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GDP doesn’t capture full value of nature — global green panel wants development ‘redefined’

Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services releases 'Assessment Report on the Diverse Values and Valuation of Nature' at Germany meet.

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New Delhi: The current political and economic systems are selling the value of nature’s contributions short and accelerating the global biodiversity crisis, a report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), released Monday, has found.

Titled ‘Assessment Report on the Diverse Values and Valuation of Nature’, the report was released after it was approved by 139 member states, including India, at a meeting of the panel in Bonn, Germany.

Last week, the panel released another report during the same meeting, that dealt with the sustainable use of wild species.

The IPBES is considered an authority on biodiversity equal to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Its findings will likely be taken into consideration at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), scheduled for November.

The new report says most policymaking has “prioritised a narrow set of values at the expense of both nature and society” with a focus on short-term profits and economic growth.

It adds that “market-based instrumental values”, like gross domestic product (GDP), do not adequately capture changes in the quality of life arising from biodiversity degradation. “They overlook the non-market values associated with nature’s contributions to people, including the functions, structure, and ecosystem processes upon which life depends,” the report says.

Authored by 82 scientists and experts over four years, the report proposes radically moving away from the conventional norms of growth and economic prosperity to create a more sustainable world. Reversing the human impacts on the biodiversity crisis requires “systematic and transformative change” the global body has said.

“Shifting decision-making towards the multiple values of nature is a really important part of the system-wide transformative change needed… This entails redefining ‘development’ and ‘good quality of life’ and recognising the multiple ways people relate to each other and to the natural world,” said Dr Patricia Balvanera, co-chair of the assessment, in an IPBES media release.

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‘Factor in knowledge of indigenous, local communities’

The assessment identifies over 50 types of nature valuation methods that exist across the world, and finds that the number of valuation studies undertaken by policymakers has increased by more than 10 per cent per year over the past four decades, on average.

“Valuation is an explicit and intentional process,” said Dr Mike Christie, another co-chair of the assessment, in the IPBES media release. “The type and quality of information that valuation studies can produce largely depends on how, why and by whom valuation is designed and applied. This influences whose and which values of nature would be recognised in decisions, and how fairly the benefits and burdens of these decisions would be distributed.”

But of the valuations studied in the report, only 1 per cent reportedly involve stakeholders at every step of the process.

The report also highlights the importance of factoring in the knowledge of indigenous and local communities in nature valuations: “Recognising the marginalisation of certain worldviews and knowledge systems and respecting values of indigenous peoples and local communities are associated with increased forest cover and species populations, enhanced delivery of ecosystem services, and improved livelihoods,” it says.

Transformative change can occur when policymakers do five things, says the report: integrate values that are instrumental, relational, intrinsic to nature in their policies, address direct or indirect drivers of biodiversity loss, mobilise sustainability-aligned values through institutional change, promote capacities to embed nature’s values into decisions, and adapt to bridge worldviews.

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

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