The report found more than 50 methods and approaches exist to make visible the diverse values of nature. Photo: pixabay

Global biodiversity crisis is driven by narrow valuation of nature: Study

Focus on short term profits and economic growth leads to the exclusion of multiple values of nature in policy decisions, says a new report

A new report released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) pointed out important opportunities to address the way nature is undervalued in political and economic decisions, which is currently driving the global biodiversity crisis.

The Assessment Report on the ‘Diverse Values and Valuation of Nature’ was prepared over four years by 82 top scientists from 139 member states of IPBES9. The report found that policy decisions often exclude the consideration of multiple values of nature and there is a dominant global focus on short-term profits and economic growth.

Change of approach

“Valuation [of nature] 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,” said professor Mike Christie (UK), who co-chaired the assessment. This influences whose and which values of nature would be recognised in decisions, and how fairly the benefits and burdens of these decisions would be distributed.

The report shared guidelines on how to enhance the quality of valuation of nature by taking into account relevance, robustness and resource requirements of different valuation methods, showing how different types of values can be measured using different valuation methods and indicators. 

For example, a development project can yield economic benefits and jobs, but simultaneously 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. To understand the holistic cost and impact of the development project, it is crucial to assess values of nature impacted here.  “The report provides guidance for combining these very diverse values,” says professor Patricia Balvanera, who also co-chaired the assessment. 

Four values-centred ‘leverage points’ have been identified that can help create the conditions for the transformative change necessary for more sustainable and just futures: 

• Recognising the diverse values of nature
• Embedding valuation into decision-making 
• Reforming policies and regulations to internalise nature’s values 
• Shifting underlying societal norms and goals to align with global sustainability and justice objectives

There are a number of deeply held values that can be aligned with sustainability, emphasising principles like unity, responsibility, stewardship and justice, both towards other people and towards nature. 

The values assessment’s typology highlights key concepts and their inter-relationships to understand the diverse values of nature.. The figure centres on potential foci of value (e.g., agroecosystems, biodiversity, cities, rivers) and concentric circles illustrate different value types and dimensions (worldviews, broad and specific values, nature’s contributions to people (NCP) and value indicators). Life frames are not mutually exclusive; individuals or groups can hold multiple frames. Metaphorically, they are light beams that cut across value categories. Examples are highlighted of some values that might be given prominence in the context of a freshwater ecosystem

“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 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.” 

These recommendations stand in stark contrast with the Star Rating system initiated by the The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in India earlier this year,  wherein the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) of various states would be scored and ranked based on the amount of time they take for clearing proposals. Instead of adopting a holistic approach to evaluate a project and value nature, states are being rewarded for granting clearances in the least possible time along with incessant efforts to dilute environmental regulatory regime. 

Being inclusive of stakeholders

“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,” reveals professor Unai Pascual, another co-chair. There’s a lack of use of valuation methods to tackle power asymmetries among stakeholders, and to transparently embed the diverse values of nature into policymaking. 

Activists, environmentalists and indigenous communities  in India have often faced the brunt of authorities for raising their concern against unsustainable projects and for questioning authorities.

“Recognising 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 Baptiste. The report provided a comprehensive typology of nature’s values that highlights how different worldviews and knowledge systems influence the ways people interact with and value nature.  

Four general perspectives are presented in the report to assist the decision making process. These are: living from, with, in and as nature. Living from nature emphasises 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.

Such Values Assessment provides decision-makers with concrete tools and methods to better understand the values that individuals and communities hold about nature.

The report found more than 50 methods and approaches exist to make visible the diverse values of nature. “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,” says Ana María Hernández Salgar, Chair of IPBES.