Commentary: The role of the state

Comment on Jutta Kill’s “Economic Valuation and Payment for Environmental Services”

It seems to me that Jutta’s contribution is essential, not only because of the setting of Latin America, with its many new “progressive” governments in the last decade and the increased role of the state, but also given the context of Ecuador with a constitution which recognizes the rights of nature, plurinationality and sumak kawsay, or /buen vivir/.

The text can be particularly useful for us, in Acción Ecológica, an organization that follows local processes, as it provides more arguments vis-à-vis new forms of accumulation as well as the erosion of rights and territories. The first point that Jutta focuses on in her paper is that of “economic visibility” as a solution to the destruction of nature. We know that this is an absurdity given that the largest stretches of forest continue to exist precisely because of the indigenous peoples who have been “preserving” them, and not because they have been monetarily appreciated or visibilized in the ways proposed by green economy advocates. Indigenous peoples have cared for and about forests because they depend on them, but also because they maintain a cultural relationship of respect and consideration for /nature/. Indeed, nature has long been clearly “visible” to the eyes of those who have been protecting it. It is the corporate and financial sectors, together with the state, who have historically tried to make it invisible.

Here, I would like to add something to Jutta’s contribution regarding the role of the state. In countries with “progressive” governments like Ecuador, the ownership of environmental services lies in the hands of the state. In this case, the state itself is behind the interest in these new kinds of goods and, financial products and the income-generating potential they promise. The state is the main actor promoting the control of territorial spaces, and payments for environmental services, aspiring to position Ecuador as a provider of these sorts of
/environmental services/ and /goods/ on the international market; in fact, these services are also being considered for inclusion in free trade agreements like the one with the European Union.

In addition, as a biologist, the issue of botanical classification – or zoological or ecosystem classification – interests me, drawing a comparison with eugenics, the philosophy which used various classification techniques to permit one to decide which human beings were fit for life and reproduction and which could be sacrificed. The new economy of nature tends to produce a similar right to decide what lives and what does not in the /natural world/ according to its economic value for capital, whether that world lies in the hands of corporations or of states.

This is not illogical for the promoters of these kind of mechanisms. If one considers Gabon’s Sustainable Development Law, the plans relating to Land Degradation Neutrality, or the incorporation in many countries' schemes of /cultural services/, which include environmental services and ecosystems, one could easily destroy cultures and compensate for this by means of social investments elsewhere, thus deciding which peoples deserve to live and which are not. There could be very /valuable/ “credits” for example for preserving people in voluntary isolation, such as the Taromenane in the Ecuadorian Amazon, since they are endangered, yet designing the credit “Taromenane with their natural forest” so that it functions in a market for ecosystem and landscape services would represent an even greater threat. Or just protect another indigenous peoples in another continent, while the Taromenane are sacrificed.

An additional comment on the kinds of payments for ecosystem services which Jutta describes. Frequently, relations of cooperation between two communities are defined as if they involved PES when in reality they are cases of mutual solidarity where there may be no mediation whatsoever nor any intervention on the part of the authorities, let alone official compensation. In Ecuador, this is called /randi randi/, but this kind of relationship in fact exists in many places in the world, for which reason it should be carefully excluded from the category of payments for environmental services.



Image removed.Comment on the position paper by Jutta Kill:
Valuation and Payment for Environmental Services: Recognizing Nature's Value Pricing or Nature's Destruction?"