By Gift Briton

With over one million species of plants and animals at risk of extinction due to biodiversity loss, a newly released report reveals that taking into account the multiple values of nature in political and economic decisions may be vital in preserving biodiversity.

This is according to a report issued on by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) secretariat focusing on the assessment of Diverse Values and Valuation of nature, noting that 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.

“Biodiversity is being lost and nature’s contributions to people are being degraded faster now than at any other point in human history. This is largely because our current approach to political and economic decisions does not sufficiently account for the diversity of nature’s values. The information, analysis and tools offered by this report make an invaluable contribution 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.”  Ana María Salgar, Chair of IPBES, noted.

According to the report, most countries in the world focuses on short-term profits and economic growth, often excluding the consideration of multiple values of nature in policy decisions.

The authors further note that economic and political decisions have predominantly prioritized certain values of nature, particularly market-based instrumental values of nature, such as those associated with foods 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,” the report reads.

According to Prof. Unai Pascual (Spain/Switzerland), who co-chaired the Assessment with Prof. Patricia Balvanera (Mexico), Prof. Mike Christie (UK) and Dr. Brigitte Baptiste (Colombia),“With more than 50 valuation methods and approaches, there is no shortage of ways and tools to make visible the values of nature.”

“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.”

To help policymakers better understand the very different ways in which people conceive and value nature, the report provides a novel and comprehensive analysis of nature’s values. The analysis highlights how different worldviews and knowledge systems influence the ways people interact with and value nature.

Moreover, in order to make this analysis useful for decision-making, the authors’ present four general perspectives, which are, living from, living with, living in and living 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.

In addition, 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 while 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 Values Assessment provides decision-makers with concrete tools and methods to better understand the values that individuals and communities hold about nature. 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.” said Prof. Balvanera.

According to Prof. Christie, 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 be assessed, but it can also lead to 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, adding that the report provides guidance for combining these very diverse values.”

“Valuation is an explicit and intentional process. 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,” said Prof. Christie.

Dr. Baptiste acknowledges that recognizing and respecting the worldviews, values and traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities will allow policies to be more inclusive, which also translate into better outcomes for people and nature.

He adds that 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 found out 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.

According to Dr. Balvanera, 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. According to him, this entails redefining ‘development’ and ‘good quality of life’ and recognizing the multiple ways people relate to each other and to the natural world.

Going by the report, there are four values-centred leverage points that can help create the conditions for the transformative change necessary for more sustainable and just futures including recognizing the diverse values of nature, embedding valuation into decision-making, reforming policies and regulations to internalize nature’s values as well as shifting underlying societal norms and goals to align with global sustainability and justice objectives.

“Our analysis shows that various pathways can contribute to achieve just and sustainable futures. The report pays specific attention to future pathways related to green economy, de-growth, earth stewardship, and nature protection.” added Prof. Pascual.”

Among the other tools offered by the Report to strengthen the consideration of greater diversity of values of nature in decision-making includes 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.

According to Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Secretary United Nations Convention on Biological Biodiversity, “This report is timely and will help us better understand the different ways that people interact with and benefit from nature and help us to grasp the way we can measure these. Under Convention on Biological Biodiversity, this report will provide a strong basis for better policy designs at the national levels including mainstreaming national planning and economic policy within the broader context of national policies for sustainable development.”

Inger Andersen, Executive Director United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), also recognized the role of nature in sustaining all forms of life on earth. According to her, nature gives us food, medicine, raw materials, oxygen, climate regulation and so much more. However, its true values are often left out of decision making.

“Nature’s life support has been an externality that does not even make it on the ledger sheet and so it is lost in short term pursuit. If we do not value nature and account for it in decision making, it will continue to be lost. And that can only be a bad news to humanity. The report makes it clear that we must place science based valuation of nature at the heart of decision making.” She noted.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO’s) Director General, QU Dongyu, is among the leaders who acknowledged that a better understanding of nature’s multiple values and benefits is essential for effective decisions affecting the use and conservation of natural systems. Adding that, “This value assessment report offers a wide range of options, perspectives and approaches to help integrate nature’s diverse values into policy. Its findings will boost efforts to achieve sustainable goals to address the impacts of climate change crisis, biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation for better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life of all leaving no one behind.”