We understand and value nature in many different ways. Different values and interests influence our perspective on nature and thus our everyday practices. Yet this wide spectrum of values is seldom acknowledged, hampering the conservation and sustainable use of nature. The question is: What is our vision for ‘the nature of the future’? How do we acknowledge, interweave and bridge different values? How can we meet human demands and still provide space for nature?
Strategies to protect biodiversity and halt its loss have relied predominantly on the narrow confines of protected nature areas. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that ‘bending the curve of biodiversity loss’ by 2050 must go beyond ‘locking away’ nature from human use and move towards nature-inclusive societies that acknowledge the sustainable use of land- and seascapes.
People associated with these places will need to be inspired and empowered to act, which will require – among other things – engaging with the wide range of values they hold. There are fierce debates as to whether nature should be conserved for its intrinsic value or be monetised to provide additional incentives for its conservation. A recent Nature Futures Framework1 suggests that there are at least three interwoven value perspectives on how people relate to nature: Nature for Nature, in which nature has value in and of itself, which emphasises the protection of non-human aspects of nature’s diversity and functions; Nature for Society, which emphasises the benefits and uses people derive from nature and can lead to the optimization of multiple uses of nature; and Nature as Culture, where the human-nature relationship co-evolves and is embedded in people’s identities and ways of life.
The Nature Futures Framework provides guidance on how to incorporate a diversity of values in decisions about nature. WUR embeds this within a foundational philosophy that acknowledges that (1) there are (biophysical) limits to the human use that ecosystems, and thus nature, can sustain, and (2) that a diversity of human needs and values should be considered when it comes to achieving environmental, social and economic goals in a way that is both just and sustainable.
To value nature from diverse perspectives, WUR will integrate expertise of land, sea and freshwater ecosystems and ecological, social, economic and policy environments. Integrating domains and expertise in this way acknowledges that conventional siloes, such as between terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems, no longer apply. For example, one major reinforcing land-ocean feedback loop, which plays out on a global scale, is global warming. Rising temperatures due to land-based activities affect the ocean’s ability to store carbon, thereby exacerbating the effects of climate change on all ecosystems and society. At another level, activities that originally took place on land, such as energy and mineral production, are now shifting to the ocean, resulting in even more competing uses for this common-pool resource. Building an integral knowledge base to leverage the opportunities for these marine-based energy and protein transitions – and thereby activate land-sea circularity and mitigate the risks and unintended consequences – is necessary in order to strike a balance between sustainable use and the conservation of biodiversity.
1 Creating desirable futures for nature: the Nature Futures Framework. Pereira, et al. 2020 https://www.cabdirect.org/cabdirect/abstract/20203506544