Payment for ecosystem services (PES) is becoming a dominant approach in generating political and societal support for conservation of globally important biodiversity. PES assumes that corporate actors and policymakers will be more likely to support environmental action if convinced of the economic rationale of doing so. However, by process-tracing two biodiversity projects funded by the Global Environment Facility in Jamaica and Mexico, I argue that linking biodiversity conservation to neoliberal economics reifies a short-term, exploitative view of the environment. Economic calculations about biodiversity will not persuade corporate actors and policymakers to abandon short-term exploitation. Moreover, commodifying nature under the neoliberal paradigm undermines other perspectives on the value of nature, notably those rooted in cultural, historic, subsistence and aesthetic paradigms. In turn, this restricts the ability of populations not integrated into major economic markets to participate in governance and influence what “effective” regime implementation looks like at the local level.

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Author notes

* I thank Peter Haas, Jane Fountain, David Mednicoff, Craig Thomas, James Boyce, Mick Day, Diana McCauley, and three anonymous reviewers for their comments and feedback on earlier drafts of this article. This research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (SES-0648473).