Humans must value nature as well as profits to survive, says UN report

Taking into account all the benefits that nature offers humans and redefining what it means to have a “good quality of life” is essential to living sustainably on Earth, according to a four-year assessment by 82 leading scientists.

The market’s focus on short-term profits and economic growth meant that the wider benefits of nature were ignored, leading to bad decisions that reduced people’s well-being and contributed to climatic and natural crises, according to a UN report. To achieve sustainable development, qualitative approaches must be integrated into decision-making.

This means properly valuing the spiritual, cultural and emotional values ​​that nature brings to people, according to the report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (Ipbes). The assessment includes over 13,000 references, including scholarly articles and Indigenous and local information sources. It was produced in collaboration with experts in the social, economic and human sciences.

The report builds on the Dasgupta study, which found the planet was at “extreme risk” due to the economy’s failure to account for the true value of nature. Integrating diverse worldviews and knowledge systems will be key to leading to a more sustainable future, the report says.

Professor Unai Pascual, from the Basque Center for Climate Change, who co-chaired the assessment on the various values ​​and the assessment of nature, said: “There has been a dominant way of making decisions based on things that seem simpler, super-quantitative, and more scientific, and we say, “No, that’s not good science. There are a lot of social sciences and humanities, and other knowledge systems, that can also tell us how to do things.

The review highlights four general perspectives that should be considered; “to live from nature” which refers to its ability to provide for our needs such as food and material goods; “living with nature”, which is the right of non-human life to thrive; “living in nature” which refers to people’s right to a sense of belonging and identity, and finally, “living like nature”, which treats the world as a spiritual part of being human.

“The type and quality of insights that valuation studies can produce largely depends on how, why, and by whom the valuation is designed and applied,” says Professor Mike Christie, of the School of Business at Aberystwyth University. “This influences who and what values ​​of nature would be recognized in decisions, and how equitably the benefits and burdens of those decisions would be distributed.”

There are 50 different methods and approaches to making the value of nature visible in decisions, but researchers found that how stakeholders value nature was only considered in 2% of studies. Moving forward, many tools are available to make nature’s values ​​visible and these need to be implemented, according to the authors. One way of working is to use citizens’ assemblies, which reflect the sociology of a given people and give them the opportunity to discuss their values, interests and understanding. These take place at the national level in a number of countries.

A successful example is how the Canadian Nuclear Waste Management Society incorporated Indigenous perspectives into planning, which involved involving decision makers in ceremonies and “discovering” the land together. Another was the Indian government’s decision not to mine near the Niyamgiri mountain which is sacred to the Dongaria Kondh peoples. The intrinsic value of the site for rare species and its cultural and spiritual value for indigenous peoples were considered more valuable than the financial gains from its exploitation.

There are consequences of ignoring other values, such as environmental leaders being killed because they had land claims that were ignored, says Professor Patricia Balvanera, of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, who co-chaired the assessment. “Evidence shows that if local values ​​are taken into account from the outset, people will feel part of the project and will be more in agreement with what has been agreed… This means redefining ‘development’ and the ‘good quality of life’ and to recognize the multiple ways in which people relate to each other and to the natural world,” she says.

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The assessment was endorsed by representatives of 139 countries in the German city of Bonn. “Delegates who endorsed this report say it’s a game-changer,” says Pascual. “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.

Ipbes, which is the biodiversity equivalent of the IPCC, was created to provide governments around the world with scientific advice on how to protect nature. Last week it published another report which found that wild species support half of 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 the goals for the next decade for nature, and the authors say the results should make a valuable contribution to the process. Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, CBD Executive Secretary, said: “I applaud the work of all the experts at Ipbes on this and look forward to its active use by all parties and stakeholders at the convention.”

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