A new report released by World Bank on May 10 suggests that Africa can use its abundance of natural resources, such as minerals, oil, gas and rare metals, to catapult itself to new levels of prosperity.
According to the report, titled “Africa’s Resource Future: Harnessing Natural Resources for Economic Transformation during the Low-Carbon Transition,” African governments have the opportunity to increase their revenue from natural assets twofold by embracing a comprehensive set of progressive legislation and policies, and by taxing their natural resources to maximize financial gains.
“Africa has the potential to more than double revenues from natural resources,” World Bank stated on Twitter.
Similarly in the U.S., a new kind of company is pushing a plan to profit from what they call “nature’s economy.” Intrinsic Exchange Group (IEG) partnered with the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to create a special listing for “Natural Asset Company” (NAC) equities, which will allow the public to buy and sell shares.
Douglas Eger, IEG’s CEO, claims the company will transform the industrial economy. “This new asset class on the NYSE will create a virtuous cycle of investment in nature that will help finance sustainable development for communities, companies and countries,” Eger said in a press release. “Together, IEG and the NYSE will enable investors to access nature’s store of wealth and transform our industrial economy into one that is more equitable.”
However, the subtext of these NACs is that they hold the rights to public lands, some of which are purchased from public land trusts. Corporations who fit into the NAC classification get to maintain, manage and develop the natural resources on a given piece of land.
Critics suggest that this is an attempt to generate artificial economic value to boost the federal balance sheet. This would allow the government to borrow against the assets without appearing to increase the nation’s debt. “It’s effectively a fast track to commodifying nature’s natural resources,” said Alliance for Natural Health employees Meleni Aldridge and Melissa Smith in an op-ed. “Less about protecting nature and more about making money through ‘Nature’s Economy’ — which has been attributed a tantalising price tag.”
According to Aldridge and Smith, NACs can be described as real estate agents for Mother Nature. “Imagine a situation where a company is able to pick an area of nature, assign it a price, disenfranchise any prior claimants, take ownership and then sell pieces of that land/lake/ocean/mountain etc. to institutional shareholders — specifically, the multinational corporations who may have funded the NAC in the first place.”
According to Mark Wilson, of the Center for Sustainable Development at Uppsala University in Sweden, the nature’s economy fails to address five fundamental problems that will actually increase environmental degradation and cause greater social inequity. Those problems are that ecosystem services are inherently difficult to price; the consideration of the rebound effect is insufficient; primacy of economics over the environment is ensured; markets offer little protection for the poorest people; and existing market mechanisms aimed at safeguarding the environment have not succeeded.
The Biden Administration has begun quantifying and valuing NACs for the purpose of adding them to the federal balance sheet. The 30×30 initiative, the international agenda to protect 30% of the world’s land and oceans, is a public relations campaign and regulatory tool the Biden Administration is using to gain the private lands and resources that will become the natural asset base. The 2022 “America the Beautiful” report ties the creation of this new economy to the 30×30 agenda.