A ‘values crisis’ underpins the biodiversity and climate emergency

Published by  Communications

On 9th Aug 2023

A keel-billed toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus) perches on a tree branch in Laguna del Lagarto, Costa Rica
Getty images.

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 Adrian Martin, of UEA’s School of Global Development, was a coordinating lead author of the Values Assessment report, heading up work on futures and transformative change. 

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. 

Latest News

Indian fisherman handling a net on the beach.
02 Oct 2023

Family networks improve outcomes for internal migration

Small-scale fishers in India could be benefiting from increase in forced migration - new research from UEA.

Read more >
Dr Naomi Wood pictured alongside her book titled 'This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things'
28 Sep 2023

Dr Naomi Wood wins the BBC National Short Story Awards

UEA Creative Writing lecturer and bestselling author, Dr Naomi Wood has been crowned the winner of the eighteenth BBC National Short Story Awards for her work...

Read more >
A woman in football kit
25 Sep 2023

From Psychology to the Canaries: UEA student on target for Norwich City Women’s Football Club

A University of East Anglia Psychology student has marked her fledgling Norwich City Women’s Football Club career with a quick-fire hat-trick in one of her first...

Read more >
A nurse interacting with a patient.
21 Sep 2023

Nurses worldwide rely on intuition to triage patients

Nurses around the world use intuition to work out how sick a patient is before triaging for treatment – according to new research from the University of East...

Read more >
Are you searching for something?
A nurse interacting with a patient.
21 Sep 2023

Nurses worldwide rely on intuition to triage patients

Nurses around the world use intuition to work out how sick a patient is before triaging for treatment – according to new research from the University of East...

Read more >
Francessca Turrell
18 Sep 2023

UEA nursing apprentice’s sky-high dive for Alzheimer's and Dementia awareness

On Sunday 24 September, University of East Anglia (UEA) nursing apprentice Francessca Turrell will be taking part in a charity skydive for Alzheimer’s Society, a...

Read more >
Logo Rewind's yellow book cover with black symbols
14 Sep 2023

New book to focus on Norwich’s medieval logos

‘Logo Rewind: Trademarks of Medieval Norwich’ is a new book from UEA Publishing Project, in collaboration with CreativeUEA and featuring the work of Darren...

Read more >
13 Sep 2023

UEA students discover new room location following RAAC accommodation closures

Over 700 University of East Anglia (UEA) students have discovered where their new university homes will be located, following the closure of some accommodation...

Read more >
(L-R) Chris Law MP, Dr Martin Scott, Renu Mehta
13 Sep 2023

New report from UEA Academic asks whether UK Aid Match has been used for ‘charity washing’, ahead of Westminster event

A new report from the University of East Anglia’s Dr Martin Scott into the Government’s UK Aid Match (UKAM) scheme has led to concerns of ‘charity washing’, with...

Read more >
Claudio Barchiesi with his bike and a United Kingdom flag
12 Sep 2023

Pedalling with purpose: UEA student’s fundraising cycle from Italy to England

A student at the University of East Anglia (UEA) has completed a charity cycling trip from his hometown in Italy to his grandparent’s house in Suffolk, to raise...

Read more >
Student accommodation buildings
11 Sep 2023

University of East Anglia accommodation closes following Government RAAC guidance

Read more >