Finance as a response to environmental crises? Conference Day 1

November 29- 1 Dec

(You can read more about the conference here)

“A multivalent concern for all living things” (from Vera Ehrenstein’s paper titled: Geopolitics of carbon sinks or: the negotiation of REDD+)

I am grateful to the organizers for allowing me to participate in this closed workshop as a (very) early researcher. As most of my blog followers know, I recently began a PhD in accounting for extinction using ecolinguistics analysis to examine integrated reports of multinational companies. Some of the questions I hope to answer have to do with company responsibility towards animals, particularly insects. Looking at the way accounting constructs reality, the ‘things’ they count or take into account and the motivations for the quantification and valuation of animals is at the core of my interest.

This conference is particularly relevant to my PhD project. Taking place in Hamburg, with the collaboration of the University of Hamburg and L’ecole Des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Social, three days of critical analysis of the ‘economicization’ of carbon emissions and biodiversity are dedicated to the discussion of finance, accounting and economic and the impact on the environment. Thanks to CliSAP: Cluster of Excellence “Integrated Climate System Analysis and Prediction”, a long term research program funded by German Science Foundation, from physics to ethnology: interrelations of climate change and social change are examined in order to drive change in the way reality is constructed vis-à-vis the fictionalization of environmental crises.

It is wonderful to witness a trend in conferences aligning behaviour to ethos (perhaps only in the field of sustainability?). After my report on the Academia, Discourse and Activism, this conference followed what the field of sustainability preaches and took great concern in providing reusable cups and glasses and discouraging waste (of refreshments). After an introductory round, we heard about the organisers’ projects:



Eve Chiapello, from EHESS, discussed her comparative research that examines how nowadays no public policy can be carried out without being financialized that leads her to pose the question: are we going towards a new regime of regulation? There is a concern that we need to have not only public financing but also private finance. Between 1992 – 2006 sustainable development, and the development of Corporate Social Responsibility Investment grew. As a result, we can see today that there is a trend to involve business with civil society.  The beginning of 2000s sees a move for business to internalize externalities, attract private money, and become socially responsible. An example is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation taking over more and more of the UN. However, financial actors have a legitimacy problem because they are seen as responsible for the 2006 financial crisis.

After 2006, between 2009-2015 there is an increase in reporting sustainable development goals (COP21). During the financialization of financial actors, they become bigger and bigger, not regulated and more powerful. After the financial crisis, new regulation is made from financial actors’ point of view. It is done for financial actors’ benefit, not in terms of social and environmental responsibility. This reinforces their legitimacy.

Because of this financialization of public policies, now money is spent on convincing investors to invest with incentives such as tax returns, tax deductions, risk mitigation. Eve claims that this process will not produce any systemic change and only add to increase their legitimacy.

The question poses by Eve is how do we move from “something valuable” forest.jpg to something “investable” images.jpg ?

How do we move from a ‘resource’ that is of no interest to something we can protect?


Anita Engels comes from the analysis of climate change and society. Of course, climate change is not the only environmental crisis, and it can be framed as a social problem. In fact, in one of our journal clubs the other week (we have one every week at the Grantham Centre), we discussed a paper on sustainability and the different definitions of sustainability that circulate out there.  One of my comments was that climate change was a social problem because it arises, in part from human behaviour.

Anita continues and highlights the urgency of climate change in that The Paris Agreement is the global recognition of the fact that there is a ‘carbon crisis’. There is a need to achieve a complete decarbonization in this century and we need huge investment and divestment in order to achieve this goal.  Anita presents several possible solutions:

1) Carbon pricing – the idea is to put a price on carbon emission, turning them into a cost, turning this into an investment opportunity. Recently in public debates there has been a strong rational for a uniform carbon price that is high enough to channel the investment flow away from carbon based industries. Although several attempts at using this have had partial success, Anita claims it is too urgent to drop this solution. Could finance find a way to realise this?

2) A second example is from Local Mitigation Activities in Lokstedt, an area of Hamburg where a transdisciplinary project aims to mitigate carbon emissions on a local level.  This is a solution called Mieterstrom = Tenants’ sub-metered electricity supply – creating  a mini grid of locally produced electricity in a shared living space that tries to move away from the national grid. Of course this will need to be invested in it and often changes the relationships between the actors involved. The social constellations involved as a rise of issues that will need to be investigated.

3) The third example comes from China and carbon finance. China is attempting to use financialisation to support its carbon emissions investments. However, China is still heavily based in state investment and the government has a very strong role in how investment is managed. What are the consequences of this?

How and under which conditions can finance provide solutions to environmental crises? What are the actors, types of cooperation, role of devices, legal and ideological aspects involved?

In the end the change, Eva Chiapello suggest, it is important to engage the powerful (companies, corporations, multinationals) in the solutions. In addition, social actors are fluid, they do not only remain within the financial sector but actors move between the financial sector to NGOs, bringing their transferable skills and so the financialization is not limited to the financial and economic sectors. Their worldview and calculations then influence the way NGOs act. This is a phenomena we can see in WWF for example, where there is a clear ‘revolving door’ effect, where people from finance and economy backgrounds ‘transfer’ to work in the NGO sector, bringing with them their mode of conceptualization.


Next we hear from Dr Jenny Goldstein (Cornell University) about her project titled: Mobilising investment in the ‘new’ forest-landscape restoration economy: Insights from Indonesia.  The project investigates why have no peat restoration projects been financed through private sector investment. This is a very interesting project that addresses not only environmental issues but also social and indigenous communities who suffer as a result of the restoration economy.


Claudia Vitel’s project takes place in the Brazilian Amazon, in the region of Cacoal, specifically examining deforestation. Due to the rapid destruction of tropical forests due to cattle-ranching, used as a development program instilled by the government in the 70s and 80s in order to grow the economy.  Claudia questions the responsibility, accountability, and legitimacy of a local REDD+ project from the perspective of evaluating the environmental performance of a financial instrument. # Critical analysis of a local indigenous voluntary REDD+ attempts to inquire who is responsible and accountable for causing the implied environmental problem? Who takes responsibility to resolve the problem?

Some remedial measures have been instilled: reduction of incentives, private stakeholders commitments, creating extensive protected areas (43% of the Legal Amazon territory).  REDD+ is not at all a simple marketing tool within a logic of supply and demand, on the contrary, it needs strong institutionalization, governance, standards that have to be met, legal acceptance and building a network of stakeholders.  The most important point Claudia mentions at the end is that we as consumers also have to change our behaviour, which is the aim of the conference as well.

Just an observation to finish, relating it to my own area of interest (animals!) What strikes me throughout today is the way ‘landscape’ and ‘land’ is talked about. Speaking of peat land, Savannahs, forests, etc, is spoken about in ’empty’ terms, where animals (tomorrow!) and their habitats are divided both in fictionalization and perhaps in the way research is constructed, either research focuses on the landscape or animals.

Stay tuned for another fascinating day’s report tomorrow!




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