Putting a Price Tag on Nature

Putting a Price Tag on Nature

Burning Amazon to make way for agriculture

Adopted by the UN in 1966, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights created a framework for self determination, stating that all people have the right to the means of economic production, which can be achieved by “freely dispos[ing] of their natural wealth and resources.”

This phrase captures the prevailing attitude that humans have had towards the natural world since, perhaps, the industrial revolution, where nature’s bounty is seen simply as a resource for humans to exploit, and later dispose of once exhausted. It is precisely this commodification of nature that Evo Morales and the Indigenous Environmental Movement are rallying against, calling instead for an International Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth. This movement will be present at the upcoming Cancun Climate Conference, where delegation members will be urging global leaders to combat climate change by recognizing the inalienable rights of pachamama, or Mother Earth.

For those leaders unable to reconcile themselves to this indigenous, holistic mindset, the Teeb project might offer a more palatable alternative. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Teeb) project is a three year study that aims to promote conservation and environmental stewardship by monetizing ecosystem services. At the recently convened Biodiversity Meeting hosted by the UN in Nagoya, Japan, representatives of the Teeb project unveiled their findings, which included an analysis that the value of ecological services – such as water purification, crop pollination, and climate regulation – being lost globally as a result of environmental degradation totals $2-5 trillion dollars a year. The idea behind this project is that countries have little incentive to curtail their environmentally reprehensible behavior if they do not understand the monetary cost of their actions.

The Teeb Project is now calling on individual nations to conduct their own studies, and will be present in Cancun to help mainstream the economics of nature. According to representatives from the Indian and Brazilian environment ministries, these superpowers are now pursuing national economic assessments according to the Teeb model. With both countries attempting to green their economies, it remains an open question if either will chart a new course once the environmental cost of industrial animal agriculture – a cornerstone of both economies – is monetized and made clear to all.