Ecosystem Services Markets as a Neoliberal Response to Crisis

by Larry Lohmann

first published 6 June 2011

New markets in environmental services are springing up all over the world – biodiversity markets, wetlands markets and species markets, in addition to the climate markets that got their start more than 15 years ago. Britain is no exception. Its Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is enthusing over the economic potential of a “market in conservation projects” populated by a “network of biodiversity offset providers”.

What lies behind this trend? Some historical perspective is necessary to answer this question. Environmental services markets are not aimed merely at “solving environmental problems at the lowest cost”. More importantly, they redefine those problems in a way that creates new assets, economic sectors and property rights. As part of the neoliberal response to the economic crisis that set in during the 1970s, they function to loosen regulatory constraints on business, relax Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) requirements, and open up new profit opportunities for an increasingly dominant financial sector.

This article was published in Food Ethics, a quarterly magazine published by the Food Ethics Council, devoted to “Banking biodiversity: Valuing or devaluing nature?”, Vol. 6, Issue 2, Summer 2011.