The way nature is valued in political and economic decisions is both a key driver of the global biodiversity crisis and a vital opportunity to address it, according to a four-year methodological assessment by 82 top scientists and experts from every region of the world.
The unprecedented decline of biodiversity and climate change are affecting ecosystem functioning and negatively impacting people’s quality of life. An important driver of the global decline of biodiversity is the unsustainable use of nature including persistent inequalities between and within countries, emanating from predominant political and economic decisions based on a narrow set of values (e.g., prioritizing nature’s values as traded in markets). Simultaneously, access to and distribution of the benefits from nature’s many contributions to people are highly inequitable.
Approved recently by representatives of the 139 member States of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the Assessment Report on the Diverse Values and Valuation of Nature finds that there is a dominant global focus on short-term profits and economic growth, often excluding the consideration of multiple values of nature in policy decisions.
Economic and political decisions have predominantly prioritised certain values of nature, particularly market-based instrumental values of nature, such as those associated with food produced intensively. Although often privileged in policymaking, these market values do not adequately reflect how changes in nature affect people’s quality of life. Furthermore, policymaking overlooks the many non-market values associated with nature’s contributions to people, such as climate regulation and cultural identity.
Yet, a consolidated global consensus reflected by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity has established a shared vision of prosperity for people and the planet. Achieving this vision depends on system-wide transformative change that incorporates the diverse values of nature aligned with the mutually supportive goals of justice and sustainability and its intertwined economic, social and environmental dimensions.
The diversity of nature’s values in policymaking can be advanced by considering a typology of nature's values that encompasses the richness of people's relationships with nature.
“With more than 50 valuation methods and approaches, there is no shortage of ways and tools to make visible the values of nature,” said Prof. Unai Pascual (Spain/Switzerland), who co-chaired the Assessment with Prof. Patricia Balvanera (Mexico), Prof. Mike Christie (UK) and Dr. Brigitte Baptiste (Colombia).
“Only 2% of the more than 1,000 studies reviewed consult stakeholders on valuation findings and only 1% of the studies involved stakeholders in every step of the process of valuing nature. What is in short supply is the use of valuation methods to tackle power asymmetries among stakeholders, and to transparently embed the diverse values of nature into policymaking,” he said.
Deeply cross-disciplinary and, based on a large review conducted by experts in social science, economics and the humanities, the Values Assessment draws on more than 13,000 references – including scientific papers and information sources from indigenous and local knowledge. It also builds directly on the 2019 IPBES Global Assessment, which identified the role of economic growth as a key driver of nature loss, with 1 million species of plants and animals now at risk of extinction.
To help policymakers better understand the very different ways in which people conceive and value nature, the Report provides a novel and comprehensive typology of nature’s values. The typology highlights how different worldviews and knowledge systems influence the ways people interact with and value nature.
In order to make this typology useful for decision-making, the authors present four general perspectives. These are: living from, with, in and as nature. Living from nature emphasizes nature’s capacity to provide resources for sustaining livelihoods, needs and wants of people, such as food and material goods.
Living with nature has a focus on life ‘other than human’ such as the intrinsic right of fish in a river to thrive independently of human needs. Living in nature refers to the importance of nature as the setting for people’s sense of place and identity. Living as nature sees the natural world as a physical, mental and spiritual part of oneself.
The report finds that the number of studies that value nature has increased on average by more than 10% per year over the last four decades. The most prominent focus of recent (2010-2020) valuation studies has been on improving the condition of nature (65% of valuation studies reviewed) and on improving people’s quality of life (31%), with just 4% focused on improving issues around social justice. 74% of valuation studies focused on instrumental values, with 20% focused on intrinsic values, and just 6% focused on relational values.
“The Values Assessment provides decision-makers with concrete tools and methods to better understand the values that individuals and communities hold about nature,” said Prof. Balvanera. “For example, it highlights five iterative steps to design valuation to fit the needs of different decision-making contexts. The report also provides guidelines on how to enhance the quality of valuation by taking into account relevance, robustness and resource requirements of different valuation methods.”
“Different types of values can be measured using different valuation methods and indicators. For example, a development project can yield economic benefits and jobs, for which instrumental values of nature can assessed, but it can also lead to the loss of species, associated with intrinsic values of nature, and the destruction of heritage sites important for cultural identity, thus affecting relational values of nature. The report provides guidance for combining these very diverse values.”
“Valuation is an explicit and intentional process,” said Prof. Christie. “The type and quality of information that valuation studies can produce largely depends on how, why and by whom valuation is designed and applied. This influences whose and which values of nature would be recognized in decisions, and how fairly the benefits and burdens of these decisions would be distributed.”
Despite the diversity of nature’s values, most policymaking approaches have prioritized a narrow set of values at the expense of both nature and society, as well as future generations, and have often ignored values associated to indigenous peoples and local communities’ worldviews.
“Recognizing and respecting the worldviews, values and traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities allows policies to be more inclusive, which also translates into better outcomes for people and nature”, said Dr. Baptiste. “Also, recognizing the role of women in the stewardship of nature and overcoming power asymmetries frequently related to gender status, can advance the inclusion of the diversity of values in decisions about nature.”
The report finds that there are a number of deeply held values that can be aligned with sustainability, emphasizing principles like unity, responsibility, stewardship and justice, both towards other people and towards nature. “Shifting decision-making towards the multiple values of nature is a really important part of the system-wide transformative change needed to address the current global biodiversity crisis,” said Dr. Balvanera. “This entails redefining ‘development’ and 'good quality of life’ and recognising the multiple ways people relate to each other and to the natural world.”
The authors identify four values-centred ‘leverage points’ that can help create the conditions for the transformative change necessary for more sustainable and just futures:
- Recognizing the diverse values of nature
- Embedding valuation into decision-making
- Reforming policies and regulations to internalize nature’s values
- Shifting underlying societal norms and goals to align with global sustainability and justice objectives
“Our analysis shows that various pathways can contribute to achieving just and sustainable futures. The report pays specific attention to future pathways related to ‘green economy’, ‘degrowth’, ‘Earth stewardship’, and ‘nature protection’. Although each pathway is underpinned by different values, they share principles aligned with sustainability,” added Prof. Pascual. “Pathways arising from diverse worldviews and knowledge systems, for instance, those associated with living well and other philosophies of good living, can also lead towards sustainability.”
Among the other tools offered by the Report to strengthen the consideration of greater diversity of values of nature in decision-making are: an exploration of entry points for valuation across all parts of the policy cycle; six interrelated values-centred guidelines to promote sustainability pathways; an evaluation of the potential of different environmental policy instruments to support transformative change towards more sustainable and just futures by representing diverse values, and a detailed illustration of the required capacities of decision makers to foster the consideration and embedding of the diverse values of nature into decisions.
“Biodiversity is being lost and nature’s contributions to people are being degraded faster now that at any other point in human history,” said Ana María Hernández Salgar, Chair of IPBES. “This is largely because our current approach to political and economic decisions does not sufficiently account for the diversity of nature’s values. The IPBES Values Assessment is being released at an extremely important time – just in advance of the expected agreement later this year by the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity on a new global biodiversity framework for the next decade. The information, analysis and tools offered by the Values Assessment make an invaluable contribution to that process, to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and to shifting all decisions towards better values-centred outcomes for people and the rest of nature.”
Often described as the “IPCC for biodiversity”, IPBES is an independent intergovernmental body comprising 139 member Governments. Established by Governments in 2012, it provides policymakers with objective scientific assessments about the state of knowledge regarding the planet’s biodiversity, ecosystems and the contributions they make to people, as well as the tools and methods to protect and sustainably use these vital natural assets.