The rise of for-profit conservation finance

Conservation finance, private equity funds, land and rainforest bonds: all are attempting to “unlock” the supposedly trillions of dollars waiting around to finance the global environmental agenda. Such hoped-for funds are – in theory – meant to address the brutal realities of ecological degradation: the earth is becoming less lively, less colourful, less diverse. In what now goes under the label conservation finance, there is a growing alliance of financiers, asset managers, NGOs, and international institutions eager to find ways to make biodiversity conservation a successful and attractive financial asset. Governments and organizations around the world have started to incorporate for-profit conservation finance and impact investing ideas into their environmental, social and development policy, keen to direct private capital in the direction of conservation efforts.

This research project will help practitioners, policymakers, and scholars understand how financialization might be changing biodiversity conservation efforts and how, or if, these practices create profits. Will these new financial mechanisms succeed where previous schemes have not? If these conservation investments continue to fail in return-generation, what will happen to them? Will non-profit organizations or governments step in to save them, or, are we entering a phase of “start-up conservation” where projects will be tested, discarded and tried again, as in the venture capitalism of Silicon Valley?

Our research group submitted a dossier to the Secretariat to the Convention on Biological Diversity on the topic of financial resources. It’s not boring as you’d think! In it we address the following questions:
1) To what extent has private capital moved into achieving the objectives of the CBD? 2) What kind of capital is circulating in conservation finance? The rise of “blended finance” 3) Where, geographically, is private biodiversity finance flowing? 4) What are the impacts of innovative financial mechanisms, particularly PES?

Read it here.

We have a new paper out in Antipode: “Intimate Mediations of For‐Profit Conservation Finance: Waste, Improvement, and Accumulation”. Email jessica.dempsey@geog.ubc.ca for a copy, or download it here (behind paywall).

Abstract: How to understand the marriage between accumulation and conservation? The paper draws from extensive research into one value chain, from the advisor in New York City to a wildlife‐friendly cattle business in Kenya. Making this enterprise return in money requires intimate and relentless efforts to transform wasteful conduct across a range of institutions and people; we focus on the attempted production of NGO economicus, homo economicus plus, and bos Taurus economicus. Drawing from feminist and postcolonial theorists of capitalism, we emphasise how green capitalist value production does not always hinge on extinguishing other‐than‐capitalist‐social relations but rather attempts to mobilise and harness such differences, including non‐profit‐seeking values, logics and relations. The paper concludes by reflecting on the temporal challenges facing for‐profit conservation finance, including those posed by previous regimes of accumulation that it relies on but also wants to overcome.