‘For-Profit’ Biodiversity Conservation

Mainstream environmentalism and critical scholarship are abuzz with the promise and perils (respectively) of what we call ‘for-profit biodiversity conservation’: attempts to make conserving biodiverse ecosystems profitable to large-scale investment. But to what extent has private capital been harnessed and market forces been enrolled in a thoroughly re-made conservation? In this paper we examine the size, scope, and character of international for-profit biodiversity conservation. Despite exploding rhetoric around environmental markets over the last two decades, the capital flowing into market-based conservation remains small, geographically constrained, illiquid, and typically seeks little to no profit. This marginal character of for-profit conservation suggests that this project continues to ‘under-perform’ as a site of accumulation and as a conservation financing strategy. Such evidence is at odds with the way this sector is commonly portrayed in mainstream environmental conservation literature, but also with some critical geographical scholarship. We present a more puzzling situation: while for-profit conservation has long been promoted as a logical, ‘easy fix’ to ecological degradation, it remains negligible to and largely outside of global capital flows. We argue that this project has important consequences, but we understand its effects in terms of how it re-affirms narrowed, antipolitical explanations of biodiversity loss, instils neoliberal political rationalities among conservationists, and forecloses alternative and progressive possibilities capable of resisting status quo logics of accumulation.

I recently a co-authored an analysis of existing biodiversity conservation finance, with a particular emphasis on understanding the global scale and shape of market-based, profit-driven investment in this emerging sector. I conducted this research with funding from a SSHRC grant in collaboration with project PI Dr. Jessica Dempsey and with support from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). (Image from the 3rd Edition of the Little Biodiversity Finance Book).