We've updated our Privacy Policy to make it clearer how we use your personal data. We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. You can read our Cookie Policy here.


With Dialogue, Different Nature Values Can Still Lead to Sustainability

A plant in cupped hands.
Credit: Noah Buscher/ Unsplash
Listen with
Register for free to listen to this article
Thank you. Listen to this article using the player above.

Want to listen to this article for FREE?

Complete the form below to unlock access to ALL audio articles.

Read time: 2 minutes

Recognising and respecting the different ways nature is valued can enable better environmental decision-making, according to new research led by the University of East Anglia (UEA).

International agreements such as the Sustainable Development Goals represent wide support for a sustainable future, living within planetary boundaries and ensuring a safer future for current and next generations.

However, there remain huge disagreements about how to advance such goals, often resulting in marginalisation, conflict and inaction.

The paper, published in the journal One Earth, examines the basis for this disagreement, reviewing four competing but well-established potential approaches towards resolving current environmental crises: Nature Protection; Green Economy; Earth Stewardship and Biocultural Diversity; and Degrowth and Post-growth.

One of the key findings is that there are clear differences in the way they value nature. In particular, Nature Protection tends to prioritise the intrinsic value of nature or ‘nature for itself’, while Green Economy tends to prioritise instrumental values of nature or ‘nature for society’.

Earth Stewardship and Biocultural Diversity recognise these values but also stress relational values of nature or ‘nature as society’; and Degrowth straddles these types of values, prioritising sufficiency and redistribution.

The international team of researchers finds that these different approaches to valuing nature are critical distinguishing features of such strategies, but also help to explain why compromise between them is often difficult.

Lead author Adrian Martin, Professor of Environment and Development at UEA’s School of Global Development, said: “There is a tendency not to be receptive to ideas that come from other pathways, making it hard to build the massive movement that is needed for transformation to solve the climate and biodiversity crises.

“However, the act of revealing this basis for disagreement also helps us to move forwards. It helps point the way towards a more inclusive and potentially more transformative environmentalism, recognising and respecting plural values of nature.”

Want more breaking news?

Subscribe to Technology Networks’ daily newsletter, delivering breaking science news straight to your inbox every day.

Subscribe for FREE
The paper suggests three ways in which this can happen. Firstly, through ways of working that make plural values of nature visible and usable for decision-making; secondly by reforming relevant institutions, such as systems of laws, land tenure and economic incentives, to ensure that these plural values can be embedded in practice; and thirdly to address the power imbalances that underpin the current domination of the green economy pathway, involving, for example, the mobilization of civil rights movements.

“In this study we reveal the role that values play in underpinning different perspectives about how best to achieve sustainability and justice,” added Prof Martin. “We already knew that the environmental movement is fragmented but now we have a better understanding of why that is so entrenched.

“More importantly, we have the basis for better mutual understanding based on greater transparency about values and ways of working that respect the diversity of ways of valuing nature. Our hope is that this can support more inclusive and better environmental decision-making.”

Reference: Martin A, Gomez-Baggethun E, Quaas M, et al. Plural values of nature help to understand contested pathways to sustainability. One Earth. 2024;7(5):806-819. doi: 10.1016/j.oneear.2024.04.003

This article has been republished from the following materials. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source. Our press release publishing policy can be accessed here.