A new study published in Nature shows how undervaluation of nature is foundational to the environmental crisis we face.
Researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) were part of an international team that contributed to the report.
The 'values crisis' describes the continued dominance of a narrow set of values that are proven to be unfit for the purpose of resolving the dual biodiversity and climate emergencies.
The study identifies four ‘values-centred approaches’ that can foster the necessary conditions for transformative change to achieve more just and sustainable futures: recognizing the diversity of values with regards to nature, embedding these diverse values in decision-making, reforming policies and stimulating institutional change, and shifting society-level norms and goals to support sustainability-aligned values across sectors.
Currently, market-based values of nature, such as those associated with intensively-produced food and other commodities, are often privileged at the expense of the non-market values associated with nature’s many other contributions to people, such as adapting to climate change or nourishing cultural identities, that are equally essential for achieving just and sustainable societies.
At the same time, biodiversity conservation policies, such as the expansion of protected area networks, have often also prioritised narrow sets of values regarding nature, frequently marginalising those held by Indigenous peoples and local communities, who in many cases have been shown to protect biodiversity on the territories.
According to the study’s authors, to attain more just and sustainable futures, it is imperative to depart from the predominant focus on short-term profits and economic growth, which has come at the expense of considering the multiple values of nature in economic and political decisions.
Prof Martin said: “Environmentalists have long recognised that the use and abuse of nature are shaped by the values that dominate global societies.
“With this study, we now have a much better understanding of the mechanisms by which this happens. Crucially, we now have an agenda for working with values to support urgent transformation towards just and sustainable futures.”
Prof Unai Pascual of the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3) and the Basque Science Foundation, Ikerbasque, led the study and was co-chair of the Assessment Report on the Diverse Values and Valuation of Nature (known as the Values Assessment) of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
Prof Pascual said: “A better understanding of how and why nature is undervalued by private and public decision-makers is more urgent than ever, and while it is positive that global agreements like the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for inclusive and participatory process of incorporating nature’s values into actions, predominant environmental and development policies still prioritise a narrow subset of market-values of nature.”
The article follows upon the publication in July 2022 of the Values Assessment report, approved by the 139 member states of IPBES. It synthesises and highlights the assessment’s main results, which were based on a review of more than 50,000 scientific publications, policy documents, and Indigenous and local knowledge sources.
Applying this evidence, the authors of the newly published study propose combinations of ‘values-centred approaches’ to ultimately leverage the necessary changes to transform the current decisions that negatively impact both sustainability and social justice (i.e., fair treatment of people and nature, including inter- and intra-generational equity).
The study’s authors call for rebalancing the values that underpin social structures, such as its legal institutions, by promoting values like unity, care, solidarity, responsibility, reciprocity and justice, both towards other people and towards nature.
The study further argues that shifting decision-making toward the multiple values of nature is an important part of the system-wide transformative change needed to address the current global biodiversity crisis and climate emergency, which have intimate relationships to other socio-environmental ills, including increased contamination, emergent pandemics and environmental injustices.
Prof Martin said: “These are challenging agendas that go to the roots of how our societies function, including the power relations that determine what kind of values, and whose values, provide the template for everyday decisions. But it is an agenda that has to be grasped and we believe that this study provides a foundation for doing that.”
‘Diverse values of nature for sustainability’ is published in Nature on 9 August 2023.