Nature Correspondence: ‘Biodiversity: ideas need time to mature’

Nature Correspondence: ‘Biodiversity: ideas need time to mature’

September 20, 2018 Off By admin

Published today, my Nature correspondence calls for continued dialogue on the values of nature in the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. It argues that debates over the representation of values are a productive (and likely inevitable) part of responding to environmental change. They promote dialogue and innovate new ideas. But seeking rapid consensus can limit this potential.

Find it here:

IPBES is a global expert body for biodiversity established through the United Nations system. The IPBES process has 130 member states, and has involved over 1,000 experts in its activities thus far. See:

The reasons for the creation of IPBES are more complex than meets the eye. IPBES has a mandate ‘to strengthen the science-policy interface’, but the most appropriate science-policy-society relations for biodiversity are a matter of contention.

One issue under deliberation in IPBES relates to the ways in which values can be ascribed to nature, and how to represent them. In the past, the values of nature have been described and represented in a myriad of ways, from material to spiritual, and economic to intrinsic.

An early initiative to develop scientific work on the values of nature took place in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which described the values of nature through the ecosystem services concept, defined in 2005 as the “benefits people obtain from ecosystems.”

In the intervening years, there has been concerted scientific work on ecosystem services and the concept has achieved policy traction in numerous countries. However, it has also been considered by some to emphasise economic perspectives and be exclusionary of other worldviews.

Some concerns about the ecosystem services approach were reflected in a recent Science editorial written by Sandra Diaz, the co-chair of the IPBES Global Assessment, and colleagues. The authors suggest that the focus of the ecosystem services approach on stocks and flows:

“largely failed to engage a range of perspectives from the social sciences, or those of local practitioners, including indigenous peoples. This reinforced a mutual alienation process in which [Millennium Ecosystem Assessment]-inspired studies and policies became increasingly narrow, which in turn led to voluntary self-exclusion of disciplines, stakeholders, and worldviews.” (Diaz et al. 2018)

In their editorial, these IPBES authors describe what they called the ‘Nature’s Contributions to People’ approach, which accounted for both generalised contributions from nature and those only recognised in specific contexts.
The Nature’s Contributions to People approach was explicitly justified in this editorial as a means of creating a more inclusive approach to assessing the values of nature in the IPBES process.
“The need to be inclusive, both in terms of the strands of knowledge incorporated and representation of worldviews, interests and values, required IPBES to move to using [Nature’s Contributions to People].” (Diaz et al. 2018)
A recent Nature News piece called ‘The battle for the soul of biodiversity’ highlighted disagreements amongst different perspectives on the values of nature, suggesting that: “the scientific community [that IPBES] represents is a house divided.”
A subsequent Nature editorial on IPBES argued that: “a dispute over how to value the natural world threatens to undermine its efforts.” Suggesting that “different perspectives [in IPBES] are making it difficult for the organization to present consensus”

In my Nature letter, I argue that new opportunities lie ahead for IPBES to broaden the conversation about the values of nature and test out ideas with broader publics.

Moving beyond the pursuit of contrived consensus for biodiversity science can lead to a genuine dialogue about the terms through which humans and nature relate to one another at and across different scales.