder of the Natural Capital Project, at the time of founding he was the director of conservation science at WWF. He’s now the director of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics which was founded by Bob Costanza.

Banker 3

tall-paulson-misconstrued

Hank Paulson is the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, he was US treasury secretary during the GFC, he’s a former chair of the TNC board and the driving force behind the 2008 bail out bill. In 2011 he launched the Paulson Institute which is focussed on China, he has written a memoir called On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System.

Even before he was made treasury secretary by George W Bush, Paulson had an interest in conservation finance and greening big business. He was a founding partner of Al Gore and David Blood’s, Generation Investment Management which operates the “sustainable capitalism” focussed Generation Foundation. He has worked with Gus Speth’s World Resources Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council to develop environmental policy for Goldman Sachs. In 2004 he facilitated the donation from Goldman Sachs of 680,000 acres of wilderness in southern Chile to the Wildlife Conservation Society and in 2002-04 he and his wife Wendy donated $608,000 to the League of Conservation Voters. He has also worked with the second largest conservation organisation on the planet Conservation International.

“The environment and the economy have been totally misconstrued as incompatible,”[Source]

 

“[…] It is is clear that a system of market-based conservation finance is vital to the future of environmental conservation.” [Source]

Banker 4

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Pavan Sukhdev is a former managing director and head of Deutsche Bank’s Global Markets business in India, he was the study leader of the G8+5  project, he founded the Green Accounting for Indian States Project, he co-founded and chairs an NGO in India called the Conservation Action Trust, he headed up the United Nations Environment Program – Green Economy Initiative which was launched in 2008, he has written a book called  Corporation 2020: Transforming Business For Tomorrow’s World 

Sukdev’s work cuts across more than a dozen UN agencies and scores of international agencies and initiatives. Here are just some of them: IUCN, ILO, WHO, UNESCO, IPBES, WEF, IMF, OECD. Every kind of commodity and economic activity has been covered through his work.

“We use nature because she’s valuable, but we lose nature because she’s free.” [Source]

There are only a one or two degrees of separation between these bankers and the environmental movements with which we are very familiar. Looking at key networked individuals connected to the representatives of the financial elites – bankers – helps to highlight the silences and privately held pragmatic positions of many an environmental pundit. “Leaders” of our popular environmental social movements don’t want to be seen or heard supporting the privatisation of the commons, but they remain silent in the face of a growing surge towards collateralization of the earth. Perhaps they too believe that using nature to capitalise the consumer economy is preferable to the toxic derivatives that precipitated the GFC. Either way the underlying motivation – for anyone who might feel that ecosystem services thinking is useful for the earth – is the desire for the continuation of our consumer economy.

 

nature-bar-code

NPIC: The Advocacy of the Neoliberalisation of Nature

Re-establishing an Ecological Discourse in the Policy Debate over How to Value Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Research paper:

Received 21 March 2012
Received in revised form
20 April 2015
Accepted 22 April 2015
Available online 28 May 2015

by Clive L. Spash and Iulie Aslaksen

 

“Most recently international support has been given for an experimental accountancy approach which shifts uneasily from physical measurement into monetary valuation, where apparently all the world’s assets (whether human, natural or social) are to be conceptualised as capital to be made commensurable and traded-off one for the other as necessary (United Nations, 2013). In the world of the mainstream economists and accountants, everything has a price and nothing is sacrosanct or inviolable.”

BBC 10 answer

Above: October 8, 2016, BBC: “Can you cost the Earth? Play our fund game and find out. Play to find out the financial value of nature

EXCERPT:

“This [the general conflict over development and values as ecologist and conservation biologists adopt a new environmental pragmatism] is exemplified by the Nature Conservancy in the USA which, under its director, ecologist, Peter Kareiva, advocates widespread use of biodiversity offsets in “development by design, done with the importance of nature to thriving economies foremost in mind” (Kareiva et al., 2012). In this framing, conservation should not pursue the protection of biodiversity for its own sake, but rather as instrumental to providing economic benefits. Traditional conservation is painted as the enemy of the poor. “In the developing world, efforts to constrain growth and protect forests from agriculture are unfair, if not unethical…” (Kareiva et al., 2012). A moral righteousness is evident in the necessity of poverty alleviation achieved through a very particular form of economic ‘development’. The recommendation is that: “Instead of scolding capitalism, conservationists should partner with corporations in a sciencebased effort to integrate the value of nature’s benefits into their operations and cultures.” (Kareiva et al., 2012). Such strong rhetoric in favour of traditional economic growth via resource extractivism, under a capital accumulating corporate imperialism, firmly places Nature and human labour in the role of resources to be exploited by the best available technology. The advocacy of the neoliberalisation of Nature, as a conservation strategy, is indicative of the increasing dominance of a narrow economic discourse (Arsel and Büscher, 2012).

As part of this trend, the arguments of environmental economists have come to the fore in conservation. Their position is that markets can work well to allocate resources efficiently, but that all costs and benefits must be taken into account. This means calculating social and environmental costs and internalising the resulting values within the institutions of the market place. That there are unpriced objects in the world is then the central problem that must be corrected by calculating hypothetical market (shadow) prices. This is meant to allow optimal resource management decisions to be taken on the basis of a comprehensive understanding of the financial consequences of all possible actions. Environmental management then becomes a form of accountancy.

Ecologists and conservation biologist have for some time been engaging in the realm of economic discourse both in terms of the subject matter, its language and concepts (e.g., Daily et al., 2000). Increasingly, Nature has become capital, ecosystem structure and functions have become goods and services, and what was valued in its own right requiring protection has become instrumental for providing consumers with utility. Simple money numbers, ideally large and aggregated (e.g., Balmford et al., 2002; Costanza et al., 1997), are seen as using the economic language of business and politics. The UNEP, European Commission and branches of various governments (German, Norwegian, Swedish, Japanese) have supported a major international initiative to establish a dominant monetary value discourse under the title of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), with the central aim of “mainstreaming the economics of Nature” (TEEB, 2010). Most recently international support has been given for an experimental accountancy approach which shifts uneasily from physical measurement into monetary valuation, where apparently all the world’s assets (whether human, natural or social) are to be conceptualised as capital to be made commensurable and traded-off one for the other as necessary (United Nations, 2013). In the world of the mainstream economists and accountants, everything has a price and nothing is sacrosanct or inviolable.

More than this, biodiversity values can be ‘captured’ by developing new financial instruments which represent units of biodiversity that can be traded and bought to offset the impacts of development (UNEP Finance Initiative, 2010). As Sullivan (2012 p.9) states: “Monetisation here is the process whereby something can be converted into money, and thus behave as a commodity that can be exchanged for a monetary payment. A key strategy [in promoting monetisation] is the recent discursive shift towards the use of language that brings ecology into the domains of economics and accountancy.” We might well ask why natural scientists are prepared to effectively drop their own language in favour of this economic and finance discourse? This has little to do with a traditional scientific understanding of biodiversity or ecosystems or indeed the discourse of ecology that helped establish the modern environmental movement….

This mainstream economic approach to the environment is essentially predicated on the mistaken belief that all choices are trade-offs between competing human preferences (Holland, 2002; Spash, 2008b). Preferences are taken to be what determines peoples’ demand and willingness to pay, and those preferences cannot and should not be questioned because people are assumed the best judge of their own interests (as noted by Easterlin, 2003). Allowance might be made for better informing people, but this should somehow avoid forming preferences, otherwise individuals would be unable to make independent choices and the implicit liberal political foundations of economics would crumble. The application of this approach to the environment reduces complex ethical questions such as whether elephants, tigers, bees or phytoplankton should have a place on the planet to a matter of personal preferences. Once all choices are made analogous to consumer desires or wants then optimal species extinction (as discussed, for example, by Swanson, 1994), becomes little different from choosing between flavours of ice cream (see Sagoff, 2004). You just need some basic product information, a means of payment and an institution that delivers the product when you pay.”

Read the full paper:

2015 Spash_Aslaksen Ecological_discourse JEM