It sustains life, it’s central to billion-dollar industries and it’s a vast source of culture and spirituality, but does the natural world truly have a price?
It does now, or at least the framework is in place, after 139 countries including the U.S., Russia and China, endorsed a new report that looks to weigh ecological costs against financial gains when making political and economic decisions, pushing back against what the authors say is “a dominant global focus on short-term profits and economic growth.”
On Monday, the United Nations-backed Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, or IPBES, threw its support behind a four-year assessment by 82 scientists and experts “from every region of the world,” according to a press release.
‘Embed the diverse values of nature into policymaking’
Governments can use the equations laid out in the assessment when deciding whether to green light a coal plant, hydroelectric dam or factory — projects where the impact to communities and ecosystems are sometimes taken into consideration, but not quantified in the same way economic gains are.
As one of the authors, Unai Pascual, puts it, the assessment seeks to “embed the diverse values of nature into policymaking.”
“With more than 50 valuation methods and approaches, there is no shortage of ways and tools to make visible the values of nature,” Pascual said in a news release.
The authors pointed to four “values-centered leverage points” they say will help governments transition away from the status quo:
- Recognize the “diverse values of nature.”
- Embed those values into decision-making.
- Reform policies and regulations to “internalize nature’s values.”
- Shift underlying societal norms and goals to “align with global sustainability and justice objectives.”
“Shifting decision-making towards the multiple values of nature is a really important part of the system-wide transformative change needed to address the current global biodiversity crisis,” said co-author Patricia Balvanera. “This entails redefining ‘development’ and ‘good quality of life’ and recognizing the multiple ways people relate to each other and to the natural world.”
“We don’t know what will come next,” Pascual told The Associated Press, but hinted that the new guidelines will be used in the U.N.’s biodiversity conference in Montreal this December.
Whether this will impact the U.S.’ decades-old National Environmental Policy Act is unclear. Signed in 1970, the law established a lengthy set of requirements and factors for agencies to consider when proposing a project.
The act’s process was recently overhauled under former President Donald Trump, who said he was removing “mountains and mountains of red tape” — however several steps that were removed, including one that required federal agencies to consider climate impacts of large processes, were reinstated by President Joe Biden.