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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Faut-il donner un prix à la nature ?

by Humanité Dimanche

Must we put a price on nature?

Translated Monday 25 May 2015, by Adrian Jordan

As the debate over the biodiversity law shows, it is not easy to steer through the complex controversies surrounding ecological transition. So, if the principle of “polluter payer” seems accepted, how do we determine the cost? Is it effective? Should we avoid putting a price on nature? In “Must We Put a Price on Nature?”, Jean Gadrey and Aurore Lalucq clarify these obscure arguments and make proposals to aid political transition. Extracts.

To protect nature, we need rules, norms, laws, education, active democracy, scientific studies (...) and many other things which mean more to us than concepts of economy and the like. However, these tools – trade of CO2, payment for ecosystem services, compensation banks, etc – are currently on the increase and it is important to think of this and be conscious of an important fact: our interactions with nature have an economic side. For a long time nature, or certain components of it, has almost become a “commodity”. (...) Also, since human activity will continue to exploit nature, how can this be done while preserving it? We must not “exploit” it but use it in accordance with essential human needs, collectively determined, taking account of its finite nature, regenerative constraints (...) and the good health of the ecosystems. What can be done..? (...) Should we become pragmatic and accept the idea of monetisation of nature in order to alter some activities damaging to the environment, or, conversely, reject the whole idea for ethical reasons? This question divides environmentalists. As some consider “nature has no price” – ignoring or condemning attempts to monetise it – others tell us that to protect it (or not to protect it) has an economic cost which is important to substantiate when possible. Both arguments are valid.

Far from contradictory, they are complimentary.

In this book, we have sought to make the strategies and the sometimes jargon-filled debate between experts as accessible as possible because (...) preservation of the environment and the struggle against climate change will not succeed unless the methods to achieve them are defined and made the subject of democratic deliberation. (...)

Does monetisation allow for the protection of nature..? If yes, under what conditions..? Before being able to respond to that question, we had to analyse the arguments used by those pro and anti-monetisation of nature. We were thus able to see that the extension of monetary valorisation of nature over the course of the last few decades was not only linked to a search for ecological efficiency but often stemmed from a certain perspective of the world, that of economic liberalism. The fact is that, employing a monetary value does not necessarily mean setting a price; setting a price does not necessarily mean creating a market; and creating a market does not necessarily mean putting a price on nature... (...)

It is not easy to put a price on nature or a monetary value on the damage it suffers. That is why economists have decided to dissect it in an attempt to evaluate it. However, the methods used (...) are often dubious or dangerous. (...) Regulatory solutions, ecological transition investment and various green taxes seem the most effective at protecting nature. Nonetheless, in a political environment where strict regulation and ambitious fiscal policies are on the distant horizon, certain monetary valorisation and sufficiently regulated markets (...) could serve as secondary or complimentary solutions. (...) This book is published in 2015, a critical year for the climate due to the international conference in Paris in December [and] demonstrations which are growing in strength (...).

Among proposals made by international institutions, certain countries and other parties, we will see strong support for the creation of markets and “carbon finance” measures and, more generally, monetary tools. This has already begun. (...) It is therefore, now, more than ever, necessary to put the economy and its tools in the service of social and ecological ends, giving “monetisation of nature” a significant but not predominant place. “In the back seat, not at the wheel”, as Keynes wrote about economists.

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