By Chris Lang
Prince Charles recently launched a new campaign calling for corporations to lead the fight against the environmental crisis. Charles is asking polluting industry to sign up to his Terra Carta and promise to put climate at the centre of their plans. It is yet another voluntary commitment created for the benefit of corporations.
When polluting corporations fail to “create sustainable industries”, fail to leverage “global innovation centers, moonshot and design thinking”, and fail to minimise “waste and the exploitation of scarce natural resources”, nothing will happen. It’s just another distraction from the need for government regulation to prevent corporations from ripping the planet to shreds.
Prince Charles’ “Terra Carta” aims to “provide an integrated roadmap towards an inspiring, inclusive, equitable, prosperous and sustainable future for the sake of present and future generations; one that will harness the power of Nature combined with the transformative power, innovation and resources of the private sector.”
In other words, it’s little more than wishful thinking with a smattering of nature based false solutions thrown in for good measure.
Writing on Common Dreams, Ben Price of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund describes the Terra Carta as “like satire”. He adds, “this manifesto is all about industry and extraction and consumerism ‘leading the way.’ The exact opposite of what is needed.”
The Terra Carta is part of Prince Charles’ Sustainable Markets Initiative, which is supported by four banks (Bank of America, HSBC, NatWest, Coutts), two of the big four accounting firms (EY and KPMG), a financial markets infrastructure and data provider (Refinitiv), a PR firm (Freuds), a consulting firm (Manyone), and one of the biggest oil companies in the world (BP).
No surprises, then, that this lot are keen to promote anything that distracts from government regulation.
The Wyss Foundation and the Guardian (again…)
The Guardian reported positively on the launch of the Terra Carta. Patrick Greenfield who covers biodiversity and the environment at the Guardian writes that:
Companies supporting the launch of the Terra Carta include BlackRock, Bank of America and HSBC. While some signatories are big investors or financiers for the fossil fuel industry and sectors linked to biodiversity loss, the commitments signal an intention to transition to a low-carbon future that also backs biodiversity restoration.
Greenfield seems to believe that we can trust corporations. He could have taken a closer look at BlackRock’s record. BlackRock has made a “net zero” pledge, but as Gaurav Madan of Friends of the Earth points out,
“This doesn’t rise to the visionary leadership we need from the world’s largest investor in coal, oil and gas, and deforestation-linked commodities.”
Two days after the article praising Prince Charles’ Terra Carta initiative, the Guardian‘s financial reporter, Jasper Jolly, reported that one year after promising to sell most of its shares in companies linked to coal, BlackRock still holds investments worth US$85 billion in coal companies.
The Terra Carta specifically mentions massively increasing the area of protected areas – with no mention of the impacts this could have on the people currently living in the areas to be protected. One of the ways that Terra Carta hopes to meet its aim is by,
Supporting the protection and restoration of a minimum of 30% of biodiversity, on land and below water, by 2030 and 50% by 2050.
The Guardian‘s “The age of extinction” series is funded by the Wyss Foundation, which is running a US$1 billion campaign aimed at putting 30% of the earth into protected areas. Just maybe, the Wyss Foundation’s sponsorship explains the Guardian‘s positive coverage of Prince Charles’ Terra Carta.
In September 2020, the Minority Rights Group International, Rainforest Foundation UK, and Survival International sent an open letter to the Convention on Biodiversity expressing their concerns about the proposed 30% target for protected areas. The letter has now been signed by 200 NGOs and experts.
Terra Carta is not a win for nature, people and planet
Amber Huff is a social anthropologist and political ecologist. She is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies. She has written a great opinion piece on the Institute of Development Studies website, titled: “Why the ‘Terra Carta’ is not the win for nature, people and planet it claims to be”.
Huff highlights the fundamental problem with initiatives like the Terra Carta:
Big commitments like the Terra Carta and the Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI) that produced it follow a ‘market environmentalist’ approach to understanding and addressing environmental problems. This approach is rooted in environmental economics and reflects an extreme, reductive and economistic worldview, which researcher Kathleen McAfee calls a ‘world-as-market’ paradigm. Things like ‘nature’, ‘sustainability’ and even ‘crisis’ are defined and assessed in ways that would seem foreign or even perverse to most people concerned with the state of the environment. Rather than conceptualizing nature as most people do – in aesthetic, eco-centric or cultural values, market environmentalist ideology considers ‘nature’ as a stock of capital, with ecosystems as providers of ‘services’ that can be measured in and managed as a balance of quantified ‘impacts’. In this framework, environmental problems are driven by ‘market failures’ and only indirectly by pollution, harmful emissions, or clear-cutting forests.
Initiatives like the Terra Carta can drive or intensify environmental damage, Huff writes. They can also worsen inequalities, exclude the less powerful from debates, and have serious impacts on the livelihoods of politically and economically marginalised people.
As an example of the impacts of green initiatives, Huff points out that 60% of the EU’s renewable energy now comes from biomass. Burning wood pellets instead of coal in power plants has driven large-scale forest loss in Estonia and Latvia – as the Guardian recently reported in detail. 15,000 hectares of protected forests have been destroyed in Estonia for wood pellets.
Huff writes about “green sacrifice zones”. These are the places like Baotou, in Inner Mongolia, where mining for rare earth minerals has left a “hell on Earth“. Rare earth minerals are needed to make wind turbines, solar panels, and electric cars.
Huff also writes about the conservation industry’s long history of violent conservation and green grabbing. She gives the example of the Rio Tinto QMM ilmenite mine in Madagascar. World Rainforest Movement calls this a “double land grab”: first the mining activities that displaced hundreds of farmers, fishers, and pastoralists; then a biodiversity offsetting forest conservation project that has affected the livelihoods of villagers in Antsotso about 60 kilometres from the mine.
Huff concludes that,
The Terra Carta is just one example of the sorts of environmental initiatives that make big, depoliticized promises of ‘green’ growth and global ‘transformation’ to sustainability. But this politics is anything but neutral. Turning crises into new growth markets will not resolve them; it can only hide them, displace them, and shift the consequences in time. ‘Sustainability’ is not a trick on a flat balance sheet, and we should not expect it to be delivered magically through the same actors, industries and value relations that are responsible for driving harmful processes of globalization. Rather, we should put questions of justice front and center, critically examine dominant and dominating institutions and discourses, their internal logics and the forms of knowledge and value that they privilege. How do they shape the field of who wins, who loses, and whose voices and interests are prioritized or undermined in the process – who gets to decide our collective futures?