Grazing rhino picks out grass from thorny, pink-flowered mimosa
weed. The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem
Services (IPBES) is collecting perspectives from science to
indigenous knowledge in a new assessment on the many values of
nature. Credit:Ranjita Biswas/IPS
By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 4 2019 (IPS)
Humans have long had a varied and complicated relationship with
nature—from its aesthetic value to its economic value to its
protective value. What if you could measure and analyse these
values? One group is trying to do just that.
Over 150 years ago, philosopher Henry David Thoreau highlighted
humankind’s responsibility to respect and care for nature.
“Every creature is better alive than dead; men, moose, and
pine-trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve
its life than destroy it,” he wrote in an essay.
At that very same moment in history, the Second Agricultural
Revolution and the Industrial Revolution were at its peak in Europe
and the United States, contributing to the depletion of natural
resources and pollution that societies are dealing with today.
Now, rates of environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, and
greenhouse gas emissions have dramatically increased, threatening
the future of societies.
According to the United Nations
Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), desertification,
caused by the degradation of soil and land, is affecting one-third
of the Earth’s land surface. The issue already affects 250
million people across the world, and it threatens an additional one
billion people who depend on land for their needs.
The Intergovernmental Platform
on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) aims to bring
these vast, and sometimes seemingly conflicting, perspectives from
science to indigenous knowledge in a new assessment on the many
values of nature, helping create a vision on how to work towards a
more prosperous, sustainable future.
IPS spoke to Unai Pascual, one of the co-chairs of IPBES’ new
assessment, on the importance of understanding the complex
IPS (Inter Press Service): What exactly are the values
Unai Pascual (UP): There are many values because people
understand values in different ways. If you talk to a philosopher,
they would tell you what values are from a philosophical standpoint
like moral and ethical values. If you talk to an economist, they
would talk to you about economic values and the values of things
reflected in the market.
One of the objectives of the assessment is to provide a clear
framework that can conceptually guide anything related to how
people measure and articulate those values and… how those values
influence decision making and policies, and governance in
How we take care of nature and how we exploit it have to do with
the underlying values that we have about nature and the meaning we
provide to these values in every day life.
IPS: Why was this issue chosen as part of the
assessment, and why is it important to examine these
UP: We need this assessment to understand the connection between
how we perceive nature, the way we interact with it, and the
quality of life of people.
Those policies, norms, and habits of people are based on the
underlying values that we all hold as individuals and as a society.
We need to understand those values in order to understand how we
set up those institutions which, at the end of the day, are the
ones which are going to determine the fate of nature and how we
perceive how nature affects our quality of life.
Understanding the role of these social norms and policies are at
the heart of what IPBES is about. IPBES recognises that we need to
understand those in order to really connect the dots—connect
nature and human well-being.
It is necessary to connect the way we value nature with the
future of nature and therefore the future of human wellbeing.
IPS: 2018 saw a number of big reports on climate change
and land degradation from IPCC, UNEP, and even IPBES. Will this new
assessment be similar, and supplement these reports?
UP: Yes, the values assessment is a methodological one in
spirit. The idea is that any assessment that will follow after the
values assessment will be able to reflect on issues around values
in ways that has not been possible before.
And so far, IPBES has tried to provide coherence around values
since its inception. The assessment of values provides a great
opportunity for IPBES and other platforms to see the importance of
recognising different types of values about nature and ways to
bring them into decision making.
This is a sort of conceptual and methodological pillar which
will inform many scientific efforts within IPBES and outside IPBES
IPS: What do you expect to find, and how will the
research be undertaken? Does this involve talking to communities
around the world, including indigenous communities?
UP: We are going to find a way to integrate and provide a
coherent picture around the different understandings about values.
This is of critical importance because otherwise the scientific
community will continue talking about values but each community
will understand that in a different way.
If we don’t have coherence, we are not going to be able to
move forward and to design policies that respect those different
ways of valuing nature.
We will [also] find the connections that have not been
explicitly addressed by the scientific community about how values
explicitly or implicitly affect decision making with regards to
nature be it through policy, consumption choices by consumers,
production means by producers… that is, connecting values with
governance and human behaviour.
Those values are dynamic, they change over time…Those can
affect policies and goals of society and individuals and therefore
change how we use nature or how we connect to issues such as
climate change and land degradation.
What we are going to try to portray as well is how the future of
humankind, of different societies’ institutions and governments,
would have to be transformed with regard to the values and how we
put them in practice in changing people’s behaviour towards more
sustainable and just futures.
We need to build the capacity of the scientific community and the
public at large to connect our diversity of values and the
sustainability challenges of humankind.
Another knowledge system which is at the heart of IPBES is that
of indigenous and local communities. It is very important to
understand how they perceive and relate with nature. Their approach
to connecting to nature is fundamentally different from many
Western societies. We know that much of the biodiversity that
underpins the health of the planet is taken care of and managed by
It is critical to bring their perspectives, knowledge systems,
and values into the assessment.
This is a big challenge on how to bridge both the scientific and
the indigenous knowledge systems and bring them in a way that both
are recognised as being vital for understanding the role of values
in society and how this can impact the future of the planet.
Q: How could the international community use this
assessment once completed?
UP: This could be a resource for many years to come. I hope that
it will clarify the different types of values that exist in society
so that different perspectives on values are recognised and
accepted as being legitimate.
As scientists, we provide information and knowledge about how
nature and human well-being are connected. We should take into
consideration that there are different pathways and different
perspectives on those connections because there are different ways
of relating to nature. Such diversity is important to be respected
and nurtured in the quest for sustainability.
That’s a call for the scientific community whenever we do
assessments or systemise knowledge to connect the state of the
planet in terms of its various environmental dimensions from
climate change to land degradation to biodiversity loss…when they
try to connect this to human beings, the vector that connects them
We hope that policymakers or decision makers can make better
decisions in the quest for sustainability by taking into account
these different, legitimate perspectives on the values of and about
*Interview was edited for clarity and length
IPS Correspondent Tharanga Yakupitiyage interviews UNAI PASCUAL,
one of the co-chairs of Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity
and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Q&A: The Nature of Value vs the Value of Nature