In a context of continued environmental degradation of agricultural landscapes, the concept of Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) has been attracting growing attention in both academic and policy circles. The main premise of this conservation approach is appealing: land users, who tend to be poorly, if at all, motivated to protect nature on their land, may be encouraged to do so through direct payments from ecosystem service buyers. The theoretical underpinnings of PES emanate from an environmental externality framework, in which market failures are considered the root cause of environmental degradation. While the PES concept is attractive at first sight, this article discusses some weaknesses in its conceptual foundation. It focuses on two important aspects of the market-based PES concept: the hidden political ambiguities of the externality framework and the risk that PES, especially if user-funded, may perpetuate and deepen the regressive financing of global commons by poor local communities.