Environmental compensation in the shadow of extractivism : A political ecology of biodiversity offsetting in Colombia

Crawford, Guy and Childs, John and Fraser, James (2021) Environmental compensation in the shadow of extractivism : A political ecology of biodiversity offsetting in Colombia. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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In the context of profound socio-ecological change that has come to define the present Anthropocene moment, a suite of voluntary and state-orchestrated environmental policies known as biodiversity offsetting have become increasingly widespread during the last decade. The allure of such schemes can be understood to lie in their purported ability to reconcile the historically conflictual relationship between economic development and environmental conservation. Policies of this ilk are designed to deliver the provision of ‘additional’ environmental gains, which are framed as balancing out the ecological degradation tied to economic growth. Based on secondary document analysis and semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders, this thesis explores the formulation, implementation, and regulation of a national system of biodiversity offsetting in the context of Colombia. In 2012, in the shadow of an extractivist based economy, the Colombian environment ministry sought to put in place a national framework organized around the notions of ‘no net loss’ to biodiversity and ‘ecological equivalence’ between loss and gain. Drawing on a conceptual framework broadly situated within the field of political ecology, this thesis examines the policy as a set of political, economic, ecological, and socio-cultural relations that conjoin to define the roll out of offsetting in one of the most biologically diverse nation states on Earth. Despite the intentions of an alliance of non-governmental organizations and formal state institutions involved in formulating the policy, concrete implementation with offsets has so far been extremely limited. In deploying insights from strategic-relational state theory, I argue that the formulation of the policy and its slow rate of implementation reflect the strategic manoeuvring of social forces based within and beyond formal state institutions, who seek to advance organizational interests within the framework of the policy process. Over the course of this thesis, I also explore the intellectual and cultural labour required to establish Colombian natures as equivalent. In examining the application of the discursive frames deployed during this process, I argue that Colombia’s specific agrarian political economy and lack of formalized land titles have also served to frustrate the realization of offsets on the ground. Finally, in contrast to existing analyses of biodiversity offsetting, which have largely explored such systems based on processes of privatization, I demonstrate how current implementation within the Colombian system is premised on a contrasting dynamic, where the realization of offsets is in part defined by the nationalization of private land, as regulated private firms move to buy up territory which then becomes the property of formal state institutions.

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08 Feb 2021 10:05
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05 Apr 2024 00:32