Interrupting Nick Clegg and the 'Great Nature Sale' (part 1)
Sarah Reader, campaigns and network assistant
Yesterday I interrupted Nick Clegg as he gave his keynote speech on the opening day of the Rio +20 summit. How did that happen?
So when we found out that the government and the World Bank were hosting the ‘High-level Dialogue on Natural Capital’- essentially calling for putting a price on nature so it can be traded as a commodity – the opportunity was too good to miss.
The Great Nature Sale
First we staged a photo stunt on a beach in Rio in which our ‘salesman’ Oscar sold off different areas of natural beauty and biodiversity, including Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar) – one of Rio’s most iconic features; the sea and the sky. We even sold off the Sumatran tiger, because as Robert Zellick, outgoing World Bank president, said, 'the Sumatran tiger is one of the world’s most charismatic species' and what can be better than creating a new market for endangered species?
Our next step was to set up a ‘Rio_20_nature_sale’ account on eBay and start auctioning off the world’s resources.
We were up until four in the morning setting up the auction - it takes a long time to put together sales pitches for nature - but the auction was pulled by eBay within a couple of hours. It turns out, that although the British government can set up new markets for carbon and biodiversity, we can’t do the same.
Sugar Loaf Moutain for sale on eBay
To give you a taste of the items we were auctioning off, I've pasted a couple of the descriptions below:
The Lake District
At a very special starting price you can take home the whole of the UK's Lake District national park.
Being sold in celebration of the UK government's support for the sell off of nature, the Rio+20 Great Nature Sale features one of the UK's most famous and best-loved national parks.
Think of the hills, the history and the beautiful lakes, or even the untapped ecosystem functions of Wordsworth's famous daffodils. And if that's not enough for you, you could always sell off some of the Lake District's famous walks and public paths.
As boasted by the outgoing World Bank president Robert Zoellick, there’s extra value to be generated by offsets that conserve the world's most charismatic species. And what could be more charismatic than the Sumatran tiger?
You can be pretty confident that this is a species near extinction and therefore worth investing in. The price on the head of tigers is going to keep its value, so don't miss this fantastic opportunity at Rio +20.
These items are also for sale at the official Rio +20 summit. The seller reserves the right to withdraw this sale on the grounds that these goods are part of the global commons.
Alas, the eBay cancellation notice. We even failed to sell off the Lake District.
We weren’t defeated. As eBay had fallen through, we next decided to try and ‘sell the Amazon, on Amazon’. Again we spent a long time setting up a ‘Rio Nature Sale’ account to try and sell the Amazon. It seems that Amazon.com is also not keen about facilitating the sell off of nature and the listing was also cancelled.
After a long night of attempted internet-based nature sales, we woke up early the next day and made our way to the RioCentro conference centre for the opening day of the summit and the ‘High-level Dialogue on Natural Capital’ being hosted by the UK Government and the World Bank.
The meeting was organised to promote the Natural Capital Declaration, signed by the CEOs of 37 major financial sector companies on 16 June. The declaration calls for the integration of ‘natural capital’ into financial products and services. It advocates the financial valuation of unpriced natural resources like water and biodiversity and the creation of ‘risk management tools’ for natural capital, potentially opening the door to financial speculation. The declaration also calls on governments to incentivise companies that integrate the value of ‘ecosystem services’ into their business model.
After registering myself at the summit, we navigated our way to the room where the meeting was being held. We very nearly didn’t make it in, as when we arrived the doors closed and it became a ‘one in, one out’ policy. I was cursing myself as it seemed as though we’d made the three hour round trip to RioCentro for nothing.
However shortly afterwards, a few people must have decided that selling off nature wasn’t quite their thing, and we managed to slip into the room. With no available seats left, I ended up sitting in the middle of a aisle not far from the front of the room.
The plan was to hold a ‘great nature sale’ as Nick Clegg gave his keynote speech. I sat down and started to make short notes on what I might actually say if I stood up and got the chance to speak. I was also fiddling around with my props to make sure they weren't upside down or back to front - that would have been really embarrassing!
After the first speaker gave an introduction about how brilliant the work of the World Bank and the UK government is, Nick got up and started his speech. I couldn’t quite believe that 1) We’d been allowed into the meeting, 2) Nick Clegg was actually getting on the stage to speak, 3) No one spotted my toes poking out of my flipflops under my trousers (I never did like suits…).
After giving him a chance to get going, I quickly put on a Nick Clegg mask and stood up with a sign saying ‘The Great Nature Sale’ and our spoof logo - Rio +20: Selling off the commons to the highest bidder. Inspired by our sell-off of nature on the beach the day before, I begun: “Welcome to the Great Nature Sale, brought to you by the UK government and the World Bank. Today we’ll be selling off the world’s natural resources, for more profit…”
I was promptly escorted out of the meeting room, but not before booming “You thought there wasn’t enough profit in the world, but there is ….. a great way of kicking indigenous people off their land, making money off pollution, and keeping on exploiting the world’s poor”.
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Regular updates from our campaigners on issues around the green economy, financialisation and the Rio+20 conference.
The great nature sale
Discussions about the green economy are being captured by rich country governments and corporate interests. Their proposals include allowing speculators to bet on the price of water, selling off land that indigenous people and small-scale farmers have used for generations and creating new financial instruments linked to the survival of endangered species.
Want to know more?
Our briefing, Rio+20 summit: Whose green economy?, explains what is being proposed at Rio, the corporate plan for the future of our planet, and the sustainable alternatives being proposed by social movements and civil society in the global south.