Trophy hunting and biodiversity credits are two sides of the same capitalist coin

Male lion resting in the grass, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Biodiversity Credits Trophy Hunting
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What do trophy hunting and biodiversity credits have in common? It sounds like the start of some crass joke. Only, the punchline isn’t funny: both will destroy the planet.

Biodiversity credits

Unexpected links between the pro-trophy hunting lobby and advocates for an emerging market in biodiversity credits have highlighted the bullshit capitalist agenda at the heart of Global North solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises. Biodiversity credits place a monetary value on conservation efforts that protect or restore natural environments. Companies, governments or individuals can then buy these credits to ‘offset’ the environmental harm of their own projects and activities.

You might think the biodiversity credits and trophy hunting couldn’t have less in common and, in many ways, you’d be right. One is about the preservation of wildlife, ascribing a financial worth to ecosystems and species in order to galvanise companies and governments to protect them. The other is a gratuitously violent practice, enabling wealthy individuals from the Global North to murder ‘charismatic’ creatures for their own sick and egotistic pleasure.

In spite of these seeming contradictions, a prominent scientist from the Global North has been championing the case for both.

Indeed, the pro-trophy hunting lobby and advocates of the still-nascent biodiversity credit market might seem like odd bedfellows. However, the same socio-economic ideology underpins both practices. Much like all the Global North’s ‘solutions’ to the twin climate-nature crisis, the answers are cooked in the crucible of profiteering capitalist and colonial interests.

Commodification of Nature

I recently reported for the Canary about the new Hunting Trophies (Imports Prohibition) bill. A number of scientists oppose the bill and argue that it will damage conservation efforts. However, as the Canary’s Tracy Keeling has also noted, some of these very same scientists have close ties to organisations that prominent hunting industry groups have funded.

Professor of wildlife conservation at the University of Oxford, Amy Dickman, was among the scientists that the Times previously identified as having links to the trophy hunting industry.

Read on...

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Dickman was lead author of a letter to the journal Science criticising the new trophy hunting bill. Recently, she penned an article for the Tory party’s blog site Conservative Home. In it, she argued against the import ban.

On 12 June, she also wrote a piece for Prince William’s Earthshot Prize blog. The blog post called for the scaled implementation of biodiversity credits.

Crucially, this connection epitomises all that’s wrong with Global North ‘solutions’ to rapid species loss. Each positions the commodification of nature as the way out of the twin climate and biodiversity crises. In essence, it’s a conservation ideology that monetises the natural world in a supposed bid to save it.

“Lion Carbon” and “Phantom credits”

In the Earthshot blog, Dickman introduced two existing carbon credit schemes with biodiversity dimensions. Notably, she detailed the ‘Lion Carbon’ initiative. The scheme is a partnership carbon credit programme between Dickman’s Lion Landscapes conservation organisation and Zambian-based forest carbon offset company BioCarbon Partners (BCP).

The initiative uses two large-scale Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) projects to provide carbon credits to corporate clients. Global nations established REDD+ at the COP19 climate summit in Warsaw in 2013. The UN explains that attending nations at COP19 created REDD+ so that:

developing countries can receive results-based payments for emission reductions when they reduce deforestation. This serves as a major incentive for their efforts.

The Lion Carbon REDD+ projects operate by avoiding deforestation that the programme claims would otherwise have occurred in their absence. Dickman cited Lion Carbon as a model example of the effectiveness of financial incentives for conserving wildlife. The world’s most widely used carbon offset standard, Verra, has certified the projects.

However, a 2023 Guardian investigation found that 90% of Verra’s rainforest carbon offsets are likely ‘phantom credits’. Essentially, these are worthless credits which do not represent actual provable reductions in deforestation.

Moreover, nonprofits have documented multiple accounts of REDD+ projects that have violated rights and enacted harm against Indigenous and local communities.

The Luangwa Community Forest Project

Dickman alluded to these problems in her blog. She stated that:

Recent criticisms of carbon offsets have highlighted the need for such schemes to be accountable, transparent and equitable.

Ironic then, that she failed to mention the problems with one of Lion Carbon’s core REDD+ projects. Namely, Greenpeace Italy and an Italian news broadcaster have both revealed that the project’s claims to have prevented deforestation is tenuous. In short, the project had overinflated its emissions reductions.

In addition, Greenpeace found that the project had also excluded neighbouring communities living outside the designated area from accessing the forest and its resources. Moreover, the report highlighted that the project also restricted inhabitant communities from harvesting forest produce.

Further to this, Greenpeace suggested that the de facto enclosure of forest land could create food and income insecurity for nearby communities. Significantly, this would expose them to greater vulnerability during extreme drought or flood.

Much as is evident in the established carbon credit market, biodiversity credits have the potential to facilitate corporate colonisation via land grabbing and resource dispossession.

Ecological greenwashing

Naturally, bogus results notwithstanding, it hasn’t stopped multinational corporations from claiming these credits towards their Net Zero pledges.

Fossil fuel majors ENI and TotalEnergies, as well as vehicle manufacturers AUDI and Volkswagen, have all purchased carbon credits from the Luangwa Community Forests Project’s REDD+ initiative.

Carbon Pulse has also highlighted the role of a prominent business group in the new biodiversity credit market. EDF, Engie, TotalEnergies, L’Oreal, and HSBC, among other large corporations, are members of the Business for Positive Biodiversity Club (B4B+ Club) forum.

It’s evident that biodiversity credits are simply another performance in ecological greenwashing. Polluting industries can pat themselves on the back for setting aside a scrap of forest, probably somewhere in the Global South, and sparing it from their extractive, ecocidal crusade. Meanwhile, elsewhere, they’ll continue to mete out no-holds-barred ecological devastation.

To Global North conservationists like Dickman, subordinating nature to the capitalist market is the only way to protect it. However, it’s clear who the commodification of nature serves – and it sure isn’t the Indigenous and working-class communities or wildlife it claims to save.

Feature image via Thomas Furhmann/Wikimedia, cropped and resized to 1910 by 1000, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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