Valuing nature through the prism of economic growth and profit puts it at risk, says assessment

An aerial view of deforestation due to logging in Thailand. richcarey/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Is market-based decision-making compatible with a sustainable relationship between man and nature?

A new assessment of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) found that decisions about nature are made based on a narrow range of values ​​that precipitate biodiversity loss.

“Biodiversity is disappearing and nature’s contributions to people are degrading faster now [than] at any other time in human history”, President of the IPBES Ana Maria Hernandez Salgar said in a statement. “This is largely because our current approach to political and economic decisions does not sufficiently take into account the diversity of nature’s values.”

The IPBES assessment report on the diverse conceptualization of the multiple values ​​of nature and its benefits was endorsed on Saturday by representatives of the organization’s 139 member states. The approval came days after IPBES – which is considered the IPCC for biodiversity – endorsed another report showing how much humanity depends on wildlife. The most recent report is the work of four years and 82 experts from around the world. It follows a 2019 IPBES report warning that one million species are at risk of extinction, in part due to economic growth. It also comes ahead of the upcoming meeting of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal, Canada, which will decide on biodiversity targets for the next decade.

The assessment concluded that a major contributor to the multiple crises to which our environment are the values ​​decision makers use to determine how to engage with nature, according to the summary for decision makers. Primarily, political and economic leaders have valued nature according to a market-based system that focuses on economic growth or short-term profits. This worldview emphasizes indicators such as gross domestic product and ignores both how nature improves the quality of life and the risk of depletion of natural resources and biodiversity.

However, the report also revealed that it need not be so. There are over 50 different “valuation methods” that can be used to assign a value to nature and guide decision-making.

“For too long, governments have viewed nature primarily through the prism of short-term economic growth, ignoring its myriad other values, from providing the food we eat and preventing floods to contributing to the environment. cultural identity,” said WWF International Head of Global Advocacy. Claire Blanchard said in a statement supporting the new report. “This report should be a wake-up call: unless leaders begin to consider the multiple values ​​of nature in their political and economic decisions, the very natural systems on which we all depend will continue to decline and undermine our economies. .

The report found that there are four general perspectives from which people approach nature, according to the press release:

  1. Living from Nature focuses on how nature can support human life.
  2. Living with Nature focuses on the rights of non-human life.
  3. Living in nature focuses on the relationship between people, place and identity.
  4. Living Like Nature focuses on a sense of togetherness and unity between people and their environment.

The assessment focused specifically on studies that seek to value nature in different ways. He found that the number of so-called evaluation studies had increased by more than 10% over the past 40 years. However, only 5% of them had been used to inform policy decisions, according to WWF. Of the evaluation studies reviewed between 2010 and 2020, 65% focused on improving the state of nature, 31% on improving people’s quality of life and 4% on social justice, according to the press release.

There is room for improvement in the studies themselves, according to the assessment.

“Only 2% of the more than 1,000 studies reviewed consult stakeholders on the results of the nature assessment and only 1% of the studies involve stakeholders at every stage of the nature assessment process. What is missing is the use of valuation methods to address power asymmetries between stakeholders and to seamlessly integrate the diverse values ​​of nature into policy-making,” said Prof. Unai Pascual, evaluation co-chair, in the press release.

Several values ​​can align with a sustainable future, including stewardship, unity, justice, and accountability. There are also different ways forward that can create a more equitable and sustainable future, including ‘degrowth’, ‘green economy’, ‘earth stewardship’ and ‘nature conservation’.

Ultimately, the authors of the assessment outlined four steps towards a future that protects biodiversity:

  1. Recognize the multiple values ​​of nature.
  2. Use them to make decisions.
  3. Modify existing policies to incorporate nature values.
  4. Transforming the priorities of today’s society to create a more just and sustainable future.

“Delegates who endorsed this report say it is a game-changer,” Pascal told the Guardian. “They realize that we’ve gone through a way of understanding nature in too narrow a sense, and that’s brought us to this situation where we’re living on a planet with interconnected crises…this [report] is one of many ingredients that will be needed to convince very powerful stakeholders and decision-makers to start changing the way they deal with nature.

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