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Is Debt-for-Nature Swap a Hoax?, by Freedom Chimereze


Is Debt-for-Nature Swap a Hoax?, by Freedom Chimereze

Valuing nature in equivalent terms to a country’s debt is a complex and multidisciplinary challenge which questions the intergenerational equity and the legacy we leave for future generations.


Debt-for-nature swaps are financial transactions in which a portion of a developing country’s foreign debt is forgiven or reduced in exchange for local investments in environmental conservation measures.

In 1867, the United States, under the leadership of U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward, expressed interest in acquiring Alaska. Negotiations between Russia and the United States led to the signing of the Treaty of Cession of Alaska on March 30, 1867. Effectively, the United States purchased Alaska from Russia for $7.5 million.

Russia received cash in exchange for Alaska and, naturally, parted with a valuable asset. The sum of $7.5 million was a substantial amount in 1867, suggesting that Russia may have sold Alaska at an advantageous price. Today, Alaska is estimated to have billions in oil and gas reserves, along with significant tourism revenues.

That’s not all.

Florida Purchase, 1819:
The Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 saw Spain ceding Florida to the United States. In return, the U.S. renounced its claims to Texas. The value of the Florida territory and the treaty’s terms have been debated over the years.

Manhattan Purchase, 1626:
In 1626, the Dutch purchased Manhattan Island (present-day New York City) from the Lenape Native Americans for trade goods valued at around 60 Dutch guilders, an amount worth ~$1,143 U.S. dollars as of 2020. This transaction is often referred to as the “sale of Manhattan” and has been the subject of historical debate regarding the fairness of the purchase.

So, is Debt-for-Nature Swap a Hoax?

Are we at risk of overlooking the non-market values of nature, such as spiritual, cultural, and aesthetic values, by focusing solely on economic metrics?

How do traditional and indigenous worldviews and values align with or diverge from Western economic approaches to valuing nature, and how might these differences impact the practice?

Is it ethically sound to place a monetary value on nature, given its intrinsic value and the potential for exploitation or commodification?

How do we account for the subjectivity in assigning economic values to natural assets, especially when different stakeholders may have conflicting interests and perspectives?

Debt-for-nature swaps may prioritize short-term debt relief over addressing the root causes of environmental challenges, potentially leading to temporary solutions that do not ensure long-term sustainability.

Our planet’s worth cannot be measured in gold or dollars; its true riches are found in the harmony of ecosystems and the songs of wild creatures.

Conservation is not a choice!
It is a shared destiny with nature.

A world where women and children never go to bed hungry, is possible.
This is The Green Mandate

Freedom Chimereze writes from Enugu State.

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