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Green Grabbing: “brown practices” in implementing global “green agendas”

Image: book cover Fairhead James, Leach Melissa, Scoones Ian (2012) Green Grabbing: a New Appropriation of Nature (Critical Agrarian Studies) 1st Edition

Recent studies explore numerous interconnections between implementing the 2030 Agenda, climate change politics, and green grabbing. 

“Green grabbing” is a phenomenon that embraces practices of private appropriation of land, water, genetic and natural resources, legitimized with the environmental protection ends, conservation objectives, achieving wider developmental goals such as food security, green and blue growth, reducing hunger (Dell ‘Angelo, 2019)

Green appropriation in most cases takes the form of “indirect grabbing” when various resources are legally accessed but managed in an unsustainable (Bonfanti, Jacur, 2016) or non-inclusive way. They often take place through large scale transnational investments in land and terrestrial resources, or international public finance to facilitate international funding for climate change mitigation and combating the wider societal crisis in developing countries. 

Some of such financial instruments such as “debt-for-nature” swaps allow private corporate interests, to take significant control of environmental conservation in developing countries. (UNCTAD, 2019).

Some commentators conclude that global green agendas aggravated the unprecedented take-over of farmland by financial sectors that is taking place since the world economic and financial crisis of 2008-2009 and became core perpetrators of the financialization of nature, created numerous opportunities for its commodification, and facilitated green grabs, whether linked to promoting certain activities for environmental and developmental ends or offsetting the negative impacts of climate change (Fairhead, Leach, 2019) Combined these trends have major implications for rural communities and food systems. (GRAIN, 2018)

Global green agendas and a rapid technological change unlocked multi-billion opportunities (WEF, 2016) for the private sector, led to the emergence of an array of new industries, new business models, and extended the green grabbing to new frontiers of commons, genetic and common-pool resources. Technological improvements in frontier digital technologies such as AI, BigData, developments in bioeconomy, which involve the large-scale production and use of biomass to substitute the fossil-based products and energy with biofuels, bio-plastics, new industrial chemicals and medicines (FOE, 2013), have started to produce an upstream impact on land use, ocean sustainability, biological diversity, the environment and human well-being (CBD, 2011) These trends drive complex spatial, social and political processes of inclusion, exclusion, alienation of agents such as small-scale producers, trade unions, fishing communities, and Indigenous people (Foley, Mather, 2018)

Green Grabbing reveals the fundamental problems of involving private capital in building, maintaining and delivering public goods. It results in a significant restructuring of the property rights institutions and economic production relations (Backhouse 2013; Barbesgaard, 2018); produces adverse impacts on the environment and human rights of local populations, undermines local food security, creates new challenges to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda. UNISD (2016) admitted that green technology policies often have an urban bias that neglects the rural poor. 

The examples of green grabbing are numerous. According to the studies by the United Nations Institute for Social Development (UNISD, 2016), some green economy infrastructural and renewable energy (hydro, biofuel) projects implemented in the Global South have led to large-scale “land grabbing”, the displacement of people, often involved violations of customary land rights and the rights of indigenous populations. In India, the government has promoted biofuel production (for clean fuel) and addressed social impacts by focusing on by-products of crops and cultivating non-food crops on marginal lands only, in order not to undermine food security. However, it neglected the fact that marginal lands were often used by rural populations, for example, in shifting cultivation, for fuelwood or medicinal plants. The use of marginal lands for biofuel production was thus perceived as massive land grabbing and hindered access to fuel for the rural poor. The pace, scale and the profoundness of the process of “green grabbing” call for innovative policy responses and new nexus approach in research. 

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