Taking into account all the benefits that nature offers to people and redefining what it means to have a “good quality of life” is key to sustainable life on earth, according to a four-year assessment by 82 leading scientists.
A market-based focus on near-term gains and economic growth means nature’s broader benefits have been ignored, leading to bad decisions that have hurt people’s well-being and contributed to climate and natural crises, according to a UN report. In order to achieve sustainable development, qualitative approaches must be included in decision-making.
According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (Ipbes) report, this means appreciating the spiritual, cultural and emotional values that nature brings to people. The assessment includes more than 13,000 references, including academic papers, as well as indigenous and local information sources. It was carried out in collaboration with experts from the social sciences, economics and humanities.
The report builds on the Dasgupta review, which found the planet is at “extreme risk” because the economy fails to take account of nature’s true value. Embracing different worldviews and knowledge systems will be key to a more sustainable future, the report says.
Prof Unai Pascual of the Basque Center for Climate Change, who co-led the assessment on the different values and the assessment of nature, said: “There was a prevailing way of making decisions based on things that were simpler, super-quantitative, and more scientific , and we say, ‘No, that’s not good science.’ There are many social sciences, humanities and other systems of knowledge that can also tell us how to do things.”
The review highlights four general perspectives that should be considered; “living on nature,” which refers to its ability to provide us with our needs such as food and material goods; “living with nature” is the right of non-human life to flourish; ‘living in nature’, which refers to people’s right to place and identity, and finally ‘living as nature’, which treats the world as a spiritual part of being human.
“The type and quality of information that assessment studies can provide depends largely on how, why and by whom the assessment is designed and applied,” says Prof Mike Christie of Aberystwyth University’s Business School. “This influences whose and which natural values are recognized in decisions and how fairly the benefits and burdens of these decisions are distributed.”
There are 50 different methods and approaches to visualize the value of nature in decisions, but researchers found that the way stakeholders valued nature was only considered in 2% of studies. In the future, many tools are available to make nature’s values visible, and these must be implemented, say the authors. One way of working is to use town meetings, which reflect the sociology of a particular people and give them an opportunity to discuss their values, interests, and understandings. These take place at national level in a number of countries.
A successful example is how the Canadian Nuclear Waste Management Organization integrated indigenous perspectives into planning, where decision-makers attended ceremonies and “experienced” the land together. Another reason was the Indian government’s decision not to mine near Mount Niyamgiri, which is sacred to the Dongaria Kondh peoples. The site’s intrinsic value for rare species and its cultural and spiritual value to the indigenous people was considered more valuable than the financial gains from mining.
Disregarding other values has consequences, such as killing environmentalists because they had claims to land that were ignored, says Prof. Patricia Balvanera of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, who co-led the assessment. “The evidence shows that when local values are taken into account from the start, people feel part of the project and are more comfortable with what has been agreed… This involves redefining ‘development’ and ‘good quality of life’ and theirs Recognizing the diverse relationships people have with one another and with nature,” she says.
The assessment was approved by representatives from 139 countries in the German city of Bonn. “The delegates who endorsed this report say this is a game changer,” says Pascual. “They realize that we understand nature in too narrow a sense, and that’s what got us into this situation where we live on a planet with interconnected crises… this one [report] is one ingredient of many needed to persuade very powerful stakeholders and decision makers to change the way they treat nature.”
Ipbes, which corresponds to the IPCC for biodiversity, was founded to provide governments around the world with scientific advice on how to protect nature. Last week it released another report that found wild species support half the world’s population but their future use is threatened by overexploitation.
It comes ahead of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Cop15 in Montreal in December, which will set nature’s goals for the next decade, and the authors say the findings should make a valuable contribution to that process. CBD Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema said: “I applaud the work of all the Ipbes experts on this and look forward to active use by all parties and stakeholders of the Convention.”