The writers are Co-Chairs of the IPBES Assessment Report on the Diverse Values and Valuation of Nature.
– Nature has many values. A forest can be a cool and quiet place to retreat to when you need relaxation on a hot summer day. It is a habitat for many species. Trees also sequester and store carbon, reducing future impacts of climate change. But of course, the trees also have a monetary value if they are felled and turned into furniture or put to other uses. These are just four examples of the many values of nature, which are vital parts of our cultures, identities, economies and ways of life.
In 2019 the Global Assessment Report by IPBES (Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) concluded that the health of ecosystems, on which we and all other species depend, is deteriorating more rapidly than ever before in human history. When we lose a forest, we also lose all of the many kinds of values people ascribe to it.
Nature is being threatened more than ever before because we don’t value it enough in our policies, choices and actions. One reason why this happens is that we only value what we can easily measure, such as the amount of wood we extract in a given moment from the forest. What is more difficult to value and therefore often ignored in our decisions is the millions of years of evolution that led to the diversity of wildlife in forests, the role that the forests play in regulating floods for people downstream, or the role of this forest in creating an identity of the people that live within it. These other values are critically important and yet they may be harder to be measured.
For this reason, in 2018 nearly 140 Governments tasked 82 leading experts with preparing a new IPBES Assessment Report on the Diverse Values and Valuation of Nature. For four years these experts reviewed more than 13,000 references to understand the different ways in which people value nature, and the different ways in which these values can be measured and integrated into the decisions we make.
Policy decisions about nature should take into account the wide range of ways in which people value it, so that they can more effectively address the biodiversity crisis and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. To make this possible the new IPBES assessment drew not only on thousands of scientific articles and government reports, but also included very significant contributions from indigenous and local knowledge.
In the first week of July, the report will be considered by the member States of IPBES. Once accepted, it will inform decisions by Governments, civil society, indigenous peoples and local communities, business, and more around the planet. To this end it will identify concrete opportunities and challenges for embedding values and valuation in decision-making, including a range of policy support tools. The report also identifies key capacity-building needs and knowledge gaps for future research.
It is easy to recognize the value of something once it has been lost. Let us not wait for that. It is time to understand and prioritize the many values of nature in decision-making.
Prof. Patricia Balvanera is a Professor at the Institute for Ecosystem and Sustainability Research, National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Dr. Brigitte Baptiste is the Chancellor of Universidad Ean in Colombia.
Prof. Mike Christie is the Director of Research at Aberystwyth Business School, Aberystwyth University, United Kingdom.
Prof. Unai Pascual is Ikerbasque Research Professor at the Basque Centre for Climate Change, Spain, and Associated Senior Research Scientist at the Centre for Development and Environment, University of Bern, Switzerland.