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Material World: Business is Everything and Everything is Business

Material World

Capitalism’s priority is to protect business opportunities not the environment

Late last year three huge conferences took place, one in Nagoya, Japan and one in Rome, both ostensibly focussed on protecting the 'rights', the wellbeing and viability of the livelihoods of people who live on and from the land and on protecting the land and its biodiversity, whilst offering business opportunities to eager participants. The third, possibly the most widely covered, was that at Cancun aimed at further negotiations to slow down climate change.

First, Rome
It was reported that the CFS – the United Nations Committee on Food Security has failed to back the UN voluntary code of conduct on foreign land investment. (See Socialist Standard August 2010, ‘Land Grab, win-win or win-lose’). The Rome meeting 'dragged on into the early hours' but ended failing to endorse the seven principles promoted for 'responsible agricultural investment.' Again Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, found it 'terribly disappointing'. Countries such as China, Egypt and South Africa opposed endorsing the principles because they were not involved in the original consultations.

A World Bank report released in September revealed that 45 million hectares worth of large scale farmland deals had been announced in 2009 (land populated with people not worth consideration) – a ten-fold increase over previous years. A spokesperson for FAO – the Food and Agriculture Organisation – claimed that 'one of the reasons why there was this rush to overseas investments is that governments and the private sector lost faith in international markets as a reliable source of food supply'. Governments and the private sector losing faith in the capitalist way of doing business?! Or could it be that the capitalist way sees the competition and forges ahead pressing to gain maximum advantage? Anyway, now another year will pass before the next meeting will take place, backstepping to alternative 'ill-defined voluntary guidelines' first discussed in 2008. Meanwhile, putting aside any consideration of 'rights', wellbeing, livelihoods, etc, who will place a bet on the percentage increase in this round of landgrab while we wait for the next meeting?

Second Nagoya, Japan
This was COP-10, the tenth bi-annual meeting of the Conference Of the Parties, involving 193 countries with between 15-16,000 participants including activists, NGOs and indigenous peoples from around the world 'to ensure that these strategies created to supposedly protect biodiversity focus on enhancing the rights of peoples with biodiversity-rich lands and do not impact negatively on biodiversity or these peoples by forcing them into the free market'  (Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project).

Negotiations were focussed on a 'new Strategic Plan on diversity for 2011-2020 with a biodiversity vision for 2050', 2010 being the International Year of Biodiversity. There was a 'Business and Biodiversity Initiative' with corporate leaders from more than 500 companies from 13 countries meeting 150 environment ministers from the 159 countries and the EU which have ratified the protocol. On the table was a discussion on TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity), cousin to REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation). The REDD initiative has been highly contentious because it has transferred large swathes of forest into the hands of corporations seeking profit from carbon trading, (i.e. trading in carbon dioxide emissions) disenfranchising the previous caretakers of those forests. TEEB will undoubtedly raise similar alarm bells for millions living in or near forest, mountains, coastline, estuaries, steppe, savannah, marginal land, meadow, farmland etc, because the overall aim is to make biodiversity a commodity just as carbon became one a few short years ago. To commodify biodiversity means to own the back garden of someone who lives half a world away, to control another's fishing ground or grazing land.
 
The new Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP) says it all. Meant to operate like the UN Climate Convention Clean Development Mechanism it is simply a way to allow the destruction of biodiversity in one place by drilling, mining, planting monocrops etc in exchange for purchasing offsets elsewhere. Shell, Chevron and Rio Tinto mining are just three of the companies ready to commit themselves to conserving biodiversity in this way. (See Socialist Standard, January 2010 ‘Climate Change, Business as Usual’). Business is everything and everything is available for business.

Third Cancun
The climate summit at Copenhagen failed miserably to address the issues. Cochabamba brought many (mostly representatives of poorer nations) together to try to change the direction in favour of the planet. Then came Cancun, widely expected to be a failure even before it convened. Two weeks of talking and jockeying for position brought no hard and fast agreements on any appreciable level. The final days and hours became a scramble for individual nations to cobble together fine words of appeasement to take home as positive offerings even as the war of words continued. The blame game – China and the US, the world's two largest emitters, unable to compromise over their relative positions; China believing that the US should embrace the Kyoto Protocol while they would enter into voluntary limits on emissions; US suspicious of China's sincerity and unwilling to do anything before anyone else commits to more. Kyoto anyway, as it stands, is woefully inadequate as without US, China and India the current signatories account for only about a third of world carbon emissions. On the final day, Friday, 10 December, Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Programme told reporters:

“We all will leave Cancun knowing very clearly that we have not significantly changed the time window in which the world will be able to address climate change. That challenge remains.'

And Associated Press reported:
“It was clear in the final hours of the 193 nation congress that delegates were looking for creative language to finesse irreconcilable views and buy another year until the next major conclave in Durban, South Africa.”

All in all a serious deficit of progress as it is apparent again that the economy and GDP are far more important than sea levels, rising temperatures, falling water tables, melting glaciers and millions with neither land nor livelihood.

Outcomes and expectations
What should we have expected and can we expect anything different? Expect more big business deals, expect more loss of habitat and species, expect increased CO2 emissions and worsening climate conditions, expect more communities to be made homeless and landless, expect governments to fall in with whatever business demands, expect a lot of disappointed activists, expect a wringing of hands and feeble excuses.

JANET SURMAN