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NEWS: Harper moves to put price tag on nature

The Canwest News Service reports that, “Following a fall report released by the United Nations Environment Programme that concluded natural ecosystems around the world were worth trillions of dollars in the global economy, the Harper government is following up with the development of its own framework to evaluate the economic value of nature in Canada.”

“Luis Leigh, a director in the Regulatory Analysis and Instrument Choice Division at Environment Canada …explained the framework could provide governments and businesses with balanced information in their decision-making process with the true costs of development or conservation. …A separate division of Environment Canada is also leading a study on the ‘Value of Nature to Canadians in 2010’ which would complement the work being done in developing the framework, Leigh explained.”

The Guardian UK further explains, “The UN’s three year project to measure The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (first identified) the different habitats that host Earth’s estimated 5-30 million species and then (identified) the different ‘services’ they provide: cleaner water from reedbeds and wetlands, coastal protection from mangroves, carbon absorption and rainfall regulation by forests, lifesaving and enhancing medicines from plants, ecotourism, pollination, spiritual inspiration or simple enjoyment. The next problem was to work out how much they were worth…”

Euractiv adds that, “A United Nations initiative is making massive calculations in an attempt to put a price on nature services such as soil, forest or fresh water in a drive to convince policymakers to implement the ‘polluter pays’ principle to protect nature, said Pavan Sukhdev, who leads the initiative. …The change in corporate behaviour that is being sought with carbon markets, for example, ‘is basically a way of recognising that public bad can be converted into private bad by forcing laws to change and then you capture the value of that through the market,’ he explained.”

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, has said, “Paying developing countries under REDD marks a fundamental step forward in terms of bringing the huge financial importance of ecosystems and biodiversity into the centre of economic activity. It could open the door to more creative and forward looking funds and mechanisms covering other nature-based infrastructure such as peatlands and wetlands en route to support for the services generated by coastal and marine ecosystems such as coral reefs to mangroves.”

But Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, says, “REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is a predatory program that pretends to save forests and the climate while backhandedly selling out forests out from under Indigenous People. REDD will encourage continuing pollution and global warming, while displacing those of us least responsible for the crises, who have been stewards of the forests since time immemorial.”
In short, a carbon emitting corporation could purchase or trade a REDD credit as a means to offset their continued carbon emissions elsewhere.

And just as forests can be offset, so can water. In August 2009, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation announced they had started the first water offset market “allowing businesses and individuals to offset their water use in the same fashion as one would offset their carbon emissions.” Basically, by purchasing a ‘BEF Water Restoration Certificate’ a company or individual can buy/ trade one thousand gallons of water for “a critically dewatered stream.”

The Council of Canadians has called for an end to offsets in national and international climate agreements. “Offsets are a false, market-based solution to the climate crisis. Internationally, carbon offsets under the Kyoto Protocol have allowed a ‘business as usual’ approach to reign. Offsets have provided global North countries a loophole to avoid needed domestic emission reductions by purchasing carbon credits generated in the global South – credits that have failed to bring about significant additional emission reductions (reductions that would not have happened otherwise).”

More to come.

Canwest News Service article is at http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Feds+price+Canada+nature/3065309/story.html. The Guardian report is at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/may/21/price-tag-nature. The Euractiv report is at http://www.euractiv.com/en/sustainability/nterview-pavan-news-308155. A campaign blog written in Copenhagen noting REDD is at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=2508. More on the water offset market at http://www.rivernetwork.org/blog/7/2009/11/06/carbon-you-can-now-buy-water-offsets.