Science-Policy Panel on Biodiversity calls for broadening concepts of nature’s value in sustainable development

Mushrooms in Ailao Mountain Nature Reserve, Yunnan Province, China.  Photo: ICRAF/Austin G. Smith

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Fungi in Ailao Mountain Nature Reserve, Yunnan Province, China. Photo: ICRAF/Austin G. Smith

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Mushrooms in Ailao Mountain Nature Reserve, Yunnan Province, China. Photo: ICRAF/Austin G. Smith

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) endorsed Summary for politicians from Diverse Values ​​and Nature Assessment Report on 9 July 2022 at its ninth plenary meeting in Bonn, Germany.

“It is essential to understand the different ways in which people value nature, as well as the different ways in which these values ​​can be measured,” said Ana María Hernández Salgar, Chair of IPBES. “The diversity of nature’s values ​​is often overlooked in policy decisions. Effective nature policy decisions must be informed by the wide range of values ​​and assessment methods, making the IPBES Values ​​Assessment a vital scientific resource for policy and action for nature and human well-being.”

The Evaluation report it comes at a critical time for life on Earth, which is rapidly losing its richness. The Report examines the tendency to attribute various values—including financial—to nature in an attempt to recognize the value of natural ecosystems to human well-being.

“The ‘priceless’ may have the highest value,” said Meine van Noordwijk, CIFOR-ICRAF Distinguished Research Fellow and one of 20 experts from around the world who served as “convening lead author” for Evaluation. “For some types of decisions and decision-makers, it is appropriate to use financial units to represent at least some of nature’s value to people, but there is always the risk that such claims will be misinterpreted.”

The Evaluation is a four-year journey, with many rounds of feedback, peer review and policy consultation. Detailed discussions by government delegates of Summarized report will increase the relevance of key messages for discussion at global and national levels.

The word “value” has many meanings, ranging from numbers to prices to basic principles that are not up for debate, he said. Assessing a tree, forest or agroforestry landscape means interacting with many perspectives. The more people involved, the wider the range of values ​​that matter and need to be taken into account.

This is of great importance because of the rapid and massive loss of species, which is not limited to a particular group of drivers in one or two places, but is global, pervasive and under-recognised.

Consumers, for example, currently do not pay a “true price” for products derived from nature (which, after all, are all products). Consumer and producer decisions based on a narrow set of market values ​​for nature are the hidden driving force behind the global biodiversity crisis. Bringing these values ​​out into the open can help people better understand the cost of over-exploitation and increase the likelihood of ensuring that values ​​– including the less tangible, non-financial ones – are honored and preserved.

Importantly, the way ‘conservation’ is currently framed often ignores the values ​​of the people who live in any given ‘conservation’ area, with usually a negative impact on the intended aims of the conservation area. These people must be recognized and respectfully included in decision-making processes.

Van Noordwijk noted that a review of biodiversity reports and country action plans produced in response to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity found that less than 25% of the world’s governments were on track to integrate values ​​of nature that exceed those recognized by markets. But he also noted that current evaluation studies rarely report their uptake in government policy and program decisions.

The six chapters of Evaluation report distinguish between “instrumental” values—which can be measured by the goods and services that nature, biodiversity, or well-functioning ecosystems provide to people—and “relational” values: those that can be equally important to people’s well-being in intangible ways .

The types of values ​​that are most effectively communicated depend on the audience and the context, meaning that communication is as important as the decisions that governments and others make about biodiversity conservation.

“Scientists and others interested in the problem need to help decision-makers understand so they can formulate policies and actions that will be effective,” he said. “In particular, drawing the attention of decision-makers to the fact that the people most dependent on an area deemed worthy of conservation should be fully included in decisions about it, and that intangible values ​​- such as climate regulation, maintaining healthy ecosystems and the water cycle—must be fully recognized.”

Van Noordwijk stressed that from the perspective of “forests, trees and agroforestry”, the international acceptance of Evaluation report can help pursue a dual strategy of 1) elucidating how ecosystem structures and functions contribute to instrumental values ​​for people at the local, national, and global levels, and thus the economic values ​​that are at risk if the current trend of biodiversity loss continued, and which can be partially recovered by “restoring” degraded landscapes; and 2) engaging with stakeholders to appreciate and recognize the different relational values ​​that matter to them.

“The latter can at least help to communicate more effectively,” he said, “not only in a language that people can understand, but in a language that speaks to their hearts.”

Examples abound around the world of conflicts that could be reduced or completely eradicated if these points were better understood.

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