Sustainability under neoliberalism

  • Created by: sikemi__
  • Created on: 27-05-21 19:40


  • Sustainability under neoliberalism was the idea of a commodification of nature and the idea that markets/capitalism might be the best mode for managing the environment
  • Neoliberalism - a new economic mode for the way that the environment is best managed under capitalist markets
    • Idea that markets work best when there is as little regulation as possible
    • Conceptualised in a more global sense through a shift to the new 'Washington Consensus' (World Bank and IMF). Structural adjustment to counteract longstanding weaknesses in national economies and international markets
    • In particular, support for local industries increased and trade tarrifs were removed so there was great free trade
  • Neoliberalisation was a 'diverse, complicated and changing' ideology and process
    • The state isn't just retreating from all aspects of social life, it still needs to put things in place to maintain ability for the market to have control
    • Key writers include David Harvey, Jamie Peck and Morgan Robertson
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Capitalism and sustainability

  • Capital is a term derived from Marx in 1867
    • It is in the interest of those who own the means of production to extract maximum work for minimal pay with low material costs.
    • Increasing wealth in the hands of capitalists who can expand and seek new sites/areas/products for increased capital accumulation
  • Capitalism iis about expanding, extracting and processing raw materals, making it unsustainable
  • Neoliberalisation is seeking new sites/markets/ways of finding new markets for commodities and sites for obtaining capital
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Neoliberalisation of nature

  • Privatisation - giving private organisations control of nature
  • Marketisation - environmental quality delivered by the market
  • Financialisation - creation of new commodities from nature that can be exchanged in markets
  • Under neoliberalism, nature is 'changed into forms that capital can see' (Robertson, 2006)
    • Nature has been reconceptualised in terms of the service it provides for us
  • Neoliberal environmentalism
    • Application of market based approaches to conserving nature
    • Overlooks capitalism's environmental contradictions
    • Harnesses private investment to the task of conserving nature - idea that protecting nature is done by those with large amounts of spare capital
  • Neoliberal conservation - 'shifts the focus from how nature is used in and through the expansion of capitalism, to how nature is conserved in and through the expansion of capitalism (Bushcer et al, 2012)
  • Problem: the primary aim of capital is for economic gains so only the kinds of nature that are seen as worthwhile saving are conserved
  • Notion of market based sustainability is justification for using the environment for economic value
    • 'The market becomes the most important mechanism for mediating between people, and regulating their interaction with the environment' (Low & Gleeson, 1998)
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Nature as capital

  • Different forms of capital
    • Financial
    • Physical
    • Human - things people have built that have value because they contribute to production processes e.g. tools, machines, roads, buildings
    • Social
    • Natural - nature's ability to meet human needs by natural processes through raw materials or services e.g. ecosystems, ocean-atmospheric circulatory systems, biodiversity
  • In economic terms, sustainability involves maximising flows of income while maintaining the stock of capital from which they come
    • Weak sustainability - allows trade offs between losses to natural capital and gains to human made capital in different projects
    • Strong sustainability - constant stocks of both human made and natural capital maintained over time
    • Development that increases stocks of human made capital only by the depletion of natural capital of an equivalent value is not sustainable
  • Ecosystem services - idea that benefits that humans receive from the natural environment are underpinned by ecosystem processes
    • Provisioning services - produce materials directly consumed by humans e.g. food and water
    • Regulating services - maintain natural systems within safe or beneficial limits e.g. flood control, climate regulation, air and water purification
    • Cultural services - enrich emotional, intellectual and spiritual life e.g. aesthetic beauty and/or historica heritage
    • In this occuring there is the problem of an ecosystem service hierarchy where some services become more priviledged than others
    • Ecosystem services are a metaphor to express humanity's need for the rest of living nature - presents the biosphere as a service economy
    • First conceptualised/mainstreamed into governance through UK Natural Ecosystem Assessment in 2011, then the UK Natural Capital Committee in 2012
      • NCC is there to advise the govt on how to ensure England's natural wealth is managed efficiently and sustainably, unlocking opportunities for sustained economic prosperity and wellbeing.
      • Idea that through the right investments, we are seeing improvements coming out of the environment and public money needs to be invested in public environmental goods
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Markets for Nature

  • The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB)
    • Study led from 2007-2011 to draw attention to global economics benefits of biodiversity
    • Objective was to highlight growing cost of biodiversity lost and ecosystem degradation to draw together expertise from field of science, economics and policy and enable practical actions
    • Wanted to establish objective standard basis for natural capital accounting - 'make nature economically visible'
  • Natural Capital Coalition (NCC)
    • Evolved from TEEB
    • To help businesses better account for loss of ecosystem services to economy
    • Creating a framework so businesses understand, can identify and manage impact they're having on natural capital
    • Still about making businesses more efficient but supposedly also taking minimising environmental impact into account
    • Natural Capital Protocol - framework to generate 'trusted, credible and actionable information for business managers to inform decisions on how to interact with nature'
  • Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES)
    • Using markets to ensure provision of ecological services
    • E.g. downstream water users pay upstream landholders to manage their land to maintain water volume or quality, state pays farmers to manage land for wildlife
    • Thinking about conservation but also reconceptualising how nature should be managed and what kind of nature is most beneficial
  • Pollution markets
    • To drive pollution down
    • Targets set for the state of the environment
    • Cap total emissions and work out shares
    • Issue permits
    • Allow least efficient to buy permits from most efficient
  • Carbon offsetting
    • Compliance market: Kyoto Protocol Annex 1 Parties and EU Emission Trading Scheme
    • Six GHGs: CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs, SF6
    • Companies, govts or other entities buy carbon offsets to comply with market caps
    • Voluntary market: individuals, companies or govts purchase offsets to mitigate their own emissions
  • Emissions trading
    • Cap and trade system
    • Incentive for corporations to address climate change and invest in clean, low carbon technologies
    • Often on a regional scale e.g. EU emissions trading system - needs to be global
  • Carbon sequestration
    • Process of long term removal/capture/sequestration from atmosphere to slow/reverse atmospheric CO2 pollution and mitigate/reverse global warming
    • Occurs most through forests/tree planting but can also be done artificially e.g. carbon sinks in aquifers
    • REDD(+) - Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. Places financal value on carbon stored in forests. Payments to help developing countries reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low carbon paths to sust dev.
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Missing and problematic markets

  • Some services are easy to value economically e.g. carbon, water supply, flood defence
  • Others aren't e.g. soil formation, nutrient cycling, value of non-charismatic rare species, value of unstudied species (such as wild pollinators)
  • Markets also change...
    • Supply and demand (also impacted by speculation)
    • E.g. pest control services to US cotton production by moth predation by Mexican free tailed bats. Value of service declined 79% between 1990 and 2008 with use of modified  Bt cotton that kills insect pests. Future pest resistance to Bt cotton may cause value of bat moth predation to rise again (Lopez-Hoffman et al, 2014)
  • There are also issues surrounding artificial natures and ecosystem services
    • Exotic species and novel/simple ecosystems can deliver ecosystem services
    • E.g. zebra mussels to filter particulates/intensice tree farm management
    • Bio-engineering and synthetic biology is also a problem as novel organisms are used for industrial service provision
    • Management for services may promote artificial or novel ecosystems, non native species and organisms shaped by synthetic biology
  • Also issue of monetary vs intrinsic values
    • Monbiot states that putting a price on nature 'dimishes us, it diminishes nature. By turning the natural world into a subsidiary of the corporate economy, it reasserts the biblical doctrine of dominion'
    • Whereas Juniper states that 'by campaigning against the valuation of ecosystem services, some campaigners could inadvertently strengthen the hand of those who believe nature has little or no value, moral, economic or otherwise'
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A Green Economy?

  • An economy that provides a better quality of life for all within the ecological limits of the planet (Green Economy Coalition)
  • Low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive (UNEP, 2011)
  • The 'green economy' will be a capitalist economy (Low & Gleeson, 1998)
  • Steps towards a global green economy include
    • UNEP 2011 - Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication
    • Rio+20 (2012) - 'a chance to move away from business as usual and to act to end poverty, address envronmental destruction and build a bridge to the future'
  • 'In a green economy, growth in income and employment are driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services' (UNEP, 2011)
  • Green Corporations - idea that green economy can be captured and that there are certain corporations which situate or are looking to situate themselves within it. Many problems and contradictions.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility - economic, environmental and social accountability
    • Companies look to satisfy all three (but to different extents)
    • E.g. Unilevel Sustainable Living Plan - said that they would halve env footprint of products (only did 32%), help more than 1 billion people take action to improve health and wellbeing and source 100% of agricultural raw materials sustainably by 2020
  • Greenwashing - certain companies paint particular image/report to show themselves being environmental when they aren't
    • E.g. Green credit cards - earn carbon credits when spending to help finance reforestation of Amazon BUT...
    • Amount of goods/services bought with card migiht lead to more deforestation than reforestation
    • BP shifted logos and PR campaigns but still had oil spills (e.g. 2006 Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill)
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Global groups for sustainability

  • World Business Council for Sustainable Development
    • Coalition of 170 international companies, 35 countries and 20 individual sectors
    • Mission 'to provide business leadership as a catalyst for change toward sustainable development, and to promote the role of eco-efficiency, innovation and corporate social responsibility'
    • 'A capitalist is somebody who optimises returns from capital employed. The mistake is that the current economic model is solely focused on optimising the return on financial capital. We need to add two more elements of capital: natural capital and social capital, and tell capitalists to go and optimise that' (WBCSD President, Bakker Lisbon, 2012)
    • Idea that there is a great new frontier in terms of capital that needs to be mobilised
  • State's Role in Green Capitalism
    • Regulation - market is efficient but needs regulation for competition to drive innovation in technology and institutions
    • Taxation - make market reflect the costs of resource use to drive positive change and shape consumer behaviour
    • Therefore, neoliberalism can't occur!!!
  • World Economic Forum
    • Key driver of thinking about how capitalism (or at least current neoliberal models of the economy) will drive economic management or at least understandings of how the environment needs to be managed
    • Meeting brings together around 3000 business leaders, international political leaders, economists, celebs, journalists for up to 5 days to discuss global issues
    • Davos 2021 is set to be the 'Great Reset' as 'the pandemic has accelerated systemic changes that were apparent before its inception. The fault lines that emerged in 20202 now appear as critical crossroads in 2021. The time to rebuild trust and to make crucial choices is fast approaching as the need to reset priorities and the urgency to refor, systems grow stronger around the world'
    • The WEF has been criticised and described as an NGO of the status quo - some say it is just a socialising institution for world elite
    • Not about solving issues such as poverty, global warming, chronic illness or debt but they've shifted the burden from govts and businesses to responsible consumer subjects
    • Therefore, we still see that it is global business leaders that drive and are in control of the way the env needs to be managed and challenges met in this regard
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