Valuing Nature, assessing its benefits and why we need to care

How can appreciating multiple benefits from nature help us to take care of it? What can you do to help?

Nature is essential for our quality of life and provides both material goods and non-material support such as cultural services. Last month, a major announcement was made with regard to the dire state of our nature and why we shouldn’t wait to address the problems. Our earth is witnessing loss of forests and biodiversity, changing climate, global species extinction, soil erosion, imbalanced biogeochemical cycles, among others — primarily exacerbated by the unsustainable use by its human inhabitants. This announcement was based on a report prepared by The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a UN sanctioned body. The IPBES report 2019 aims to answer three key questions: what is the importance of biodiversity, what progress has been made for the conservation of biodiversity and what are the threats and opportunities for a sustainable future?

Role of IPBES

Established in 2012, by UN member states, IPBES stands for Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The objective of IPBES is to strengthen the science to policy interface (i.e. for decision makers and activists) of nature conservation and sustainable use of it (more specifically biodiversity and ecosystem services) for long-term human well-being and sustainable development. IPBES aims to achieve this by conducting scientific assessments of nature and its services at global and local levels; building capacity and knowledge for sound policy development; as well as communicating all this to global audience.

Why is this needed and why now?

Caring for nature is essential because nature’s benefits to people are the basis for almost every aspect of human existence and development (often discussed as Sustainable Development Goals). Most of these nature’s benefits or services are not replaceable. Yet our nature’s services, whether to produce food and resources, or regulate environmental processes such as climate and nutrients or even cultural and spiritual benefits are being unsustainably depleted and irreparably degraded. To make matters worse, this is happening at faster rate than at any other point in human history. Given this unprecedented change, urgent action is needed. Some of the report’s findings are summarised in the following video.

Action: think Global, act local

The benefits of nature couldn’t be underestimated — the very foundation of humanity’s existence is at stake. Our nature/biodiversity emergency requires not only scientific understanding of the nature of the emergency but also concerted action — from decision makers, to all citizens. Awareness of this benefits is key to get started towards participation and action in remedial steps. Here Figure 4, taking an example from Open University’s home town, gives a photo-blog of nature’s benefits from the network of Milton Keynes Parks. MK parks are managed by Milton Keynes Parks Trust , a charity overseeing >2400 ha of green space (reportedly 8 trees planted per inhabitant).

Figure 4: Photo blog of ecosystem services — case study from Milton Keynes Parks. How the parks provide food in the form of free fruit orchards, regulate floods from rain into lakes, provide contemplation space and sports facilities.

What can I do?

Despite the overwhelming challenges and the feeling of inadequacy to make a major change, you can take steps. Firstly is about building your knowledge and understanding on the complexity of the challenges, secondly is following up and supporting credible organisations working for addressing environmental challenges and thirdly giving more thought and making small adjustments in one’s lifestyle, discussing it in one’s social circles and communities — hopefully to build a movement of change for a better environment for all. The recent public, and government movement towards reducing plastic pollution is a case in point. Leading initiatives such as this are environmental heroes for e.g. Whitley 2019 Environmental Heroes recognised some. These heroes come from a variety of backgrounds, so demonstrating that you too can be one! Good luck.

Taking it Further:

  • SDT306 Environment: responding to change is an interdisciplinary module which will equip you to take an active part in sustainability debates by providing a guide to the mass of information currently available on key environmental issues and encouraging you to look at these issues holistically.
  • Summary IPBES report, presented as media release notes, will help you quickly grasp what the report is about.
  • Understanding and tackling Eco-anxiety is a BBC resource helping you engage with environmental issues, by understanding and potentially remedying the anxiety it incurs.

This article was originally published on OpenLearn in July 2019 and can be read the here.

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