Campaigners warn of dangers of ‘privatised nature’

INTERNATIONAL campaigners have accused governments and business leaders attending an international conference in Edinburgh of attempting to “privatise nature”.

Campaigners have warned of nature being "privatised" ahead of a conference in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Campaigners have warned of nature being "privatised" ahead of a conference in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Rutherford

As the two-day inaugural World Forum on Natural Capital gets under way in Edinburgh, economic justice groups have condemned its aim to put a price tag on resources such as water, air, geology and all life on earth so companies can include these ‘stocks’ in their balance sheets.

Activists warn of speculation

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Organisers of the United Nations-backed conference claim the planet is more likely to be protected if its assets are given a financial value, but activists fighting global poverty believe this will lead to speculators buying and selling environmental assets for profit.

It amounts to “privatising nature”, according to representatives of European protest groups who are today hosting a counter event called the Forum on Natural Commons.

“Putting a price on the environment is the first step towards turning it into a commodity to be traded on financial markets. So we’re looking at things like wildlife, forests, mountains and soil essentially being turned into commodities which speculators and big business can profit from,” said World Development Movement director Nick Dearden.

But Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Jonathan Hughes, programme director of the conference, insists the landmark gathering is a vital step towards saving the planet. “The fact is, nature is already largely ‘privatised’ across much of the world’s land surface, as land is privately owned by individuals and companies,” he said.

“What natural capital accounting could achieve is much better stewardship of those lands as we begin to better understand their less visible values – such as carbon storage, flood mitigation, storm protection and genetic resources for new crop varieties and medicines.

“Both governments and businesses should understand the value of the natural capital being lost and the impact that is having for our economy and society. Accounting for natural capital means we can understand the true value of nature so better decisions can be made about the protection of the environment.”

‘Scottish nature worth £23bn’

Nature is estimated to be worth up to £23 billion to Scotland’s economy, and the Scottish Government has developed the first ever asset index to help calculate the monetary cost of using up environmental resources.

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The forum aims to build on a global finance initiative launched at the 2012 Rio Earth Summit, when bosses at 39 banks, investment funds and insurance firms pledged to tally up the impacts of their business on natural assets.

First Minister Alex Salmond is the keynote speaker at today’s session, which also features a video message from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Business leaders from Coca Cola, RBS and the World Bank, government representatives and environmental experts from around the world will also appear. A protest being staged outside will see demonstrators “selling Ben Nevis to the highest bidder”.