Wildlife & Biodiversity

Over 100 experts oppose ‘Nature Positive Fund’ in open letter to UN before COP15

‘Nature Positive Economy’ promotes the financialisation of nature’s destruction, they said

By Shuchita Jha
Published: Wednesday 07 December 2022
Over 100 experts oppose ‘Nature Positive Fund’ in open letter to UN before COP15
Photo: @AndreaMeza76 / Twitter

Photo: @AndreaMeza76 / Twitter

A hundred and nineteen experts from academia and civil society have called on the United Nations (UN), World Economic Forum (WEF), European Commission (EC) and World Wide Fund for Nature to reject the ‘Nature Positive Fund’ at the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Montreal, Canada.

The 119 experts wrote a letter titled Nature Must be Protected from the Nature Positive Economy. It was shared with the bodies by the Green Finance Observatory.

It stated that the nature positive agenda promoted the “financialization of nature’s destruction, via a monetary valuation of ecosystems, biodiversity offsetting and diverting the conversation away from the need to curb biodiversity destruction and towards ‘sustainable’ finance regulation.”

The six-page letter criticised calls to “recognize the value of nature”, “start valuing nature in economic transactions,” “complementary measures of economic progress, including natural capital” and references to the Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity.

The document stated that the nature positive agenda relied on incorrect assumptions, like the idea that traditional environmental regulation had failed and that monetary considerations would lead to better conservation outcomes or that it would be possible to reflect all the values of nature in monetary values.

The signatories to the letter included:

  • Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change and former director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research,
  • Kalina Arabadjieva, researcher on just transitions at European Trade Union Institute
  • Susi Arnott, biologist and carbon literacy expert

They said most valuations models only valued a few main ecological functions and ignored the rest: “As a result, the monetary values being produced do not represent the value of nature’s ecological functions, not even a proxy.”

The experts warned that misleading figures could lead to wrong policy decisions, with irreversible consequences.

This is because the monetary valuation of nature’s ecological functions can provide an illusion of substitutability between critical ecosystemic functions, where they assume that nature is in good shape if the total monetary value remains stable.

The letter further pointed out that nature positive is described as stopping and reversing the loss of nature from 2020 towards a ‘net gain’ of biodiversity by 2030.

But the ‘net’ element allows for ‘offsetting’ destruction with restoration promises, just like that of net zero climate targets.

According to a WEF document, ‘net’ nature positive must clearly state companies and countries cannot destroy nature in one place and restore elsewhere. But elements in the proposal for a nature positive economy roadmap suggests otherwise.

The signatories also criticised the biodiversity offsetting that is being done by many countries and is being promoted by EC, EU, and UN at CBD COP15.

It says that recreating or restoring ecosystems to a former state is often not feasible and it is possible that under some conditions the destruction of one ecosystem can be deemed to be compensated by the restoration of another.

“While it is essential that governments curb destruction and ensure restoration, restoration should never be considered as — and financed through — offsets,” they said via the open letter.

“The same dynamic is already at play in ‘net zero’ climate policies, where rich countries often prefer to pay for planting a few trees where land is cheap or protecting forests allegedly at risk of destruction rather than change their lifestyle and curb more drastically their emissions,” the letter noted.

The experts added that offsetting has also led to land-grabbing of indigenous land in poor countries, causing human rights abuses, as a form of green neo-colonialism.

The letter raised concerns over ‘irrational mood swings’ of the financial markets. It added that since these markets are unable to price scarcity adequately, it will be problematic to promote biodiversity offset markets because prices are too volatile to be able to incentivise changes in behaviour.

It further raised two questions:

  • Should critical conservation policies be based on short-term cost-benefit and profitability?
  • Should private speculators be allowed to determine the price of destruction? If yes, then what is to be saved or destroyed.

They said in the letter that discussions on nature positive agenda diverts the conversation away from the need for stricter environmental regulations to stop destruction.

The focus then solely remains on discussing the regulation of sustainable finance and not the inadequacy of our conservation policies.

“...financial regulation for sustainability purposes does not come in addition to appropriate environmental policies but instead of it, as private lobbies are prompt to claim that there is no longer any need to tighten conservation regulations,” said the letter.

It added that shifting the conversation from environmental regulations to financial supervision regulations will reduce public pressure and scrutiny, as a large number of citizens tend to disengage from finance topics.

The letter warns that the idea of nature positive fund empowers private finance and financial markets as they realise that they have a key role to play.

This way, they will have the upper hand and will downplay the power of governments to set up appropriate regulations while negotiating their participation.

In their concluding remarks, the signatories said: “This is what happened with climate change and carbon markets 15 years ago. But it will be much worse, as while there are only six greenhouse gases, there are millions of species with incredibly complex webs of interdependences.”

They said addressing the sixth mass extinction of species does not require the alleged monetary valuation of ecosystems, nor the creation of offset markets and the privatisation of conservation.

Rather, it means placing tighter environmental regulations mandating a reduction in biodiversity destruction.

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