Who should value nature? Interview with Thabit Jacob

Is valuing nature as natural capital the way to reduce environmental degradation or a dangerous distraction that will commodify the environment? Alongside debates on if we should value natural capital is another question that is very rarely asked: who should value nature?

This exclusive interview with Thabit Jacob is from the report Who should value nature? by Dario Kenner (Why Green Economy?) published by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) in December 2014. The report explores how different stakeholders value the environment (ranging from consultancies firms, academics, conservation NGOs to indigenous peoples) and the challenge of identifying who should be involved in valuation in developing countries. Read the report © ICAEW 2014


Thabit JacobInterview with Thabit Jacob, Co-organiser of the Green Economy in the South conference

Thabit Jacob teaches at the University of Dodoma in Tanzania which hosted the Green Economy in the South conference in July 2014

1) Explain why you think nature should/should not be valued?

Personally I don’t agree with the idea of putting price tag on nature. This idea as inspired by neo-liberal conservationists, will encourage commodification of natural resources and give much control of such resources to corporations and rich members of the society at the expenses of poor. Instead of advocating for market solutions to protect natural resources, we should strengthen local institutions and empower communities.

2) Who should be involved in valuing nature in your country? Who should not be involved?

Well, even though I’m not in favor of nature valuation, if my country was to jump on to this bandwagon, I would like to see involvement of some actors more than others. I’m against the recent practice where only private consultants (economists and financial experts) are more involved in nature valuation. The process will make more sense if indigenous communities and local institutions take a leading role in valuation (I believe most will reject). Tanzania is piloting REDD+ and the business of carbon offsets has left many communities frustrated. Members of academia can also play a significant role in valuation as opposed to consultants, representatives of international NGOs and corporate agencies. My only worry is that some academics can easily be bought by corporations.

3) How do you think different stakeholders will value nature?

Different actors will value nature with diverse motives. Companies will value nature with the motive to make super profits inspired by greedy nature of the corporate world. Indigenous people will consider intrinsic value of their relation with nature in aspects such spiritual values which are priceless and they will resist the idea of monetizing nature. Governments will be encouraged by the idea of factoring the wealth of natural assets into national accounting and they will encourage monetization to portray their richness beyond GDP as advocated by the Word Bank.

4) To make a successful business case to protect nature do you think a monetary value has to be placed on nature? Would a non-monetary value be as effective? 

Protecting nature by attaching market and monetary value is a wrong direction to go and will not serve the interest of biodiversity and the poor. Investing in nature protecting is crucial but it should be done in a manner that the dividends are enjoyed at the local level by local communities who are more attached to nature rather than corporations.    Non-monetary value would be effective if we will find a more innovative strategy to empower local actors and strengthen local institutions.

Find out more: Green Economy in the South conference, Tanzania, July 2014


Do you agree with Thabit Jacob? See what others think by clicking on the interviews below and join the debate by adding your comments.

One Response to Who should value nature? Interview with Thabit Jacob

  • I disagree with putting monetary value on nature, natural capital is priceless, But also commodifying it will affect the endownment and entitlement of natural capital to the poor. Rich would take control of natural capital, and this will increase livelihood vulnerability context (LVC) of the poor who in most cases rely on nature for their livelihoods.

    But also the sustainability of natural assets will be endangered due to the fact that, indigenous people will loose the sense of ownership of natural capital and will eventually not feel obliged to conserve the nature.

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