Author: CENSAT Agua Viva – @CensatAguaViva
August 28th, 2016
(Translated by Colin Kluender, CSN Volunteer Translator)
This formula briefly summarizes the essence of BanCO2, an initiative launched in 2013 through the efforts of Carlos Mario Zuluaga, director of CORNARE. It is a strategy to commodify nature that turns elements such as air and water into new titles of property, seizing them from the Earth, from the collective rights of the territory, and from their social function. This initiative, whose vision for 2020 is to make BanCO2 the main mechanism of payment for environmental services in Colombia, creates new forms of capital accumulation, now called “natural capital,” acquired by corporations in order to supposedly compensate for their excessive use, degradation, or contamination.
Money laundering is a crime; image laundering is a BanCO2 policy.
BanCO2 is being implemented through a supposed cooperation of rural families, based on support from regional corporations (at the moment 20) and from investments by companies such as ISAGEN, ECOPETROL, ARGUS, AngloGoldAshanti Colombia, EPM, Bancolombia and HMV Engineering, among others. These companies are listed as compensators; they pay a quota for their carbon emission, that is to say, they pay for the conservation of a particular “piece of environment” somewhere in Colombia, in order to be able to carry on with their extractive industries in another one.
For example, AngloGoldAshanti Colombia’s Gramalote project pays 15 rural families to protect 215 hectares of strategic ecosystem, while its project of gold extraction includes an area of more than 9,413 hectares, potentially affecting up to 50 thousand people. This way, the extractive industries have in BanCO2 a perfect platform to present themselves as defenders of the “environment”.
Another aspect to contemplate is the structural ties of Bancolombia to BanCO2. Bancolombia factors in not only as a compensating company, but also as a sponsoring organization that makes up part of the BanCO2 governmental committee. By the same token, Bancolombia is the financial organization that provides a cellular method of payment for each rural family, a service they hope to bring to 20 thousand new banking clients by the year 2020, all the way to the most remote corners of Colombia.
However, it seems that the systems of payment for environmental services, more so than mechanisms of defense and environmental protection, are new scenes of investment for the extractive industry and the financial sector. On one hand, it is an efficient mechanism for laundering the companies’ image, a marketing strategy that presents the corporations as being concerned about the atmosphere, meanwhile in other territories they produce enormous ecological disasters and innumerable environmental conflicts. Likewise, Bancolombia widely benefits in the financial deal, since at the same time that they provide banking services to the rural sectors whilst providing the payments, they also increase the number of users who utilize their services.
Under this logic, a territory essential for life ceases to be valued with regard to its cultural, sacred, medicinal or vital relationship with the communities, and a price is imposed; according to BanCO2, one ton of coal represents eight-thousand Colombian pesos. Territories are ultimately quoted by the quality of their carbon sequestration and environmental services. With it, nature is reduced to a merely economic function, then, is converted to natural capital. What BanCO2 really offers is a tool that allows to materialize the commodification of nature by means of payment for environmental services.
Corporate Territories for a Corporate Peace
The territories essential for the reproduction of life have been anthropic and historical constructions, whose result has been the product of relationships between nature and humans. For example, the deserts and tall mountains in the country have resulted from relationships that have implied degradation of the territories, but likewise protection by their same settlers, who recognize their importance for life, productive activities or spiritual and medicinal valuations, without being mediated by payment for their conservation. The implementation of BanCO2 opens a true dispute by rural territories, because although the proprietor does not change, that is to say, who has property rights, they do change in ownership upon modifying the person who has dominion over the territory. In this way, upon registering for BanCO2, when fulfillment of the use and care compromise is signed on behalf of the farmers, there is a change in who exerts power over the finality of use in a particular territory.
The rural family then loses their power of decision and grants it to the regional corporations, who are the ones in charge of controlling the fulfillment of said compromises, to the service of the market.
But, if the territories no longer are ours, then to whom will this expected territorial peace belong?
(This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.)